Should I Feed My Cat?
by Robert Shearon
You are what you eat, and this is equally true for
the cats that depend on us for "room and board." Indeed,
cat food is one of the most important expenses of feline
guardianship, next to veterinary care.
It is important also to note that proper diet can eliminate or delay
veterinary expense for a number of serious medical conditions.
The ultimate purpose of this series is to help you learn how to read
cat food labels to make your decision process easier in choosing the
best foods for your cat, but first we need to cover some of the basics.
Cats' Basic Nutritional Needs:
• Protein from a meat, fish, or poultry source
• Taurine, an essential amino acid
• Certain other vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids
That's it, basically. Cats do not need carbohydrates, although corn, wheat, and/or
rice are used as fillers for both canned and dry cat foods. Other ingredients,
such as binders, flavoring, and coloring, are added by cat food manufacturers
to satisfy the aesthetic wants of the consumer. Although preservatives are necessary,
to keep foods fresh for our cats, canned food should not be allowed to remain
out for any length of time, in any case.
Canned food or Kibble?
Many nutritionists agree that cats should get a variety of food, both dry and
canned, for several reasons:
• While dry food is convenient, and can be left out for "free feeding,"
• Canned food contains water, and many cats do not drink water regularly
• To ensure that your cat gets the right amount of nutrients. That "near-perfect" food
you've selected might be adding too little (or too much) of certain minerals
• Cats may actually become bored with the same food day in and day out,
and simply quit eating. Face it, would you enjoy pizza morning, noon, and night,
• To head off possible allergies to certain ingredients. Cats (like humans)
develop allergies over a period of time. Although the incidence of food allergies
in cats is rare, cat owners might want to err on the side of caution, particularly
if their cats have shown evidence of allergies in the past.
• To prevent "food addictions." The Whole Cat Journal, in its
October, 2001 issue, cites the case of a cat that was addicted to a particular
flavor of a particular brand of cat food, right down to a specific factory and
lot number! This kind of addiction can be difficult to deal with when that last
can is gone, but can be easily avoided by feeding a variety of foods from the
This doesn't mean that Fred should get a different food every day, but a variety
of high-quality canned foods, supplemented with dry food for cats left alone
all day, will add spice to his diet and keep him from becoming "Finicky
Cheaper Brands are False Economy
Many first-time cat owners, in an attempt to hold down expenses, buy the cheapest
foods they can find for their cats. This is false economy for a couple of reasons.
First, studies have shown that cats eat as much as they need to get the nutrients
they require. Therefore, they might eat twice as much of that generously-carbohydrate-filled
store brand to get the nutrients they need in a normal feeding of premium food.
Second, the continued feeding of substandard foods over a period of years will
heavily contribute to, or even cause, serious medical conditions that will require
expensive veterinary care.
For these reasons, the old maxim, "You get what you pay for," is particularly
true where it comes to cat food.
What to look for on the label:
• Compliance with AAFCO's requirements for "Complete and Balanced," as
evidenced by that wording on the label.
• Named protein source - look for "chicken, lamb, or beef," rather
• On canned food particularly, the protein source should be the first listed
• Check the expiration date for freshness
What to avoid
• Words such as "By-products," "meat and/or bone meal," "animal
digest," most other descriptions including "digest" or "meal," and
• Chemical preservatives, including BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and propyl gallate
• Corn meal as a filler
• Excess of carbohydrate "fillers" (Dry food can contain as much
as 50 percent grain)
Cats are Obligate Carnivores, and cannot thrive on vegetarian diets, although
most vegetables can be added to cats' diets, either by the manufacturer or the
Pet food manufacturers cannot print "complete and balanced" on their
labels unless one of the following criteria is met:
• The food must pass feeding tests for the life stage recommended on the
• The composition of the food must meet or exceed nutrient levels established
• Preservatives, at the level included in commercial pet foods, have never
been scientifically demonstrated to cause any problems in pets (or people) at
less than 100 times the levels found in such foods. On the other hand, the current
trend for many cat food manufacturers is toward using natural preservatives,
such as vitamins C and E.
Dietary protein supplies essential amino acids and is needed
for the manufacture of antibodies, enzymes, hormones, tissues,
and proper pH balance. Protein provides energy for cats
and is essential for growth and development. Complete proteins
contain ample amounts of essential amino acids and are
found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and poultry. Incomplete
proteins do not provide all essential amino acids and are
found in many foods including legumes, grains, and vegetables.
Plant proteins don't supply the essential amino acids that
a cat needs, such as taurine which come from animal protein.
Cats need protein from animal sources as the amino acids
from vegetable sources are not well utilized. Overall,
cats have a very high requirement for protein.
Dietary fat is a concentrated source of energy for the cat.
It also provides essential fatty acids and aids in nutrient
utilization and transportation. Fat is involved in cell integrity
and metabolic regulation. Saturated fat is found primarily
in animal sources while polyunsaturated fat is found mostly
in plant sources.
Linoleic and arachidonic acids have long been considered
to be essential fatty acids (EFAs) for cats. More recently,
DHA has been added due to its important contribution to feline
vision, reproductive health, and the immune system. EPA may
also be of benefit. Unlike some animals, cats do not efficiently
convert plant sources of EFAs to the needed derivatives.
