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What to Feed Cats for a Healthy Pet

Cats and dogs are fundamentally different in just about every way, and that includes their dietary needs. Yes, your cat seems to spend most of the time sitting and sunbathing, but that lap cat needs more energy-producing nutrients than most dogs do.

New pet parents seeking advice on what to feed cats should consult a veterinarian, as they can help you better understand what to look for on your pet’s food label.

What Do Cats Eat for Dinner?

Start with a premium food formulated for your favorite feline. While different brands include their own unique mix of ingredients, all contain high-quality nutrients, which is one of the most important factors in choosing a cat's food.

Remember, when you're choosing a pet food, you get what you pay for. More expensive products are usually made from higher-quality ingredients, which means your cat can digest the food more easily and retain more nutritional value from each bite. And because your pet eats less when it's a high-quality product, you'll have less work when you clean the litter box.

Not sure if your cat's food measures up? The better the diet, the better your pet should look. One good sign is a shiny, silky coat with no dry skin.

Protein is Key

Cats are carnivores. Meat and protein should make up a big chunk of their diet. Protein can come from a variety of sources, including plant matter, so make sure the bulk of the protein is derived from meat and poultry. These ingredients are not necessarily inferior – it all depends on how the ingredients are arranged according to their amino acid profile. They also need certain essential amino acids that their bodies can't produce. One of the most important of these is taurine.

A lack of taurine in the protein can cause serious health problems in cats, including cardiomyopathy (or weakened heart muscle disease), reproductive disorders, retinal degeneration or blindness. Feeding your kitty a premium food is your best insurance against taurine deficiency because premium food manufacturers make sure their brands give your cat the taurine levels needed, plus the correct balance of other nutrients.

Avoid an All-Meat or All-Vegetarian Diet

Cats are carnivores. They require high animal protein diets. A vegetarian diet will not provide adequate nutrition for your cat due to your cat's very specific gastrointestinal system and nutrient requirements.

Cats must also get nutrients from foods other than meat. Without proper calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D (not available in a meat-only diet), your cat will be susceptible to a multitude of serious health concerns.

Dry Food or Wet Food

This comes down to a matter of preference for most cats and their parents, as there are pros and cons to both types of food:

Dry cat food

Pros: Cost effective and odorless, compared to wet foods. You can store these foods for longer periods, and it won't spoil if it sits in your cat's dish all day.

Cons: Some cats find dry food less appealing than semi-moist and canned foods.

Semi-moist food

Pros: Like dry food, semi-moist food doesn't need to be refrigerated, so it's easy to use and store. And most cats think it's a pretty tasty choice.

Cons: The cost of semi-moist is more expensive than dry, and the high sugar content can cause problems for cats with certain conditions such as diabetes or dental disease.

Canned/Wet cat food

Pros: Higher levels of protein and fat, making these meals a great option for less active cats, or those with special dietary needs. The higher percentage of water by weight is also good for cats that often become dehydrated.

Cons: Wet meal options can be more costly than dry foods. Canned food also spoils quickly once it's been opened, so it must be refrigerated.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Your cat's food supply has run dry, and you'd rather avoid a trip to the store, so now you're wondering, "Can cats eat dog food?"

The answer is, no. Dog food doesn't contain enough protein or the right amino acids – including taurine – to meet your cat's dietary needs. No need to panic, though. If you catch your cat snacking at the dog's bowl, just discourage the habit and make sure they eat plenty of their own food.

Your Cat’s Changing Dietary Needs

As your kitten reaches adulthood, nutritional needs change. They'll need less protein and fat, and fewer calories. You can switch your cat to an adult food at age one.

Your pet’s digestive system can handle a limited number of food types at a time if you consistently feed them the same food and treat options. They will need a short period of introduction when introducing new recipes to their palette to ensure a smooth transition for digestion. When switching food, make the swap over a two-week period to give your cat time to adjust to their new meal. Each time mix in more and more of the new food as you decrease the amount of original food.

The Weight Management Diet

  • Increase protein while reducing their portion sizes
  • Switch to a premium cat food with a better protein-to-fat ratio
  • Reduce or remove treats from their diet
  • Try to break up daily feeding throughout the day – cats will be less likely to beg for food
  • If you give your cat treats, opt for high protein (egg, lean meat) or healthy dental treats rather than fats, grease or commercial kitty treats
  • Switch to a specially formulated weight management food

Food sensitivities

Before making any changes, you'll want to meet with your veterinarian to determine the right steps to take. Some helpful steps may include skin testing or feeding research, to determine which substances your cat may be sensitive to. Sometimes it can be as simple as switching cat food.