Heading- To live a long, healthy life, your cat needs proper nutrition. Here are some things to consider when selecting an appropriate diet for your cat.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they rely on nutrients found only in animal products. Cats evolved as hunters that consume prey that contains high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a minimal amount of carbohydrates, and their diet still requires these general proportions today. Cats also require more than a dozen other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. Although your cat needs certain amounts of each specific nutrient to be healthy, more is not always better. This is particularly true of vitamins and minerals, so the use of supplements is usually not necessary if you are feeding a balanced and complete diet. Supplements can be harmful to your cat, and they should never be given without a veterinarian’s approval. Cats should have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
Types of Commercial Cat Food
Commercial cat foods are formulated as dry, semimoist, and canned. These products differ in water content, protein level, caloric density, palatability, and digestibility. Dry Food- Dry food contains between six and 10 percent water. Depending on the specific formulation, a mixture of ingredients are combined, extruded, and dried into bite-sized pieces. Ingredients 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 pieces of dry food are often then coated with flavor enhancers, such as animal fat, to make the food more appetizing. Dry cat food is relatively inexpensive, and since it does not dry out, it offers owners the convenience of “free choice” feeding. However, dry food may be less palatable to a cat than moist or semi-moist food, and depending on the types and quality of the ingredients, may also be less digestible. If you do use dry food, it is important to store unused portions in a cool, dry location, and not to use the food after its expiration date. Owners often buy large amounts of dry food that can sometimes be stored for months, so checking the expiration date before feeding it to your cat is very important. Storing food for a long period of time decreases the activity and potency of many vitamins and increases the likelihood that fats will become rancid. It’s a good idea to store dry cat food in an airtight container to help prevent nutrient deterioration and maintain flavor.
Semi-Moist Food- Meat and meat byproducts are the primary ingredients of semi-moist food, which contains approximately 35 percent moisture. Other materials, including soybean meal, cereals, grain byproducts, and preservatives are added to make the final product. The cost of semi-moist food is generally mid-range. Semi-moist foods may be more appealing than dry cat food to some cats and can also be fed free choice. After the package is opened, however, the food can dry out, becoming less palatable and/or becoming rancid.
Canned Food- Canned cat food has a moisture content of at least 75 percent, making it a good dietary source of water. It is generally the most expensive type of cat food, but is also highly palatable for most cats. Many different varieties are available, which can be helpful if your cat is a finicky eater. Canned food has the longest shelf life when unopened, but any unused portion of opened canned cat food should be refrigerated to maintain quality and prevent spoilage. Gourmet canned cat foods generally feature meats, such as kidney or liver, and whole meat byproducts as primary ingredients. Some brands, however, may be nutritionally incomplete, and it is important to read the nutrition labels carefully on such specialty cat-food items to ensure that they have a nutritional guarantee.
Homemade Diets Making your own cat food is a difficult and time-consuming process, as the recipe may not contain the right quantities and proportions of nutrients for your cat. It is generally recommended that cat owners purchase nutritionally balanced commercial foods, unless a veterinarian recommends a home-formulated recipe for medical purposes. In that event, your veterinarian will likely recommend a recipe developed by veterinarians certified in animal nutrition.