They Are What They Eat: A healthy diet for cats, like a healthy diet for humans, needs to be carefully balanced to include the correct nutrients in the correct amounts. But that’s where the similarity between food for humans and cats ends. Cats have unique nutritional requirements and need a diet, either commercial or homemade, that’s formulated just for them.
The Way Cats Eat: Evolution plays a part in the way cats like to eat. Like their desert-dwelling ancestors, today’s outside cats eat several small prey animals a day. Free feeding wet food or providing several small meals a day replicates a cat’s natural feeding pattern and can reduce stress in indoor cats. It also creates acidic urine, which discourages the formation of urinary tract stones and crystals, according to veterinarian Holly Nash of Peteducation.com.
Providing a healthy diet for your cats takes some thought and research, but the result will be an active, engaged companion with healthy skin and beautiful fur.
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Cats are descended from desert wild cats and evolved eating lizards, birds and mice. For today’s house cat, veterinary endocrinologist Deborah Greco says, the ideal diet has the same nutritional properties as a mouse: about 40-45 percent protein, three percent carbohydrate and 40-45 percent fat.
Fat Is Good!
Cats are obligate carnivores and need meat. The best diets for cats contain protein and moderate amounts of fat from animal sources, not plants like corn and rice. They convert fat to energy; it’s the carbohydrates in dry food that really pack on the pounds. About 20 to 30 percent of the cat’s daily caloric intake should come from meat, fish or poultry. Another 15 to 20 percent should come from fat.
In Cats, Carbs Turn To Fat
Cats lack some of the enzymes and mechanisms needed to cope with high-carbohydrate diets. Writing for the Winn Feline Foundation, veterinarian Susan Little says cats need some carbs in their diets, but “excess carbohydrates are not burned as energy, but are instead converted to triglycerides and stored as fat.” Most brands of dry cat food contain large amounts of grain, are high-carb and are thought to be the main cause of feline obesity.
Beware Of Fiber
Cats also lack the enzymatic pathways to use dietary fiber efficiently. Feline nutrition experts say no more than 10 percent of a cat’s daily diet should consist of fiber, or fruits and vegetables.
Wet Food Is Best
While we can’t replicate our cats’ natural diet exactly, raw, homemade or canned wet food mimics an all-prey-diet more closely than dry food does. Wet food is higher in fat and protein, and contains fewer carbs. And the higher moisture content keeps cats well-hydrated and maintains the urine at the proper pH to discourage the formation of bladder stones and crystals. Many veterinarians believe cats who eat all- or mostly-dry-food diets are always slightly dehydrated. And studies show that bladder stones and crystals, obesity and diabetes are more common in cats who eat all or mostly dry food.
Like humans, cats need the right number of calories to maintain a healthy body weight. An eight-pound cat needs about 30 calories per pound of body weight per day. Cats with large frames need more. Petite cats need fewer calories. Calories are expressed as Kcals on pet food labels. Kcals and calories are exactly the same.