Cats are notoriously picky eaters. Tuna? Blech, I asked for salmon! But even after complaining, cats will meow and meow for more food, even if their bowl is still half full. If they can see the bottom, that’s empty to some cats! It’s important to give even the pickiest of cats proper cat nutrition.
To ensure your cat is healthy, active, and happy, they will need high-quality food that contains a well-balanced blend of the nutrients they need. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your cat healthy and at the right weight.
Why is Cat Nutrition Important?
Cats are pretty simple pets that don’t require a whole lot to be happy. But if you want to keep your cat healthy you need to ensure they have a well-balanced, nutritious diet. A cat needs a proper diet to:
- Maintain a proper weight
- Have a healthy coat and skin
- Stay active
- Avoid illnesses related to nutrition deficiencies
Cats are picky eaters but it’s very important to make sure they are getting the right amount of food and enough of the nutrients they need in that food. There are thousands of brands of cat food out there but unfortunately many of them are very unhealthy for cats. Some are even dangerous for your cat to eat.
What Can Happen if You Ignore Your Cat’s Nutritional Health?
Poor quality commercial dry food is missing a lot of key nutrients that your cats need. They also often contain a lot of ingredients that range from unimportant to dangerous for your cat to ingest. This can lead to a lot of complications.
If you notice your cat’s skin or fur has poor quality, that’s due to a nutritional deficiency. If you notice dry hair with “split ends,” slow fur growth, dry skin, sores, or change in hair color, your cat’s food is probably missing the fats and protein your kitty needs.
Another common issue when your cat has poor nutrition is obesity. While many people think chunky cats are cute, obese cats have issues with mobility and proper cleaning. Cats become obese from eating too much food, eating food they can’t properly digest, or lacking certain nutrients from their diet.
As obesity becomes more and more common in cats, vets are seeing more cases of diabetes as well. Left untreated, diabetes can be fatal. Make sure your cat is not eating too many sugary carbohydrates. This includes grains and potatoes.
Poor diet plays a big role in the formation of urinary crystals and stones. Balancing the pH level in your cat’s diet can keep these types of issues at bay. The wrong food can also upset your cat’s stomach, leading to prolonged vomiting and diarrhea.
This is a common side effect of bad quality food.
Common Allergies for Cats Are Food Related
The most common allergies for cats are related to food. This can lead to skin issues and other negative side effects. Most food allergies come from cheaper cat foods heavy in carbohydrates and other fillers.
A poor diet can weaken your cat’s immune system. Some cheaper cat foods have ingredients that act as immunosuppressants. When your cat has a weakened immune system, it’s easier for them to get sick or develop diseases that they can’t properly fight off.
Some cats can actually lose weight if the food is too cheap. Unhealthy ingredients like carbohydrate fillers can make your cat feel full. But meanwhile, they are lacking the nutrition they need to be healthy. You’ll notice your cat looking and acting dull, becoming quite lethargic.
What Do Cats Need for Nutrition?
When picking out the perfect cat food you can purr home about, there are certain ingredients to look for. The following nutrients will make sure your cat is healthy and getting the proper balance they need to thrive and live a long life.
Cats need water. Without enough water, cats can become seriously ill and even die. A lot of cats are picky about water and will refuse to drink out of a bowl if it doesn’t meet their high standards. For this reason, a lot of people provide their cats with wet food, which usually consists of 70% water or more. You can also consider a water fountain since cats are drawn to moving water.
Cats are carnivores. Getting protein is mandatory if you want your cat to be healthy. Proteins are essential for growth, maintenance, and repair. They are the building blocks for cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, and hormones.
A protein source should be the first item on the list of ingredients. Common protein sources in cat food include chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, and salmon. Avoid cat food that lists a “meal” as a first ingredient. Cats also don’t need vegetables, soy, or cereals as a source of “incomplete” proteins.
Essential amino acids are a requirement in a cat’s diet. These are not synthesized by the cat itself. Essential amino acids include arginine, lysine, isoleucine, and taurine. Taurine is very important for cats, preventing eye and heart disease. Taurine is only found in foods of “animal origin,” including meat, eggs, and fish.
Cats get a lot of their food energy from fats. They actually provide cats with more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. Fats are also important for protecting internal organs, producing hormones, and cell structure.
One of the fats that cats need is linoleic acid. This is an omega-6 fatty acid that keeps a cat’s skin and coat healthy. It also helps with kidney function and reproduction. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, from skin allergies to painful joints.
