Good cat nutrition and eating a balanced diet are easy for cats living in the wild. A nice, healthy mouse is all they need. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that cats must eat meat to survive. There is no such thing as a healthy vegetarian cat!
Each part of a proper cat diet has a specific purpose and all of the parts must be present for cats to be healthy.
Poorly balanced diets and improper cat nutrition can quickly lead to finicky eating, obesity, poor dental health, dull coats, hair loss, and allergies to name a few. If left uncorrected, serious illness, disease, or even death can be the result. Click here for practical ways to cope with finicky eating behavior and overweight cats.
Cats are finely tuned, sensitive creatures and need a balanced diet to stay that way. The more you know about cat nutrition, the easier it will be to maintain good cat health.
In the wild, a cat will catch a mouse or bird. He then proceeds to eat the entire thing – bones, guts, fur, feathers – everything. (Except maybe the head.)
Nature made sure that the cat’s prey provides everything he needs for good cat nutrition, including water. No nutrients are supplied in excess. The mouse or bird also provides the cat with a variety of textures to chew on which they enjoy.
Obviously, letting a bunch of mice and birds loose in your house for your cats to catch and eat is not a practical way to provide nutritional foods for your cats! Besides, your cats are more likely to catch the prey, bring it to you, and then wait patiently for you to give them their favorite food!
Your cats are completely dependent on you to provide them with nutritionally balanced foods. Because we love our cats and want to give them foods they obviously enjoy, we can unknowingly upset this balance.
Whether you give them commercially prepared or homemade cat food, all of the nutrients found in that fresh-caught mouse or bird has a specific purpose and must be present in order to provide good cat nutrition and maintain healthy, happy cats.
Cats need protein. Even more protein than dogs. And they must get their protein from meat sources. A cat’s body can not properly utilize the protein that comes from vegetable sources.
Protein is necessary for growth and repair. It provides energy and supports chemical reactions in the body. A vital nutrient that cats can only get from meat is taurine. A lack of taurine can cause blindness and heart failure. Kittens lacking taurine fail to grow and ultimately die. Good cat nutrition starts with quality protein.
Cats need fat too – specifically animal fats. As with protein, a cat’s body can not properly use the fat from vegetable sources.
Fat provides energy – more than twice the energy provided by protein. Fat is important for growth, wound healing, liver function, blood clotting, and coat condition. It also helps to control the effects of various skin disorders, allergies, heart conditions, and even arthritis.
Cats also enjoy the occasional salad. Greens are a natural part of a cat’s diet. Greens minimize gas and aid digestion. Some cat food contains greens but you can also grow your own. Cat grass is easy to grow, inexpensive, and most cats enjoy it!
Cats also need fiber. Fiber aids digestion and elimination. In the wild, a cat’s fiber comes from eating the fur and feathers of rodents and birds. Gross to us but good for cats! Fortunately, good, quality cat foods provide fiber – eliminating the need for us to provide fur and feathers!
Good cat nutrition does not include a lot of carbohydrates. Cats only need about 3-6% carbohydrates in their diet. Many cat foods, especially dry cat food, contain 35% to 50% carbohydrates in the form of grains! Cats lack the enzymes necessary to break down the starch in carbohydrates. They also lack the ability to properly utilize carbohydrates. Too many carbohydrates can lead to obesity and diabetes among other health issues. Also, many cats are sensitive to the grains in cat foods and suffer from allergies, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Many dry cat food list corn as the primary ingredient. But cats are meat eaters! When was the last time you saw a cat chowing down on an ear of corn? One of the dry foods labeled as “natural” finally listed the one and only meat source 5th in the ingredient list!
Pet food manufacturers would have us believe that carbohydrates are a natural part of a cat’s diet because they get them from eating the intestines – and the fruits, vegetables, and grains in the intestines – of their prey. But these are in very minimal amounts that are predigested by the prey animal.
A commercial we saw recently was extolling the health benefits of dry cat food by pointing out that it included “healthy fruits and vegetables”. Healthy for who? Us maybe but certainly not for carnivorous cats! No cats we know have ever eaten an orange or salivated over a dish of peas! Because a diet that includes fruits and vegetables is healthy for us, people believe that they must be healthy for our cats too.
