In the wild, cats are natural hunters with quick reflexes and senses that can detect prey easily. Of course, most cats don’t have to catch their own food when they move into your home (unless you have a mouse problem!) So how do you keep your cat healthy and happy on a diet that’s pleasing both to your hungry kitty and you?
When cats were first domesticated about 9000 years ago, they were working animals – they earned their keep by reducing mice and other pests in their owners’ homes. It’s only in the past 50 or 60 years that cats have been fed processed food rather than catching their own meals. Incidentally, the rate of feline obesity has increased substantially in the past 50 years as well, but the lifespan of cats has also increased substantially.
Just as with convenience foods for humans, there are many cat foods that are convenient and inexpensive but don’t necessarily provide the best nutrition. A wild cat’s diet is made up almost entirely of meat from mice, birds, insects and other small animals. Obviously, releasing live animals into your house for your cat to catch isn’t a good solution, so how can you find an ideal balance of convenience and nutrition for your cat?
For most cats, commercial cat foods provide a solid nutritional profile for them to thrive in a domestic environment. Some cats may have sensitivities or other health issues that require a more specialized diet, such as a grain-free or holistic food. Many people choose to feed their cats these specialty foods because they want the best for their cat, and they identify holistic or grain-free foods as high-quality, with fresh, whole ingredients, and no by-products.
It’s essential to look at your cat rather than the bag of food to determine if the food he’s eating is right for him.
Probably the easiest and most common cat food is dry kibble. Dry food is the epitome of convenience for feeding cats. It can be left out all day for cats who like to graze, stores well and is generally less expensive than other options. There is a huge selection in dry foods, many of which are high-quality foods that more than meet your cat’s nutrition requirements.
Dry kibble is pretty far-removed from the wild feline diet, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Cats live far longer lives in captivity than in the wild, and they wouldn’t be able to do that if the staple food for housecats wasn’t nutritionally sound. However, dry food does fall short in some areas.
Cats don’t feel thirst as strongly as many other animals do, and as a result, tend not to drink as much as they may need. Animals that they catch and consume have a high water content, as do canned and raw cat foods. Urinary tract problems are common in cats, and hydration is an important factor in prevention. If you choose to feed dry food, make sure your cat drinks water frequently. He should have access to clean, fresh water at all times and you should monitor his litter box use to make sure he’s urinating regularly and without difficulty. For tips on increasing water consumption, read Dr. Dave Summers article in the Pet Valu Companion, Winter 2010 issue.
Wet cat food comes conveniently in cans and is also a popular option for many cat owners. It has the advantage of helping your cat consume more water and is much closer to a natural diet than dry food, but is less convenient since it doesn’t store well once opened and dries out if your cat doesn’t eat it within a few hours. Canned food can also be more expensive to feed.
Options in the Market
It can be overwhelming when you enter a pet store and see a hundred different types of food with different messages, all claiming to be the best for your pet. It can be difficult to know which one to choose. A Pet Valu pet expert can help you make a choice based on your cat’s age, activity level, and other health concerns, but there still may be many options that would work for your pet. Some of the specialized concepts in food include holistic, grain-free, and raw food diets. All of these have advantages and disadvantages.
You may want to take a trial and error approach, testing different foods to see if they affect your cat’s energy level, weight, and overall health. When switching foods, it’s important to switch slowly over a period of a couple of weeks. Start with 25% new food, 75% old food for a few days, then reduce the old food and increase the new food until you are feeding just the new food. When switching foods, pay attention to the amount of food as well. Different foods have different densities, which means that there are more or less calories per cup in different foods. Measuring the food amount makes it easier for you to control your cat’s weight.
When switching food, monitor your cat’s digestion for any issues – vomiting or diarrhea may mean that a food doesn’t agree with your cat. If these symptoms are mild, it could just be your cat adjusting to the new food, so give it some time and try a slower transition between foods. Keep an eye on your cat’s overall health and energy levels when you switch foods. If his coat is silky and healthy and his energy levels are good, you’re on the right track.
While there are many lower-cost brands, many of these have lower-quality ingredients such as meat by-products rather than real chicken or salmon. However, many cats do perfectly well on these foods.
Foods designed for optimal pet nutrition have other advantages. For example, when a cat eats a diet rich in meats, he will likely have fewer issues in the litter box, and you may notice fewer strong odors coming from the box.
Where possible, it’s always best to give your pet a nutritional leg up by feeding her cat foods made with quality ingredients. This can help prevent illness as your cat ages and give her a better quality of life. Let the pet experts at Pet Valu help you choose the best food option for both you and your pet.