Nutrition Tips for Your Furry Feline
Cats have different nutritional needs at different stages of their lives. One size does not fit all for every cat, nor does it for the same cat as he or she ages. Kittens require nutrients that are less important for senior cats, and cats with health conditions or that are overweight require a diet altogether different.
Like humans, a cat’s diet shouldn’t be just about what she likes or doesn’t like, or too heavily focused on weight management. A healthy diet will provide the right balance of nutrients to keep your cat’s body running properly for a long time.
A cat’s body is a system of complex systems, cells, tissues, and organs that work together and build upon each other. Two of the most important nutrients to keep these systems running smoothly are water and protein (preferably animal based protein).
It’s important to actively provide water to your cat’s diet, because cats tend to drink less than other animals (especially compared to dogs). You won’t often see a cat looking for a source of water to wet her whistle. Ensure that your cat gets plenty of water in her diet by feeding her natural meats that have not been dried or processed, and canned (“wet”) cat foods.
A cat’s system requires meat-based proteins, so don’t try to feed him a vegetarian diet. Every cat requires a nutrient called taurine, which is an amino acid only found in meat. Without taurine, your cat may experience abnormal heart function, issues with his vision, and possibly reproductive issues.
Wet cat food is usually made from meat, while most dry cat foods rely heavily on plant-based proteins that are have been processed. If you want to give your cat a treat, toss him a piece of cooked chicken while you’re having lunch, or a little bit of raw steak.
Nutrition for Kittens
The keys to raising a healthy kitten lie in providing plenty of the right foods and nutrients early. Newborn kittens usually receive their entire food supply from the mother cat, provided she is healthy and adjusting well to being a new mom. Her milk should contain all the essential nutrition that a kitten needs for the first few weeks of life.
If the mother cat is not present, is ill, or is not producing sufficient milk for her litter, a veterinarian or pet shelter can assist you with finding a nutritionally balanced milk replacement. Don’t be tempted to fill a bowl, syringe, or baby bottle with cow’s milk; cats aren’t cows, and they can’t process cow milk properly.
For the first 4 weeks of a cat’s life, focus on helping him gain weight. Weight gain tells you that the cat is getting–and properly digesting–plenty of food. Most kittens and moms will naturally take to suckling, but you may need to help some kittens by placing them near the mother and giving them a nudge.
Once you’ve established that your kitten is getting enough food and gaining weight, you’ll want to prepare for the endless energy that she will display. Kittens love to explore, run, and wrestle with one another, and they need a lot of energy-packed food to help them do it.
To keep your kitten fueled up, choose a cat food that has been formulated especially for young cats and kittens. Ensure that the food has a high protein profile; this is where your kitten will pull its energy from. Introduce this new food and let him have access to it often. Continued access to the new food will help wean your kitten off of the mother’s milk.
Kittens should be fully weaned at around eight weeks. If eating properly, they will continue to gain weight until they reach their fully grown size.
Adult Cat Diets
Every cat is different and spends his days differently. Some cats prefer to lounge and sleep most of the day, while others like to explore and play often. Your cat’s diet should be enough to keep him energized and at a healthy weight for whatever routine he keeps.
Try to keep your cat on a regular feeding schedule of two times per day. Put out a portion-sized amount of food and take it away after a certain amount of time. Some cats can be finicky, acting as if they aren’t interested in the food, and refusing to eat it. Don’t cave into the pressure! Just keep your routine and your cat will fall in line.
Feeding Older (Senior) Cats
Cats begin to show signs of aging around seven years old. Like humans, age can tend to slow a cat down. With less activity comes potential weight gain, and a healthy, portion-controlled diet can really play a factor in keeping your cat healthy.
On the other hand, older cats can sometimes lose weight and muscle mass. This might be a cause of digestion issues, which are common in older cats. Keep an eye on the food dish and be sure that your cat is eating enough each day (even if it is less than it used to be) and getting plenty of water in her diet.
Cats with Allergies, Health Conditions, or Obesity
Cats are not immune to most of the illnesses that plague humans. It will surprise many people to know that a common allergen for cats is fish or other seafood. Other common allergens are corn, wheat, and soy (known as “fillers” in pet food.) Do your cat a favor and steer clear of these ingredients.
Obesity is another common problem that cats–both young and old– often suffer from. Some people love to look in awe at a “fat cat”, but overweight cats are usually suffering from joint pain and other weight-related illnesses. Diabetes is one of those illnesses.
The good news is that, just as diet is the cause, it can also be the cure. If your cat has become obese or you suspect that he is in pain or discomfort for one reason or another, consult with your veterinarian immediately. The sooner you can begin to reverse the effects of excess weight or other health conditions, the sooner your cat can regain his happy life.
Cats don’t have the ability to tell us how they feel with words. They need to be observed by their owners often to determine if they are eating enough and feeling healthy, or if they have any injuries. To ensure consistency in your cat’s diet, make buying cat food and feeding your cat the responsibility of only one or two people in your household. Make sure that the responsible family members communicate any changes they see in the cat’s behavior or eating habits.
If you follow these basic feline nutrition tips and maintain a friendly relationship with your cat, you should have a healthy pet on your hands for years to come.