Cats are obligate carnivores i.e. they rely on nutrients found only in animal products. Cats have evolved as hunters that consume prey that contains high amounts of proteins, moderate amounts of fats, a minimal amount of carbohydrates, and a dozen other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids.

A well-balanced diet is as important to pets as it is for humans. To ensure that your cat stays healthy and energetic, it is important to understand what and how to feed your cat, the daily nutritional requirements of your cat, and how these nutritional requirements vary according to various parameters like breed, age, size, lifecycle (kitten, pregnant or nursing, adult), environment, physical activity, lifestyle, etc.

Food and Nutrition for Cats

Read more about Cat’s Food and Nutrition in the sections below:

  1. Nutrient Groups for Cats
  2. Frequency and Quantity of Food for each life-stage of your Cat
  3. Cat Treats
  4. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Cats

Nutrient Groups for Cats:

There are 6 Nutrient groups are important for all cats- proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. All of these are important and are required in a balanced proportion else your cat may become ill as a result of nutritional deficiencies or excesses. The purpose and function of each of these is described below:

  1. Proteins: Proteins are important for growth, maintenance, reproduction and repair of damaged tissues. Animal-based proteins have complete amino acid profiles while the proteins found in vegetables, cereals, and soy are incomplete proteins. Amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins have two forms- essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are not synthesized in sufficient quantities in a cat’s body while non-essential are. Hence, it is important to provide all essential amino acids like Taurine in your cat’s diet to keep him/her healthy. Taurine is usually found in foods of animal origin like meat, eggs, and fish. Overall cats have a very high requirement for proteins.
  2. Fats:  Fats provide energy to your cat and are essential for the production of some hormones. These are also required for the absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins. Fats provide body insulation and protection for internal organs. All essential fatty acids including Omega 3 and Omega 6 must be provided in a cat’s diet as they are not synthesized in the animal body. 
  3. Carbohydrates: Carbs provide energy for the body tissues and play a vital role in the health of the intestine and are also important for reproduction. Fibers are also kinds of carbohydrates that modify the mix of the bacterial population in the small intestine and can help manage chronic diarrhea. Cats do not have the enzyme pathways to digest and utilize dietary carbohydrates hence diets high in carbs can lead to a number of problems in cats like diabetes, obesity, etc.
  4. Vitamins: These are catalysts for enzyme reactions and are important for metabolic functions. Most vitamins cannot be synthesized in the body and hence, are required to be present in a cat’s diet.
  5. Minerals: These are inorganic compounds that are not metabolized and yield no energy. These nutrients cannot be synthesized by animals and must be provided in the diet. In general, minerals are most important as structural constituents of bones and teeth, for maintaining fluid balance and for their involvement in many metabolic reactions.
  6. Water: Water is an important part of your cat’s diet, it promotes overall health and especially urinary tract health. Your cat will lose water all day as he sweats, pants, pees or poops but still, they have limited thirst drive as they originated from deserts and they fulfill their requirements by eating fresh raw food. This can lead to health issues when they eat dry products and treats. Therefore, pet owners should provide access to clean drinking water to their cats at all times.

Most cat foods such as dry kibble or canned wet food do contain all the nutrients that are required for them to stay healthy.  Dry food is more economical and is considered good for their dental health but it generally has relatively low water content, high carbohydrates, and a number of preservatives. While wet food provides moisture, has more proteins, less energy content, and is beneficial for cats who do not drink a lot of water. 

A good quality cat food will contain all the above nutrients in an appropriate amount based on your cat’s health and life stage and that can be digested by its digestive system.  One needs to be careful of the following things before giving meat to your little furry friend:

  1. Maintain good food hygiene as the risk of both you and your cat getting a food-borne bacterial infection such as campylobacter or salmonella due to animal-protein based food is high
  2. Discuss with your vet to give a personalized formulated diet for your pet. As many raw diets are not balanced or well suited to meet the needs of your cat.

Frequency and Quantity of Feeding:

Most pet foods have guidelines written on the backside of the packaging for the serving size based on the size, weight, and age of your cat but it is advisable to consult a vet to understand the cat food brand, serving size, and frequency of feeding for your pet as it depends on a number of parameters. The food given to your friend’s cat could be different from the requirements of your own cat and every cat is unique in terms of its intake needs. 

The daily calorie needs of your cat depend on its age, size, and activity level but on average, it should be around 200 calories (excluding any snacks or treats). Cats generally prefer to eat at dawn and dusk (due to their evolution cycle of hunting at that time) but they can’t judge how much to eat and become obese. Hence, pet owners should restrict the quantity to their required levels to avoid this.

Mentioned below is the breakdown for food, servings, and frequency of feeding in terms of the cat’s age.

