Chow Time: A Guide to Feeding Your Cat

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Diet is the foundation of good health for most living things, and your cat is no different.

While Garfield can get away with eating lasagna at every meal, your feline operates in a world where poor nutritional choices have consequences. What and when you feed your cat can have a profound impact on his health and well-being.

When it comes to feeding your cat, there are a number of decisions confronting you. Wet food or dry food? Limited-time feeding or free-choice feeding? Two feedings per day or three?

These decisions may seem difficult at first but, by becoming an informed cat owner, you can make choices that will guide your feline down a path towards happiness and good health. Even Jon Arbuckle, Garfield’s owner, would approve.

Wet Food vs. Dry Food

The debate between wet and dry cat food has waged for some time. Ultimately, it comes down to individual choice, as both varieties – when served in reasonable amounts at adequate increments – should result in proper nutrition for your feline friend.

That said, wet food and dry food do produce different health advantages. Whereas dry food may assist with prevention of dental diseases, wet food aids with urinary disorders by increasing water consumption.

Many owners opt to establish a feeding schedule that offers both varieties, thereby ensuring cats reap the health benefits of both. This strategy also helps controls costs for cat owners, since wet food tends to be pricier than dry food.

Feeding Frequency

Similar to the wet vs. dry food debate, there’s not necessarily a wrong answer when it comes to how often you feed your cat. This frequency can vary based on your cat’s age and size.

While various methods exist for feeding cats, there are two common methods of feeding: free-choice feeding and limited-time feeding. Free-choice feeding involves keeping your cat’s bowl full of dry food such that the cat can eat as much as he wants. Conversely, limited-time feeding occurs when you feed your cat smaller meals at various intervals throughout the day.

In general, free-choice feeding is recommended for kittens and limited-time feeding is utilized for multiple-cat families and for cats who need to have their weight monitored. With limited-time feeding, a cat is typically fed two or three times each day.

Feeding Your Kitten

While nutrition is important for all cats, it’s especially crucial for kittens, as it supports their rapid growth. A kitten consumes a diet of nutrient-rich milk from his mother until the age of 10 weeks, when weaning should begin.

After weaning, a balanced, complete diet provides all the nutrients – energy, protein, vitamins, minerals –- in proper proportion and amount. Though foods specially-formulated for kittens are more nutrient-dense, a diet for “all stages” – one that can be fed to kittens and adults – may be utilized as well.

Of particular importance is ensuring your kitten likes the taste of his food, so that he will eat well. Once you’ve found a nutritional variety your kitten enjoys, stick with it to achieve consistency. For younger kittens, ease of eating is necessary, so incorporate a diet with soft food or small pieces.

Feeding Your Adult Cat

Even once full grown, a cat’s nutrition remains fundamentally important. The ideal diet for your adult cat includes a high-quality food and plenty of fresh water. Your cat should be fed amounts sufficient to meet energy and caloric requirements. Inadequate or excess intake of nutrients can be equally harmful.

Cats have unusual dietary needs consisting of the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin A
  • Niacin
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Taurine

It’s recommended to feed your cat one ounce of canned food daily, or one-third ounce of dry food, per pound of body weight. While young cats are very active and tend to self-regulate their food intake, older cats who have slowed down can be prone to obesity.

Raw Meat Debate: Should You Feed it to Your Cat?

The wet vs. dry food debate is not the only hotly-contested disagreement that exists regarding the feeding of cats. Another battle wages regarding raw meat, with pros and cons prevalent for both viewpoints.

Believing that commercial cat foods are lacking in proper nutrition, some people – including a few veterinarians – hold the view that serving your cat raw meat represents a healthier option. These proponents of raw meat contend that many commercial pet foods contain numerous toxins that impair a cat’s health. They believe that cats consuming raw meat diets have better coats, fewer dental problems, fresher breath, and less body odor.

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