Much has been written about cats’ nutritional requirements. Cats need a balanced diet containing proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals; but about 30-40 percent should be protein – a higher percentage than is necessary for a dog. The best way to tell whether you are feeding the correct diet for your own cat is the animal’s condition. A satisfactory diet will produce a shapely, healthy, bright-eyed, lively animal with normal stools. An unbalanced diet may cause diarrhoea, lethargy, moulting, spiky fur, scurf, dull eyes or obesity, although all these signs may be due to some specific illness or infection.
A cat’s natural diet
Cats are designed primarily to eat raw meat and offal. They have canine teeth to penetrate and kill their prey and tear apart its flesh. A cat tears pieces from the carcass and swallows them whole. Cats do not have teeth designed for chewing. Therefore, it seems sensible to follow nature and serve either swallowable pieces or a large lump which the cat must tear into pieces with its canines and sharp cheek teeth. It can manage well with minced flesh and liquidized foods, and a combination of these forms of foods adds variety and interest. Some cats like the crunchy biscuit-type dried foods. They help to clean the teeth, but, if feeding these, take care that plenty of water is available.
In the wild a cat will eat small mammals, such as rabbits, rats, mice and voles; reptiles; amphibians; birds; spiders; and insects including flies and grasshoppers. Some cats also eat fish, caught by a sudden swipe of the paw while standing on a rock overhanging the water. Yet cats seem to know instinctively that shrews, robins and bullfinches are not good to eat. But though a cat born in the wild may be able to survive, a domestic cat that has been turned out will not always fare so well. Indeed, it is cruel and an offence to turn out a domestic cat to fend for itself.
Fresh water should always be available in a clean bowl. Change the water frequently, even when the cat does not appear to use it, especially if a dog shares the drinking bowl (dogs tend to leave saliva deposits). A cat that does not drink indoors can often be
found drinking from muddy puddles. Perhaps some cats dislike our chlorinated tap water and we cannot blame them. But such animals may take boiled water or barley water. For lactating queens add a sodium citrate tablet to the water. It is worthwhile taking trouble to produce water that is acceptable to your cat because, if left to drink outside, it might choose puddles polluted by rodents or insecticides from garden spraying. If your cat will not drink water from a bowl you must add water to its food to present the risk of dehydration. The easiest way to add water is to serve some meals in liquidized form, which is usually acceptable.
Small amounts of these substances are essential to healthy growth. Fish oils, liver, seaweed powder, wheat germ, yeast, and raw or lightly cooked vegetables and milk are valuable sources of key vitamins and minerals. Serious lack of vitamins or minerals results in irreversible medical conditions and sometimes death.
Vitamin A promotes the growth of body cells and aids resistance to infection. It helps the eyes to work well in light of varying intensity. Cats are not able to synthesize this vitamin, which must thus be added to the diet in some way. It is found in egg yolks, fish-liver oils, carrots, green vegetables, grass and seaweed.
The Vitamin B complex includes vitamins promoting growth, healthy skin and eye function, and preventing various deficiency diseases. Milk, wheat germ, yeast and liver are rich in certain of these vitamins.
Vitamin C prevents the deficiency disease called scurvy. It is found in malt extract and green vegetables, grass and seaweed. This particular vitamin can be manufactured in the cat’s body.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, because sunshine is needed for its synthesis. It promotes healthy bones, and cats can synthesize it by sitting in sunshine or in ultraviolet light. (Beware though, if you have a show cat, for ultra?violet light may fade the coat.) Fish-liver oil is rich in vitamin D.
Vitamin E promotes fertility and virility, and is plentiful in wheat germ and lettuce.
These are energy rich foods found in such things as grains and root vegetables, including potatoes. Carbohydrates are essential in small quantities, but favoured more by some cats than others. If your cat likes milk, you can occasionally mix this with cereals. If it likes sardines and other oily fish, you can
add cereals or brown bread crumbs, which help to make the oily fish more palatable. If the cat dislikes carbohydrates, you can liquidize them (including table leftovers) and mix with minced fish, when they will usually be acceptable. It is not a good idea to mix cereals with meat, as this will sour the stomach.
Vegetables, fruit, grass
Some cats obtain green vegetables naturally from the stomachs of mice that they kill and eat. Domestic cats may have traces added to their food.
Fruits are not essential, but some cats are known to have a liking for various kinds, including melons, grapes, olives, asparagus and avocados.
Grass is beneficial and eaten by most cats who are allowed to roam free. In fact, they cannot extract its carbohydrate nutrients but use it for roughage, and as a source of vitamins. If they vomit up grass, as they often do, it brings with it fur balls, which would otherwise cause an obstruction.
