orange cat eating out of silver bowl

Cat Nutrition

How Cats are Different.

Cats are not like dogs or humans. They’re a delightfully different species with unique nutritional needs.

During the 9000 years cats have been domesticated, they’ve remained avid hunters of mice, rats, birds, and other ‘vermin’ for food. Only in the past 60-75 years have pet food companies been manufacturing dry kibble. In this time we’ve seen a surge in feline obesity, diabetes, feline lower urinary tract disease, and a host of other problems. Could it be that this uptick is tied in part to diet?

Cats are Obligate Carnivores.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they MUST eat meat in order to survive. Though they may eat other foods such as vegetables, grains, or fruits, they cannot survive on a strict vegan diet. Cats require certain essential nutrients, most importantly an amino-acid derivative called taurine, to survive. Taurine is only found in animal sourced ingredients. Many commercially prepared diets add taurine in an effort to meet the minimum taurine requirements, but a high quality diet rich in meat content provides taurine naturally. Taurine deficiency can cause dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), retinal degeneration, reproductive failure, and abnormal kitten development.

Cats and Carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates provide energy for people and some pets. Cats are different. Cats have the ability to convert protein into energy through a process called gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis provides the main energy source for cats. Unlike other animals that use an enzyme called glucokinase to rapidly process glucose for energy, cats use a different enzyme, hexokinase. Hexokinase is inefficient at processing carbohydrates. So a cat’s best source of energy is protein, rather than carbohydrates.

Check Out the Ingredient Panel.

Look at the ingredient list to make sure the food contains high-quality, digestible ingredients. Some brands of cat food use inexpensive ingredients that are not easily digested and do not provide the best nutrition. Because of this, important nutrients may pass through your cat’s system without being absorbed. So it takes larger amounts of low quality food to provide your pet the same amount of nutrition that a higher quality food provides.  See our Pet Centered Nutrition brochure for more information on how to choose a high quality pet food.

Make Sure Food is Age Appropriate.

Make sure that the food you choose is age appropriate for your cat. A kitten eating an adult cat food will not get the calories, protein, vitamins and minerals it needs for proper growth. Feeding an adult cat kitten food is likely more calories than needed. Some foods are formulated for all life stages. In that case monitor your cat’s portions to ensure appropriate caloric intake.

Diet as a Remedy.

After ruling out other health related issues with your veterinarian, changing your cat’s diet can help improve some of these common health concerns:

Hairball Control. ‘Hairball’ formulas use increased fiber to help bind excess hair so it can pass harmlessly through the digestive tract. They also may include higher omega-3 fatty acids for improved skin and coat health. Less shedding means fewer hairballs.

Vomiting. Try a limited ingredient diet, in case the cat is sensitive to a certain ingredient. Also, increase water intake with an all canned or all raw diet that may be easier to digest.

Urinary Issues. It is important to remember that moisture is very important for all cats’ urinary health. Adding moisture to any cat’s diet in the form of canned food, a complete raw diet, or a water fountain can help maintain urinary health. Many veterinarians recommend at least 50% of any cat’s diet should be canned food.

IBD. Anecdotal evidence shows that some cats with chronic loose stools that haven’t responded to other treatments have improved with a raw diet. Make sure to choose an AAFCO approved, complete and balanced formula, raw diet.

Obesity. Obesity is the most common preventable disease in cats. Work with your veterinarian to determine if your cat is overweight, and what their ideal body weight and daily caloric intake should be. Try a lower calorie diet, reduce the amount of food you’re feeding and feed specific amounts at mealtimes rather than free feed. Canned or raw foods with higher moisture content can also aid weight loss.

Dry or Canned?

Though dry food may be more convenient, recent findings show that cats eating dry food are chronically dehydrated, compared to those eating canned food. Cats get about 90% of their water requirements from their food. That means that cats eating dry foods will consume about half the amount of water (through food and drinking water combined), compared with cats eating canned food.  

Not having enough moisture in a cat’s diet can cause chronic dehydration, kidney issues, poor skin and coat quality, urinary issues, and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. Water consumption is even more important for older cats to avoid dehydration.

Besides canned options many advocate feeding cats a raw diet. These diets are high in moisture content, and are less processed for optimal nutrition absorption. See our Feeding Raw Diets brochure for information on proper feeding and how to ensure raw diets are safe, complete and balanced. 

Do What’s Best for Your Cat.

There’s not one food that’s best for every cat. Choose a food that is age appropriate and has high quality, meat-based ingredients. Use caution when trying a new diet with your cat. Many cats are picky eaters. Make sure they don’t stop eating or miss too many meals. Cats who stop eating abruptly can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. If they aren’t eating, try offering old and new foods side-by-side for a while or mixing them together so they can try both diets.

Once you find the optimum diet for your cat, you will notice the following: a shiny coat, less shedding, fewer hairballs, good body weight, less litter box clean up, and a clean bill of health from your veterinarian.