  • Kitten: For the first month of a cat’s life, food is generally the mother’s milk or commercial milk replacement formula given every 2-4 hours if the kitten has been separated from its mother. Once this initial period passes, kitten food can become a dietary staple in the following stages, amounts, and frequency:
    • From 3-5 weeks of age, feeding orphaned kittens involve offering the milk replacement formula in a shallow dish to encourage weaning from a bottle. You can also add a moist, easily chewable diet consisting of a mixture of warm formula and high quality canned or dried kitten food 4-6 times a day.
    • By 5-8 weeks of age, the kitten should be able to chew its own kitten food, and you should provide a protein-rich and energy-filled diet, with feedings taking place 3-4 times daily. Canned kitten food is highly recommended at this stage because it will mimic the natural diet both in consistency and formulation. However, a good diet may also consist of a combination of canned and dry kitten foods. 
    • By 6 months, the need for food is decreased as kittens are about 75% of their adult size and can be fed 2 meals a day. An adult cat food can be introduced at about 8-10 months of age. By about 12 weeks of age, most kittens lose the ability to digest milk sugar (lactose). Therefore, while small amounts may be tolerated, too much milk can lead to intestinal upset and diarrhea because the cat cannot digest it properly.

    • Adults: For adults, a high-quality commercial adult cat food should be fed containing all the nutrients that a cat requires. Most domestic cats will eat small meals frequently throughout the day and at night. In fact, depending on the individual and the type of food, some cats will eat from 12 – 20 meals a day. This is especially true for cats eating dry foods, whereas moist or canned foods are usually consumed quickly as one to three larger meals per day.

    • Senior Cats: After around 7 years of age, cats begin transitioning from adulthood to the mature/senior stages of life. This transition causes health and lifestyle changes with a cat’s weight, skin, joints, teeth, and internal organs. If your cat is doing well on his current diet, then there may be no need to change to a different formula. Some brands make a senior cat food which is specially formulated to deliver ingredients that are more easily digested than standard adult cat foods. 

  • Pregnancy/Breeding/Lactating queens: Good nutrition sets the stage for successful breeding and pregnancy. A malnourished queen – both over- and under-weight – will suffer reproductive consequences, as will her kittens. Obesity is the most common nutrition-related problem in reproducing queens. Obesity can decrease the number of eggs released at ovulation, resulting in smaller litter sizes. Also, obesity can decrease milk production during lactation, negatively impacting kitten health and growth. An overweight or obese queen should lose weight before breeding. Overfeeding can result in obesity at the end of pregnancy, which increases the risk of difficult or prolonged labor and added stress to the kittens. Conversely, underfeeding during pregnancy can result in embryo loss, abnormal fetal development, spontaneous abortion or stillbirth, small litter size, and low birth-weight kittens who fail to thrive. It is important that the queen not lose weight or condition during this time, so monitor her weight and body condition, increasing food as needed. 

A highly-digestible, high-quality kitten/growth/development formulation is generally recommended during feline pregnancy. The best options are those diets that have passed feeding trials for gestation/lactation or for all life stages. Feeding multiple small meals may help the queen to maintain adequate nutrient and calorie intake especially in the final trimester. It may be wise to change to kitten food before breeding and pregnancy to prevent any unnecessary stress associated with changing food.

Cat Treats

Cat Treats should only make 10% to 15% of a cat’s daily calories. One can check with a vet to understand how many treats can be given to your cat based on his likes, weight, and activity level. One can choose to replace the store-bought snacks that are high in fat, sugar, and preservatives.

If you are used to feeding your kitten from the table, be cautious about the amount of food you are giving. Only a variation of 10% is allowed to be fed apart from his daily diet. Also, one should also note the foods that are harmful to your cat’s life and always keep them at bay. 

Also, cats are known to be choosy eaters. The texture, color, odor, and temperature of the food influence a lot on their food preferences. Also, they prefer clean food bowls kept in a calm and quiet place. Although many cats are content to eat a single food, some cats may develop finicky eating habits and become selective food. Feeding your cat two or three different cat foods provides flavor variety and may prevent your cat from developing an exclusive preference for a single food. A cat that refuses to eat can develop serious medical problems. This is true for sick cats that lack an appetite, for cats on a diet, and for the finicky cat that refuses to eat. A veterinarian should examine any cat that refuses to eat and is losing weight. Also, one should also note the foods that are harmful to your cat’s life and always keep them at bay. 

Vitamins and Nutrient Supplements for Cats:

Most commercial diets are balanced in nature and meet the needs of your cat. Cats fed with homemade food lack nutrients and minerals and are required to feed supplements. Also, vegan diets do not work well for your cat as they need specific vitamins, minerals, and proteins that come only from meat (but not raw meat, this can make your cat ill). Hence, supplements are given to cats to meet their nutritional deficiencies 

Too much of any Vitamin can cause severe problems in your cat such as excess Vitamin A can harm blood vessels, excess Calcium can cause skeletal problems, etc.. Hence, one must consult a nutritionist to determine the needs of your cat before feeding him any supplements.

Source: VCA Hospitals