Cats need small quantities of fats and will usually readily devour these in the form of butter, margarine, fish oils, or fat meat from table scraps. Most cats will readily lick a knob of butter mixed with enough yeast extract to colour it a light fawn, and this is very beneficial once in a while.
Protein provides the major part of a cat’s food and can be served in the form of lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, vegetable protein and prepared pet foods. A diet of nothing but pure protein would leave a cat deficient in essential minerals and vitamins and give rise to kidney disease. However, protein should make up 30-40 percent of an adult cat’s diet
compared with about 18 percent for a dog. It is advisable to avoid meats unsuitable for human consumption, but if you have to feed them for one reason or another, use a different chopping block and knife from those used to prepare human foods.
All lean meats are suitable with small quantities of fat. Thus you can give beef; lamb; venison; cooked pork; kidney; heart; rabbit; kangaroo; chicken (not hormonized); chicken heads (raw to eat or play with); and liver. Liver is strange in acting as an aperient if eaten raw, but having the reverse effect if eaten cooked. If you remember this you can usefully employ liver to correct either constipation or diarrhoea.
Cats living wild will often catch fish and eat it, as your household cat will demonstrate if you leave the top of a goldfish bowl uncovered! Most cats like fish and most animal nutritionists agree that this is best cooked, although many cats themselves prefer it raw. Remove scales if the skin is to be fed; most cats do not object to being served fish with the skin on. All bones should be removed if the fish is to be served cooked. Kittens prefer fine-grained fish such as plaice, but coarse-grained fish such as coley (coalfish) is accepted by most adult cats.
Fish is a good vehicle for introducing fish oils, a small quantity of powdered seaweed (which makes the fish taste very fresh), and cereals, potatoes or bread crumbs in small quantities. Fish oils are most needed as a source of vitamin D in the winter months. Fish is best served moist, but not too liquid, and at room temperature, not too hot from cooking and not straight from the refrigerator.
Tinned fish is excellent for cats and most seem to like it. Offer sardines, mackerel or pilchards in tomato sauce?dried off with brown bread crumbs, bran, cornflakes or some other acceptable cereal. Many cats appreciate a jelly made of fish with chicken stock. Check that tinned tuna has added vitamin E (look forit on the label). Herring and some of the fatty types of tinned fish may act as aperients, so serve if you suspect constipation rather than when diarrhoea is in evidence.
These are rich in protein and you can add them to milk for a delicious and nutritious meal,. perhaps when time is short. A little glucose added to the mixture will give energy, although it is generally reckoned that cats cannot assimilate sugar.
This is a rich source of protein and some cats will sit up and beg for a small cube of cheese. It would not form a complete meal on its own, but is an interesting addition and generally liked. Fish or chicken in a cheese sauce left over from the human table is considered a great treat.
Milk is a valuable source of protein as well as of calcium and other minerals. However, some cats cannot tolerate the lactose present in cow’s milk, particularly some Siamese and Burmese. Where this is so, try goat’s milk, milk substitutes, cream or a complete liquid food. Milk should not be watered down for kittens as they need concentrated foods. If a pregnant queen cannot take milk add extra calcium to her diet in some other form, such as crushed calcium tablets or bonemeal. Cats that normally dislike milk will often instinctively take milk when pregnant.
Protein-rich vegetable foods such as soya beans are increasingly used in cat foods because they are cheaper than animal proteins. Most cats accept them, particularly if mixed with other forms of protein. Because cats are primarily carnivores (flesh eaters) they would not be satisfied with an all-vegetable-protein diet.
Prepared cat foods
Since the second World War, prepared cat foods have grown from nothing to a worldwide multi-million dollar industry. You can buy them canned, dried or semi-moist – this last type developed in response to an outcry about the dire results that followed eating dried foods without drinking plenty of fluid at the same time. Each type of food is convenient to use and between them the various types provide considerable variety. Each has its advantages.
Dried foods can be left down for some hours without deteriorating or attracting flies as readily as wet tinned foods do. Semi-moist foods are good to take when travelling
or when you are in a hurry. Canned foods now come in such a wide assortment of flavours and ingredients that there is something for even the choosiest cat.
When prepared foods first made their appearance on the market, some breeders were much opposed to them as many seemed to give young kittens diarrhoea. Since then pet-food manufacturers have spent vast sums on research to produce affordable foods that cats find nutritious and palatable. Accordingly, it is now an exceptional home that does not use prepared cat food for at least one meal a day. Modern prepared cat foods are hygienic, safe to use, and labour saving. But some will prove more acceptable to your cat than others. Find out which it likes, then add them to its weekly menu, interspersed with fresh meat (particularly rabbit) and fish. If a certain prepared food should have adverse effects whenever used, it is only fair to write to the manufacturers and tell them. This kind of consumer contact helps them to keep in touch with what suits the feline population.
