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Commonly Asked Questions About Cat Nutrition

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Good nutrition is no accident and it is important to have some understanding about feeding your cat and cat foods.

It takes time and patience to learn what your cat needs to stay healthy, happy and active. It also takes dedication and perseverance to make sure your cat eats what she should, rather than what she wants.

To make your job a little easier, here are some tips to ensure your cat gets all of her nutritional needs met.

1. Why is good nutrition important?

It's vital that your cat eats a complete and balanced diet consisting of good quality meat products. Unlike dogs (and people), cats are strict carnivores. They require essential nutrients such as taurine, arginine, vitamin A and essential fatty acids that plant food lack. She also needs plenty of fresh water as well. Your cat should be fed amounts sufficient to meet energy and caloric requirements. Inadequate or excess intake of nutrients can be equally harmful. Learn why your cat has specialized nutritional needs by reading the related article "Feeding the Adult Cat."

2. How often should I feed my cat?

Follow your veterinarian's recommendations. In general, very young kittens should be allowed to eat as much as they want (which usually amounts to three or four feedings a day). As they get older, decrease the number of feedings. When your cat is 6 months old, she should receive two meals a day. After 1 year, she can be fed once or twice a day. However, many people leave a little dry food out for their cat to nibble on throughout the day. If your cat is a nibbler, don't keep adding to the dish if the day's amount is consumed. (For instance, if your cat should eat a cup of food a day, don't add more if that cup is eaten).

3. How much should I feed my cat?

The amount your cat needs to eat depends on many factors, including: life stage (kitten, adult, pregnant or lactating), lifestyle (active versus the "coach potato"), size and general condition. Select a high quality food, weigh your cat (don't try to guess) and then read the feeding guidelines provided on the package. Remember, though, that every cat is unique, so you might have to adjust her feeding accordingly.

As mentioned above, many cats like to nibble throughout the day. That's okay as long as they are simply eating their day's meal. If you are constantly refilling their bowls, however, your cat may be at risk for obesity.

4. When should I change from kitten to adult food?

In her first year, your kitten will grow and change very quickly, so she needs a special diet for kittenhood and adult. Feed high quality kitten food until she is about 7-9 months old. At this point, you can change to an adult diet. When she is around 8 or 9 years old, switch to a senior diet. Learn more about how to adjust to your cat's nutritional requirements by reading the related article "Kitten Food or Adult - When Do You Make the Change."

5. How do I change my pet's diet?

Don't change your cat's diet all at once, otherwise she may refuse the new food. Do it gradually over three days. Begin changing her diet by feeding 1/4 new food and 3/4 her old food for a few days. Then add 1/2 new food and 1/2 old food. After a few more days, feed 3/4 new food and 1/4 old food. Then, you can feed the new food entirely.

6. Can my cat be a vegetarian?

No. Cats are strict carnivores – they cannot process plant material and they need the nutrients that only meat can provide. Although there are vegetarian diets that claim to supply all of your cat's nutritional requirements, it is best for your cat to stick to a meat-based diet.

7. Why is my cat a finicky eater?

Cats can become finicky eaters for many reasons. If her bowl is too small or light, for instance, she may have trouble eating her food. The placement of the bowl may be a factor, or she may feel intimidated by other pets in the household. Medical conditions may be affecting her appetite, or her teeth and gums may be hurting her. There are a number of strategies to help overcome a finicky eater.

8. Can my cat eat dog food?

No. Cats and dogs are two different species, and each has his own nutritional requirements. Cats are true carnivores; they need lots of protein that meat provides. Dogs, on the other hand, get some nutrients from eating plant matter, which cats cannot digest. Dogs also don't require taurine in their diet, so it is not added. In cats, a lack of taurine can lead to blindness and heart disease.

9. What is in cat food?

Cat food contains a variety of agricultural ingredients, such as meat, poultry and seafood. (Byproducts are parts of an animal or plant not used for human consumption. They still must meet federal standards for safety and nutrition.) Vitamins and minerals are added to complete nutritional needs. Preservatives are added to keep cat food fresh during shipping and while on the shelf, and color is added to make the food look more attractive. The coloring and preservatives are the same used in food for people and have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the Association of American Feed Control Officials publishes regulations for nutritional adequacy of "complete and balanced" pet food. Your pet's food should conform to minimal AAFCO standards. Read the label.

10. Why can't I feed my cat table scraps?

Table scraps are too fatty for your cat's digestive system. They can cause vomiting, diarrhea or, over a period of time, obesity and other health conditions. Furthermore, chicken bones, or bones from rabbit or fish can splinter and become lodged in her esophagus or digestive system.

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