Carbs are considered a “filler” ingredient in most cat foods. While a bit of carbohydrate is great for your cat’s body tissue and intestine health, a food that’s heavy in carbohydrates is most likely not part of a balanced diet. Look for foods that have a bit of fiber, which is good for digestion. But high fiber foods can be harmful to younger cats.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound found in the hemp plant. Unlike THC, which is also found in marijuana, CBD won’t get your cat high. Instead, it interacts with the receptors in your cat’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), providing a wide range of health and wellness benefits.
The ECS maintains your cat’s overall balance or homeostasis. That’s because it has receptors in every major system in the body, including the nervous, immune, and digestive systems. This allows CBD to impact various parts of your cat’s brain and body in a positive way.
A lot of people give their cat CBD treats or CBD oil every eight hours or twice a day to make the CBD more effective. CBD can reduce your cat’s nervousness in stressful situations, like moving or being around new animals. When your cat is less upset you’ll notice a friendlier disposition and less destructive behavior. CBD can also soothe physical discomfort and joint inflammation.
A small amount of vitamins is essential to a cat’s metabolic functioning. But keep in mind that cats don’t need vitamin or mineral supplements. High-quality food should have the right amount. While cats need minerals to improve their bones and teeth, too many minerals and vitamins can lead to your cat getting sick or poisoned.
What Isn’t Nutritionally Required for Cats?
The National Research Council’s subcommittee on cat nutrition stated that carbohydrates are not essential for a cat’s diet. We said earlier that a small number of carbs in high-quality food can have some benefits, but keep in mind that cats have a lot lower intestinal activity levels, meaning they can’t break down carbohydrates as easily. This can leave your cat very overweight and unhealthy. Always make sure the food you provide your cat doesn’t have a lot of carbs in comparison to essential ingredients.
What Should You Feed Your Cat?
If you are unsure of what brand of cat food to provide your kitty, you might want to consult with a veterinarian. They will be able to assess your cat’s specific dietary and health needs.
Here is some basic advice for cats of all ages!
Nutrition Tips for Kittens
You should adopt a kitten when they are six weeks or older. But if you are responsible for taking care of kittens during the first few months of their lives, you will need to transition them from milk to kitten food.
For the first four weeks, newborns only need their mother’s milk for nutrition. You’ll notice that during these first few weeks, your kitten’s body weight will double, sometimes triple! To help this growth, kittens need a large amount of energy and nutrients.
In fact, kittens need two to three times as much energy as an adult cat. To compensate, about 30% of their total energy should come from protein. This is unique to kittens so make sure you are providing them with food formulated for kittens specifically. Kittens will often eat kitten formula food for about a year.
Kittens can have treats, but not many. Make sure they don’t have enough treats to equal more than 5% of their daily nutrient intake.
Weaning a Kitten
This is the process of transitioning your kitten from mother’s milk to solid food. This should happen gradually. It’s a process that’s often handled by the mother cat. But if you are fostering a newborn, this process will be left up to you.
Weaning should start at around four weeks old (never any younger). By eight to 10 weeks, your kitten should be eating solid food exclusively. Kittens should remain with their mother and the rest of the litter during the weaning process so their health and socialization are not affected negatively.
At four weeks old, place the kitten in a separate area for a few hours to reduce dependency. The secluded area should have a litter box, food, and water. They can spend more time here as they become more independent.
The food in this room should be a “gruel,” which is half replacement milk (not cow’s milk) and half dry food. Gradually decrease the amount of milk in the mix as your kitten gets used to the food. By five to six weeks, your kitten should be able to eat lightly moistened food. By 10 weeks, your kitten should be able to eat completely dry food.
Nutrition Tips for Adult Cats
The amount of food an adult cat gets is often based on weight. Most cat foods have a chart on the bag that will help you pick the proper portion. But always check with a veterinarian to see if your cat has any special needs or conditions that require more or less food, or a special formula.
The ASPCA recommends feeding your adult cat twice a day using a portion control method. Whatever amount your bag says is right for your cat should be split into two. You can feed one half of the food in the morning and a half at night as a dinner. This is made even easier with an automatic feeder, allowing you to feed your cat the exact amount at the exact same time every day.