Diet supplements and treats These are becoming increasingly available as commercial preparations. They include yeast tablets, chocolate drops (some cats adore chocolate) and vitamin and store them separately from those intended for human use. Lovely ceramic, stainless steel or plastic dishes are on sale in most pet shops, and you should consider such items a necessity rather than a luxury for each cat. Always offer the dishes at the same time and in the same place, usually in the kitchen for convenience. It is a mistake to offer food all over the house, and, like children, cats appreciate routine: it makes them feel secure.
How much to feed
Cats have a small stomach in relation to their weight and therefore need more than one meal per day. They should have small, nourishing, concentrated meals. As with people their metabolism varies, so one cat may need more food than another. On average 30gm (1oz) of food per kg (2.21b) of body weight will be enough to keep a cat healthy, though breeds such as Burmese seem to need more. The average pet female will need about 250 kilocalories per day and the average pet male 300 kilocalories per day. The amounts and kinds of food that cats need depend largely upon their age, condition and level of activity.
Very young kittens will need four meals a day: two with milk and two of meat. The meat can be scraped steak or fine-grained plaice. The milky meals could include some finely textured cereal, egg yolk and milks, a complete liquid food or one of the weaning milks developed specifically for hand-rearing and weaning young kittens.
Once a queen is pregnant she will need more to eat – but not so much larger meals as more meals per day, because cats have a small stomach. She will need at least half as much again as usual. A queen may go off her food just before kittening, which may be the first sign that she is about to go into labour. She seems to know instinctively that she will soon be eating the afterbirths.
Once the kittens are born she will need twice as much as usual and it is said that it is impossible to overfeed a lactating female. If there is a large litter, feeding may seem an unending task, particularly with some breeds. Once the kittens begin to eat a little for themselves, although still suckling, her appetite will probably abate a little. Anything put down for the kittens will be readily devoured by the queen. Perhaps she instinctively realizes that if she eats the same as they do, her milk will mix better in their stomachs than if she and they have quite different diets.
While she is feeding the kittens she should not be emaciated, but in perfect health. If she is too thin, she may require building up with more food or more nutritious
delicacies. The kittens should be plump, not thin. If they are thin, the mother cat may not have enough milk, in which case you should supplement hers with milk fed by bottle, and wean them on solids earlier than normally.
Working stud cats
Stud cats also need generous rations, for mating as well as kittening is hard work. Give extra protein and good doses of vitamin E to promote virility and fertility: besides meat, stud cats still need their vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. While one stud will want to eat before servicing a queen, another may go off his food as soon as the queen arrives and refuse to eat until he has serviced her. Each individual stud will differ and a pattern will be established. Visiting queens usually prefer to mate before eating, then are ravenous!
Neuters need less food than stud cats which are working, but they should be fed twice a day rather than once to add extra interest to their lives. If a neuter puts on too much weight, it is eating too much and its rations should be cut down, although it will not like this. It may be overeating because it is bored. A more exciting play time will take its mind off food and make for a happier cat and a happier owner. After all, without play or outside hunting a neuter does not have too much else to think about!
Geriatric cats need less food than other adults just like their human counterparts. As with overfed neuters it is better to reduce the size of the meals rather than cut out one meal altogether. Eating gives old cats something to do and they find pleasure in keeping up a lifelong routine; also they enjoy the special attention associated with the serving of a meal. If they have lost some teeth they will enjoy liquidized and minced meals more than chunks of raw foods. If they seem to go off their food, they may have gum or tooth trouble and need to see a veterinarian. Often an old cat takes on a new lease of life after a visit to have a tooth out.
Children should not pull and worry old cats; let them live out their days peacefully, but tempted with little delicacies they have always been partial to: just a little sign that they are still loved and appreciated.
Cats which are sick or injured may need, and will certainly appreciate, special attention. If a cat’s coat is messy, sponge it clean: a cat hates having soiled fur and will be very pleased that you have taken the trouble to clean it, if it is unable to do so itself. When ill, cats often give up and die without such little attentions from their owners, willing them to live. This is probably truer of cats than of any other animal.
Diets for diseases
Some specific diseases require special diets, but these are best prescribed for each cat individually by a veterinarian, who is best placed to weigh up the situation and advise accordingly.