Cat owners must make many decisions about feeding their cat, including what food to feed, how much to feed, and what feeding method to use. Cats require a well-balanced diet to maintain their overall health and wellbeing but determining the best feeding regimen for your cat can be confusing. Keep reading to learn best practices for feeding your cat to ensure you provide their nutritional requirements.
Choose the Right Food For Your Cat
To determine the right food for your cat, you must consider their age, weight, and overall health, because they have different nutritional requirements at every life stage, and for different health issues. Factors to consider include:
- Kittens — Kittens are typically fully weaned by 8 to 10 weeks of age, and their metabolism is extremely high. They can double or triple their weight during their first weeks, and they have high energy levels that contribute to a high metabolism. This means they require more proteins and amino acids than adult cats and should be fed a specific kitten formula until 1 year of age. Exposing kittens to wet and dry food introduces them to different textures and flavors and can help prevent them from becoming picky eaters.
- Adult cats — A healthy adult cat should be fed an adult maintenance formula. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they require a meat-based diet to meet their nutritional requirements. They also need taurine, an important amino acid (found in meat, fish, and eggs) for normal heart function, vision, and reproduction.
- Senior cats — Cats should be switched to a senior diet at about 7 years of age. When feeding a senior cat, the main objectives are maintaining their health and an ideal body weight, slowing, or preventing chronic disease development, and minimizing or improving clinical signs of existing diseases. Cats experiencing particular health issues, such as kidney disease and diabetes, may need prescription diets.
- Overweight cats — According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60% of cats in the United States are overweight, predisposing them to health conditions such as diabetes, kidney problems, and joint pain. If your cat is overweight, they may need a low-calorie diet to help lose the extra pounds.
When it comes to picking a brand or type of food, ask your veterinarian. We generally recommend science-based pet foods including Royal Canin, Hill’s, and Purina Pro Plan which are formulated with advanced nutrient profiles.
Determine the Appropriate Amount to Feed Your Cat
Once you find an appropriate food for your cat, calculate their daily energy requirements using a calorie calculator that will simplify the math and ensure you feed the correct amount. Factors that contribute include your cat’s age, weight, body conditioning score (BCS), energy level, and spay or neuter status. Once you have determined the daily calories your cat needs, you can calculate their food requirement. Most dry foods list the calorie content as kilocalories (kcal) of metabolizable energy (ME) per kilogram or per cup, and wet foods list the calorie content as kcal of ME per can. Ensure you divide this amount by the number of times a day you feed your cat and use measuring cups or weight scales to ensure you feed them the accurate amount.
Establish a Feeding Schedule For Your Cat
An established feeding routine will let your cat know what to expect at mealtimes. Cat owners have several feeding options, each with advantages and disadvantages. These include:
- Free feeding — When you free feed your cat, you allow access to food at all times. This method should be used only when you feed your cat dry food, since you should not leave wet food out all day. You should also throw out any dry kibble that your cat has not eaten at the end of the day, to maintain freshness. This feeding method is the least hassle for cat owners, but when your cat’s food intake is unlimited, they likely overeat, which leads to obesity.
- Meal feeding — This method, which allows feeding both wet and dry food, involves feeding your cat only at specific mealtimes during the day. Meal feeding allows you to monitor your cat’s food intake and ensure that they are eating the appropriate food amount that meets, but does not exceed, their calorie requirements.
- Combination feeding — Combination feeding involves providing canned food at specific mealtimes and leaving dry food out throughout the day. Similar to free feeding, you cannot monitor your cat’s food intake, and they can easily overeat and gain weight. However, this method helps to get kittens used to mealtimes, and at the same time provides enough food to meet their extensive caloric needs, since they cannot eat enough in short periods because of their small stomachs.
Ensure Your Cat’s Dining Setting is Acceptable
Cats can be sensitive, and they may stop eating if their dining set up isn’t acceptable. Consider the following factors to ensure your cat enjoys their meal:
- Feeding dish — Your cat uses their whiskers to navigate their surroundings and help communicate their mood. If your cat eats from a deep bowl, the high sides can irritate their whiskers, making their mealtime a negative experience. Use wide, shallow bowls with a small lip to avoid whisker stress.
- Location — Finding the right location for your cat’s food bowl is also important. You should place your cat’s bowl in a low traffic area where they can view their surroundings as they eat. If you have a multi-pet household, consider elevating their food bowl so your other pets can’t reach.
- Food puzzle toys — To make mealtimes more entertaining and to encourage your cat’s hunting instinct, feed them in a puzzle feeder or food distributor ball. These toys not only provide essential mental stimulation but can also help obese cats lose weight.
Ensure Your Cat Remains Well Hydrated
Water is the most important nutrient you can provide your cat. Dehydration can lead to significant health issues, and you should take the following steps to encourage your cat to remain well hydrated:
- Provide several sources — Place your cat’s water bowls in multiple locations throughout your home to make drinking easy and convenient.
- Clean the bowls often — Clean the bowls and refresh the water at least daily to ensure the water appeals to your cat.
- Provide a water fountain — Many cats are drawn to flowing water and will drink more if they have access to a water fountain. Ensure you clean the fountain and change the filters as recommended, to keep the water supply fresh.
This information should help you feed your cat appropriately, but if you have any questions about your cat’s specific nutritional needs, contact your veterinarian for advice.