Feline Nutrition and Proper Food Storage
What is the best diet for my cat?
Cats are obligate carnivores, and as such, require meat proteins as their main source of nutrition. The best, most nutritionally complete diet is a raw food diet or a canned food diet. However, not all budgets or lifestyles can accommodate this type of diet. Cat owners should feed their cats the highest quality food (wet or dry) that their budget will allow.
What do cats need in their diets?
- Protein (from a recognizable meat source)
- Taurine (an amino acid naturally present in meat)
- vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids
What should I look for when selecting a cat food?
Pet food labels follow the same basic rules as human food labels, meaning that the list of ingredients descends from the largest to the smallest amount.
- A whole protein (muscle meat) should be the first ingredient (ideally, the first two or three ingredients would be proteins). Examples: chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, salmon, rabbit, duck, etc.
- The word “meal” after an identified protein is okay, but the word “by-product” is not. Byproducts can be comprised of heads, feet, viscera and other animal parts. Unidentified protein meal (“meat meal”) can contain rendered euthanized pets from shelters and vet clinics, 4D meat (dead, diseased, dying, disabled), road kill, and zoo animals.
- Avoid carbohydrate fillers such as corn (corn meal, ground whole corn, ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, maize, etc.), wheat, and soy (especially if high on the ingredient list or if several of these are listed). In combination, they could constitute a higher percentage of the food’s makeup than the first ingredient!
- Avoid chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and propyl gallate. Many fish meals are preserved withethoxyquin, but this is not indicated on the label.
- Avoid foods containing dyes, as these can be harmful to your cat. Cats don’t care what color the food is; naturally brown foods are best.
- Canned foods follow the same basic rules above, except that the first or second ingredient is typically water or broth. Cats require a lot of water, and canned food is an excellent source of moisture. Avoid carrageenan if possible; it is a possible human carcinogen and has been linked to serious disease.
What are the benefits of feeding my cat a better quality food?
- Decrease in or elimination of hairballs and/or vomiting
- Shinier, healthier coat
- Less volume and odor of stool
- It is more protein dense, so cats tend to eat less of it than cheaper foods made with fillers (which helps offset the cost)
- A healthier diet equals a healthier pet (lower vet bills and longer life)
Why is water so important? How can I get more water into my cat’s diet?
Cats do not have a high thirst drive and can become dehydrated. Water is very important in keeping them from developing several diseases, especially those involving the kidneys and bladder.
The best way to get water into a cat’s diet is with a raw food diet or a canned food diet (these contain around 75% moisture). Cats on a dry food diet (which contains about 10% moisture) only take in about half as much water as a cat on one of the other diets. Dry food diets can be supplement with canned food, and a pet fountain will entice most cats to drink more.
What is the best feeding method and frequency?
How much and how often you feed your cat depends on its age, health, size, what type of diet you choose, and your schedule.
- Free feeding – Leaving food out all of the time ensures your cat will never go hungry (especially if you are gone for long periods of time), but can lead to obesity if not monitored. Canned food will spoil if left out for long periods of time (always refrigerate unused opened canned food).
- Scheduled feeding – Feeding once or twice a day (wet, dry, or a combination) ensures that your cat will not overeat and allows you to monitor their caloric intake, but may not always be convenient. There are electronic feeders on the market for both wet and dry food that will dispense food at programmed times if you choose scheduled feeding but aren’t home to do so.
What/how often should I feed my kitten?
Kittens have special dietary requirements and should generally be given foods that are specifically labeled for kittens until they reach one year of age. Kittens are not prone to overeating since they are growing so rapidly; therefore, constant access to food is encouraged.
How should I store my cat’s food?
Unopened cat food (canned or dry) should be stored in a cool, dry place (never in a garage or car; especially on a warm day). Opened canned food should be tightly covered and stored in the refrigerator. Some cats prefer room temperature food, so warming up the leftovers may entice them to eat it.
Opened dry food should be stored in its original bag inside an airtight container in a cool, dry place (most kitchens are warm and humid). If dry food is poured directly into a plastic container, the plastic can suck vitamins out of the food, and the plastic itself can leach into the food. Fats from the food can leach into the plastic and become rancid and contaminate new food poured into it.
Once dry food is opened, the vitamins begin to break down, and it is susceptible to moisture (which causes mold andmycotoxins), light, oxygen (which oxidizes the fats), and storage mites and other pests (which are drawn to the grain). Making sure your food is fresh and storing it in the original bag inside an airtight container will help prevent these occurrences.
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