For example, cats must eat meat to obtain arachidonic acid.
Also, cats do not convert LA to GLA (as some animals do),
but studies show that GLA can benefit feline skin and coat
health. The cat would also consume Omega 3s and CLA when
eating its natural herbivorous prey.
Minerals are essential to the cat and are involved in almost
all physiological reactions. They contribute to enzyme formation,
pH balance, nutrient utilization, oxygen transportation,
and are stored in bone and muscle tissue. Biological availability
may vary widely depending on the source of the mineral. Elemental
minerals are generally taken from the earth or water. Chelated
minerals are those that are bound with other organic substances
often making them easier for the body to absorb. Minerals
include calcium, chloride, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine,
iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus,
potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, and zinc. There
are other mineral elements required by cats at trace concentrations.
Minerals, like vitamins, work synergistically. They have
a cooperative action between them.
Vitamins are essential for metabolism regulation, normal
growth and function. Vitamins are found in food and some
are synthesized within the animal's body. They're classified
as either water- or fat-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins include
A, D, E, and K. Water-soluble vitamins include C and the
B-complex. Generally, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in
the body, while water-soluble vitamins pass through more
quickly. Once again, the carnivorous cat utilizes animal
sources of nutrients more readily than plant sources. For
example, cats cannot convert beta-carotene from plants to
vitamin A (as some animals do), so they need preformed vitamin
A from an animal source. Preformed vitamin A needs no conversion.
Because cats are designed to fulfill most of their water
requirements by eating fresh raw food, they naturally have
a low thirst drive. This can lead to health issues for cats
that eat dry cat food products and treats. One of the problems
is that even though they become dehydrated eating the kibble,
their natural "programming" may not encourage them
to drink more water. And their urine can become too concentrated.
Even though a healthy cat doesn't drink much, you should
always have clean good quality drinking water available to
them. And please make sure it's good quality water, which
means tap water may be out, especially if your community
puts fluoride and chlorine in the water supply. If you have
well water, have it tested annually for contaminants.
Question: Is it ok to give my cat table scraps?
Answer: It depends on what it is. Some foods are ok
in small quantities as a treat, such as cooked fish,
poultry and meats that have no added fats or spices.
Be aware though that some human foods can cause stomach upsets or are downright
toxic to cats. Keep in mind that cats are absolute carnivores and not omnivores
like humans, meaning they should eat a diet comprised primarily of meat.
Their entire body structure is geared for the hunt,
kill and consumption of animal
A cat that is routinely fed foods from his owner's table will not only come
to snub his own food but will probably not get the proper nutrition he requires
to stay healthy. It is also not desirable to have your cat begging for scraps
every time you are in the kitchen preparing a meal or having him stare at
you as you sit at the table trying to enjoy your dinner. Imagine having your
and friends over for a holiday meal and your cat jumps on someone's lap or
on the table to try and get at the food. If you would like to give your cat
a small treat now and then, I would suggest reserving some bits of raw meat
poultry for him as you prepare the food. Then feed it to him in his own feeding
Question: I am a vegetarian, can I give my cat vegetarian foods?
Answer: As stated above, cats are carnivores, they need meat to survive and
be healthy. A cat's digestive system is different than that of humans and
other omnivores. Forcing a cat to eat a diet not based on meat proteins will
lead to health problems and eventually even death.
Question: Can I feed my cat tuna?
Answer: Canned tuna intended for human consumption is lacking some of the
nutrients found in canned cat food. Commercial tuna flavor cat food uses
more parts of
the tuna than the selective tuna meant for humans. Feeding a cat primarily
on tuna made for human consumption will deprive your cat of essential nutrients
such as Vitamin E and could lead to deficiency diseases.
Question: So, what should my cat eat?
Answer: Cats require a high level of protein and fat. An adult cat should
consume at least 26 percent of his food in dry protein and 10 percent in
humans, cats can handle large amounts of fat without harm, it is actually
healthy for them (unless they are obese). If you decide to feed your cat
food you will need to provide plenty of fresh water. Even if you feed your
canned cat food, you will still need to give him lots of water; the moisture
content in the food is not enough for the cat to stay hydrated. Milk is considered
food, not a drink. While it is ok to give cows milk to a kitten, adult cats
don't need milk, it may actually cause digestive problems for them. The lactose
milk may give your adult cat gas cramps, diarrhea or cause vomiting.
Question: How do I choose the best food for my cat?
Answer: There are many commercial foods on the market, both moist and dry.
What you want to look for is a well-balanced, high-quality food made by a
reputable manufacturer. It should be appropriate for your cat's age, activity
condition. A good way to judge is by reading the label. If meat is the first
ingredient listed it is usually a good indication that the food is high in
required protein. The more other ingredients are listed the less protein
the food contains. Special diet foods for cats with urinary problems or diabetes
and foods specially formulated for less active, overweight or geriatric cats
are readily available at many stores or from veterinarians. If you are unsure,
you may want to ask your vet for advise.