What to feed a cat

If you are overwhelmed with a variety of different cat foods on the market and you don’t know what to give to your cat to stay well and healthy, the best course of action is to understand the cat’s nutritional needs first.

Cats are so-called obligate carnivores. That means that they are strict meat-eaters and that their physiology is accustomed to eating meat only.

Simply put, cats don’t have the ability to create certain nutritionary elements in their bodies, the way herbivores or omnivores do. Eating the meat-only diet, however, provides them with necessary nutrients in the pre-formed state so their bodies don’t need to produce these nutrients on their own. That’s possible because the prey cats eat has already done it for them.

wild cat eating raw meat

Cat’s digestive system has also adapted to this strict-meat diet and is the shortest compared to the body size of almost any mammal. Raw meat is easily digestible, therefore, there is no need for a long digestive tract and the fermenting bacteria that animals that eat plants need.

Cats need high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat, only a minimal amount of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids.

The ideal cat diet is high in animal-based proteins. From eating animal-based proteins comes taurine, an essential nutrient for the cat’s heart and brain health.

Cats are not accustomed to consuming high levels of carbohydrates because they don’t have enzyme pathways to metabolize them. Unfortunately, high levels of carbohydrates are found in many commercially available cat foods. Diets high in carbohydrates lead to diseases such as obesity, diabetes and others.

Cats need a moderate amount of fat in their diet, which provides the most important source for their energy. Fats also add taste to the cat’s food.

To summarize, a diet that meets a cat’s nutritional needs is one higher in animal-based proteins, low in carbohydrates, and moderate in fat.

Let’s have a look at the cat’s nutritional requirements in more detail.

Cat Nutritional Requirements

Below are five categories of nutrients that are essential to a cat’s health and wellbeing:

1. Water

Water is the most important nutrient to sustain healthy cells and general body functions.

2. Protein

Protein is a fundamental element of feline nutrition, which is necessary for the maintenance and support of a cat’s muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, plasma proteins.

Proteins are built from essential amino acids. Amino acids are synthesized in the liver with the help of carbon and nitrogen. There are 30 amino acids in total. 20 amino acids in a cat’s diet are dispensable (or non-essential) and 10 are non-dispensable (or essential). Dispensable amino acids can be safely absent from a cat’s diet. This means the 10 non-dispensable, or essential amino acids, must come from a cat’s diet.

3. Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids, simply known as fats, provide the most concentrated source of a cat’s energy. Thanks to fats being the main source of feline energy, cats don’t need carbohydrates for that purpose.

Fats also carry fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A, and K and supply linoleic and arachidonic acids, which are essential for the overall health of the cat.

4. Vitamins

Vitamins are organic substances made by plants or animals that help regulate various body processes, such as boosting immunity, supporting growth and development, helping cells and organs properly function and others. Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble.

The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins D, E, A, and K.

The water-soluble vitamins are The B Vitamins (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, B-12) and Vitamin C.

There is no universally accepted vitamin intake requirement for cats, but it’s scientifically proved they are necessary for the cat’s body function.

5. Minerals

Minerals are inorganic substances that are produced in soil or water and that are consumed by plants or animals to regulate acid-base balance, tissue structure and enzymes.

Similarly to vitamins, there is no universally accepted mineral intake requirement for cats. It’s scientifically proved though that cats need the following minerals to help facilitate healthy body functioning: Calcium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Iodine.

cats eating canned food

Cats should be fed a balanced and complete diet, which can be found in commercial cat foods. Commercially prepared cat foods should provide a cat with all nutrients that they could get from prey.

Types of Commercial Cat Food

There are three main types of commercial cat food: dry, semi-moist and wet (canned). These formulas vary in water content, protein level, caloric density, palatability, and digestibility.

Dry Cat Food

Dry cat food contains between 6 and 10 percent water. It’s made by combining dry and wet ingredients together, extruding them, drying and cutting into kibbles. The kibbles are coated with flavor enhancements, such as animal fat, to make it more palatable.

Ingredients in the dry cat food may include:

– meat and/or meat byproducts

– poultry and/or poultry byproducts

– grain and/or grain byproducts

– fish meal

– fiber sources

– milk products

– vitamin and mineral supplements

The pros of dry cat food are that it’s inexpensive and doesn’t dry out, which means it gives the owners the convenience of ‘free-choice’ feeding.

On the downside, dry food may be less palatable to a cat than wet or semi-moist food and also may be less digestible.

Semi-Moist Cat Food

Semi-moist cat food contains approximately 35 percent water. The main ingredients of semi-moist food are meat and meat byproducts, other ingredients include soybean meal, cereals, grain byproducts, and preservatives. The cost of semi-moist food is mid-range. It is more palatable for a cat than dry food and can be fed free choice.

Wet Cat Food

Wet cat food contains at least 75 percent water. It is a great source of water for a cat, promoting overall health, especially urinary tract health. Canned cat food is usually the most expensive, but it’s also the most palatable for a cat. The primary ingredients of wet cat food are meats, such as liver or kidney, and whole meat byproducts. Canned food, once opened, can be spoiled quickly, therefore it should be kept refrigerated to prevent losing its quality.

Choosing a Cat Food

Cat’s nutritional requirements depend on the stage in their life cycle. You will choose a different cat food for a kitten, an adult cat, an old cat or a cat that is pregnant.

When choosing a cat food always look at the label. The ingredients are listed in order from decreasing proportional weight. Choose these foods where meat, meat byproducts, or seafood are listed among the first few ingredients.


cat eating cat food


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