Feeding Your Cat Throughout Life
One of the most important things that you can do to care for your cat is to provide the correct nutrition. Many cat owners may not realise that those nutritional requirements will change as the pet grows from a kitten to an adult cat and then into a senior feline.
Other factors will also influence your cat’s food requirements. These factors are individual to the cat and can include overall health, activity levels, indoor and outdoor exercise, and your cat’s metabolism. Understanding how these factors, along with age, require different diets and feeding levels is one of the most important aspects of being a responsible owner.
General Nutrition Requirements
Many people assume that feeding a cat is just like feeding a dog. In fact, a cat is very different than a dog when it comes to nutritional requirements. Cats are obligate carnivores which means that they have to have meat, and small amounts of animal fat, as their primary source of energy and nutrition.
Cats do not need to have carbohydrates in their diet and cats that are fed foods with more than minimal carbohydrates are at much greater risk of developing several metabolic health conditions. They also run the risk of becoming overweight or obese and having problems with arthritis, diabetes and digestive issues as they mature.
Cats also must have the minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids from meat that are essential for their good health. These are always best supplied to the body in natural form and not in the form of a supplement that may actually provide the incorrect ratio or too high of a concentration of the various elements.
Always read the label and check to make sure meat or seafood, ideally listed without the term by-product, are in the top slots on the ingredients label. This is true for both wet and dry foods and both can be optimal sources of essential nutrition for your cat if you read the label and choose wisely.
Look for foods that do not include artificial flavours and colours, which will have very scientific looking names. Taurine, niacin and thiamine as well as other B Vitamins are often added to supplement for the breakdown of these compounds during the processing of the food and to provide the nutrients necessary for good cat health.
To understanding how the general nutritional requirements of cats change throughout their life, let’s look at our cats over three stages; kittens, adults and senior cats.
Feeding Kittens (Birth to 1 Year)
Anyone that has had the joy of kittens in their house knows that this is the most active stage in the life of most cats. It is estimated that a kitten, per pound, needs about twice as much energy as a mature cat to not only thrive but to continue to grow and develop. Choose a specific food developed for kittens and do not feed adult cat food as it is not high enough in energy.
Kittens need to eat multiple times a day from weaning at about 8 weeks through to approximately 8-10 months. They should have food at least three and preferable four times a day. Dry food can be left out free choice during this period but wet food should not as it can provide the perfect environment for harmful bacteria and other contaminants to develop.
After 10-12 months of age drop feeding back to 2 times per day and follow the daily allowances provided on the side panel of the food. Carefully monitor weight and cut back slightly on each feeding if you notice that the juvenile cat is very sedate and is gaining weight or, conversely, increase slightly for an active older kitten or one that is outside.
Feeding Adult Cats (1 to 7 Years)
Adult cats, unless they are very active and outdoors, should be fed what is known as a maintenance diet. This will provide them with a balanced nutritional intake but also help to prevent weight gain that is so common with indoor cats. It is important to monitor serving sizes based on both the cat food recommendations as well as how your cat is responding. Outdoor cats will often need slightly higher food amounts as they are more active.
For pregnant or lactating females there are special diets that boost vitamins, minerals and protein to help with the additional demands of pregnancy. Your vet can assist in choosing the best diet and monitoring your expectant or nursing mother cat as to weight management and overall health.
Senior Cats (7 Years and Older)
With cats now living longer thanks to better vet care and better understanding of diet, senior cat nutrition is essential. These cats need to have lower calorie diets to prevent weight gain as they gradually slow down with age. Special senior cat diets in both wet and dry form provide additional required nutrition while reducing the actual volume of food required, an important fact as these cats may simply not eat as they used to.
Always watch for changes in your cat’s eating habits at any stage in their life. Often food refusal or constant hunger and changes in weight are the early signs of health issues. Remember too that each cat is different and if you have multiple cats keeping a close eye on each cat’s food consumption habits is essential.