Nutrition Tips for Senior Cats
Cats will show signs of aging at around seven to 12 years old. This is around the time that a cat’s metabolism and body composition change. You want to make sure that you change your cat’s diet around this time to maintain their health and body weight as well as slow down or prevent the development of diseases.
Avoid changing your cat’s diet too abruptly when they are considered a senior. This might make them stressed and complicate their health. Keep your food routine as consistent as possible. If you need to change their feeding time or food brand, do it gradually if possible.
Types of Commercial Cat Food
The two main types of cat food on the market are dry food and wet food. Dry food is the bag of kitty kibble while wet food is canned.
Dry food is often cheaper but less nutritious. It’s easier to create a feeding routine for your cat with dry food, since you can use an automatic feeder, and it’s easier to store since it won’t go bad in a few hours. High-quality dry food is sufficient for a well-balanced diet but a lot of people like to provide both options for their cat.
Wet food doesn’t have any carbohydrates at all, which is why it’s often much healthier. It also has a lot of moisture, which can help keep your cat from getting dehydrated. Since wet food isn’t crunchy, it can often lead to mouth issues if you don’t brush your cat’s teeth regularly. Wet food also can’t be stored too easily since it can’t be left out very long or refrigerated for more than a day.
What Food Should Cats Avoid?
Even though cats are called picky eaters, that doesn’t mean they won’t try out food that’s sometimes bad for them, or even poisonous or fatal. Sometimes cats can get quite curious about “human food” since they feel a bit left out. Here are some foods to always keep away from your cat.
- Onions and garlic: These ingredients can cause damage to your cat’s red blood cells and cause anemia. In large quantities, they are even considered poisonous. Even garlic powder can be toxic. If you notice that your cat is lethargic, weak, and pale, take them to the vet immediately.
- Raw meat: Cats shouldn’t be fed raw meat, raw eggs, or even bones. These can give your cat salmonella or E. coli poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. Raw eggs are especially dangerous since they contain enzymes that cause coat problems. Bones can break your cat’s teeth or injure their digestive tract. They can even cause choking.
- Chocolate: This is poisonous to cats, even fatal. Methylxanthines in the chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, high body temperature, muscle tremors, and even seizures. This same ingredient is found in caffeinated beverages. Always bring your cat to the vet if they ingest these types of food.
- Dairy: Cats are often depicted drinking milk in movies and cartoons, but cats actually have a lot of trouble digesting milk because of the lactose. Their digestive systems can’t handle lactose, causing them a lot of troubling stomach problems and digestive issues.
What Makes a Healthy & Nutritious Cat Food?
The most important ingredients to look for in high-quality cat food are protein and taurine. The first ingredient must always be a protein source, like chicken or salmon. Taurine must always be listed. These are essential to your cat’s health, well-being, and happiness.
Avoid foods that have a lot of carbohydrates. While a small amount can have some benefits when portioned correctly, carbohydrates are often called “fillers” that offer very little nutritional value for cats. Instead, a lot of carbs can make your cat overweight, lethargic, and unhealthy.
Protein, protein, protein! Cats are carnivores, so meat is very important to their diet. Always make sure that the high-quality food you give them each day has protein as the first ingredient. Think chicken or salmon. Fats, vitamins, minerals, and taurine are also important to check for.
If you want to add treats to your cat’s diet, HolistaPet has the perfect solution. Our delicious yet healthy treats have all-natural, organic, vegan ingredients that provide a lot of healthy benefits to your cat. This is a great and healthy way to spoil your kitty and give them a daily dose of CBD. You’ll notice your cat is calmer, happier, and healthier.
Other Cat Nutrition Articles:
- Can Cats Drink Milk? No! Try These Feline Friendly Milk Substitutes
- Can Cats Eat Dog Food? [Once vs. Often]
- Can Cats Eat Peas: Why They’re Beneficial & Ways to Serve Your Feline
- Cat Food Ingredients [Distinguishing Quality]
- Cat Treats: Different Varieties + Benefits and Uses
- Healthy Cat Treats [Best Ingredients & What To Avoid]
- Is There a Natural Cat Appetite Stimulant? [And Does It Work?]
- Omega-3 for Cats – 4 Ways To Give Your Feline This Essential Nutrient
- Salmon Oil For Cats: Utilizing The Benefits Of Omega Fatty Acids
- Soft Cat Treats: The Pros of Chewy Bites, the Best Ingredients, & More
- Wet vs Dry Cat Food – Why it Matters & What to Look For