This is not to say that fruits and veggies are bad for cats. They do form a small part of their natural diet. But to use this as a way of extolling the benefits of particular cat food is absurd. We would rather hear about how much and what type of protein is used in the food!
If the food you are feeding your cats is made mostly from corn or other grains, it is too high in carbohydrates and not healthy for your cats! Change their diet!
Cats also require various vitamins and minerals found naturally in their prey. For example, the bone of a mouse is an excellent source of calcium for the cat. You should never add vitamins to your cat’s diet without discussing it with your vet. Cats are very sensitive and can easily overdose or suffer vitamin toxicity.
Today’s quality canned cat food can go a long way toward improving and maintaining good cat health and providing proper cat nutrition. If your cats are not eating healthy, change them to a good nutritionally balanced cat food. You might be amazed at the results!
Most importantly, cats need water, preferably with their food. While not usually considered a nutrient, water is vital to all life. Animals, including us, are about 80% water. In the wild, cats get much of their water from the rodents, birds, and even bugs that they eat. Water is a vital element in good cat nutrition!
Cats do not have a very strong thirst drive and can easily get dehydrated. Canned foods help by providing water with the food the cats are eating. Cats fed only dry foods often suffer from chronic dehydration which can lead to kidney and urinary problems. Water should always be available to your cats.
Cats generally prefer fresh, clean, cold water. Some even enjoy an ice cube or two added to their water dish. That doesn’t mean they won’t go in and lap up the water left over after your shower! No matter what their preference, your cats should always have access to plenty of freshwaters.
Contrary to popular opinion, milk is not a normal part of a cat’s diet. Milk is important for kittens but as cats age, they lose the ability to digest it properly. Cows milk in particular can cause diarrhea in cats. Milk-loving cats will better tolerate the butterfat in cream or the lactose-free milk made for people – but only in small amounts.
Don’t feed your cats dog food. It lacks many of the important nutrients required by cats.
Raw fish should not be given to your cats. Raw fish contains an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 (thiamine). A deficiency of thiamine can result in brain damage. A taste will not be harmful but raw fish should not be any cat’s primary food.
Many people are concerned about giving cats raw meats because of the risk of bacteria and parasites. Raw meat is a more natural food for cats and some cats may actually benefit from a raw meat diet.
Food tends to pass rather quickly through a cat’s digestive system which minimizes the risk of bacterial infection, especially if the meat is washed to remove surface bacteria. Parasite infection is also rare if cats are given raw meats that are fresh and deemed safe for human consumption. Poor quality, unwashed, or rotten meat unfit for people to eat is also unfit for cats! Click on Homemade Cat Food to learn more about a raw meat diet for cats.
Be very careful giving your cats bones. Cats should never be given cooked bones. Cooked bones can splinter and cause choking or perforate the intestine. Cats must learn how to properly eat raw, whole bones from their mothers when they are kittens. If you don’t know for certain that your cats were taught how to safely eat bones, grind them up in a meat grinder first or just avoid them.
We believe that it’s not only important to know what your cat’s nutritional needs are but also why proper cat nutrition is so important to your cats. This information can help you make better decisions when it comes to choosing food for your cats. But, before you rush out to buy more, click on Best Cat Food to learn what is in commercial cat food and how to read the labels.
Cats, despite living with us, are still walking on the wild side, especially when it comes to food and nutrition. Cat nutrition is a complex science not completely understood by veterinarians. Every day, we learn a little more about how cats utilize the food they eat but we’ve still not quite perfected the “mouse-in-a-can” for optimal cat nutrition.
With lots of hungry cats in your multiple cat household, all demanding to be fed something good, it can be difficult to avoid a mealtime mob scene. Feeding stations can help. Click here to see how we set them up and why they work.
No matter what you feed your cats, always be sure to give all of your cat’s tasty foods that provide each of them with good cat nutrition in the form of well-balanced, nutritional food. Good nutrition makes for healthy cats which means fewer trips to the vet! And healthy cats are happy cats!