Your complete guide to cat nutrition

Feeding your cat the right diet can help keep them healthy for years to come. Understanding how much to feed your cat can play a key role in maintaining a healthy weight, as well as knowing how many treats they’re allowed.

Cat eating from bowl

Not only does the right type give cats all the nutrients they need, but it can also help improve their dental health and regulate their digestive system.

Keep reading for our advice on the best nutrition for your cat.

 

Which food should I feed my cat?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this, as the ‘right’ diet varies depending on your cat’s needs. All cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need specific vitamins, minerals and proteins (for example taurine and arginine) that only come from meat. Without these essential nutrients, your cat can become seriously ill; a taurine deficiency can cause dangerous heart and eye issues and can even cause blindness.

Cats are notoriously fussy when it comes to food, so while there are benefits to both wet and dry, the decision may ultimately come down to their preference. Dry food is convenient to store and is much better for your cat’s dental health as the hard texture helps remove plaque and tartar and doesn’t build up around the gumline. It also contains much less water and has a higher concentration of nutrients, so you don’t need to feed as much.

On the other hand, cats often don’t drink enough water so wet food can help keep them hydrated. It’s also much easier to eat for cats who are recovering from injury or operation.

There are various types of cat food available, but balanced, high-quality food is always better than a cheap, low-quality alternative. Whichever type you choose, look at the ingredients list. These are listed proportionally and, as a general rule, meat should be the first ingredient. Avoid foods that use broad terms such as ‘animal derivative’, ‘meal’ or ‘cereals’ in their first few ingredients as these generally indicate a lower quality food. Always opt for foods listed as ‘chicken cat food’ rather than ‘cat food with chicken’ as these usually have a higher meat content.

Your vet is best placed to offer tailored advice about your cat’s diet, taking into account their age, lifestyle and any existing health conditions.

 

Should I stick to the same food throughout their life?

Your cat’s nutritional needs change as they age, so you may need to alter their diet as they grow. For example, kittens under the age of one will need a diet that fuels their energetic lifestyle while supporting healthy brain, eye and bone development. Similarly, cats over the age of 11 will need to switch to a food that supports their mobility and brain function.

The right diet can also help support cats with health conditions such as kidney issues, joint pain and arthritis, skin problems, digestive conditions or food allergies. If your cat develops any of these conditions during their lifetime, you may need to switch up their food to suit their needs. As always, your vet will be happy to recommend the best option.

If you do need to change their food for whatever reason, it’s important that you do so gradually as a sudden change in diet can upset their stomach and put them off their food. Start by adding a small amount of new food into their usual food. Gradually increase the amount of new food you give them (while decreasing the amount of old food) over the course of a week until they’re eating only the new food.

 

How much should I feed my cat?

The amount your cat should eat relates to their breed, age and size. All cat food has guidelines on the packaging, and this is usually a good place to start. You’ll then need to keep an eye on their weight to tell whether they’re eating too much, or too little. Roughly speaking, you should be able to feel, but not see, the last two or three ribs when looking from the side, and a clear waistline when looking from above. Your vet will also check your cat’s weight at their next health check to make sure they’re the right size.

Once you’ve settled on the right amount for your cat, it’s a good idea to weigh it out at the start of the day to avoid overfeeding. Cats are commonly overfed, leading to weight gain and further health issues, so this is a key step in maintaining a healthy weight.

 

How often should I feed my cat?

Once you’ve decided how much your cat should eat, you can then divide this into small meals throughout the day. This is generally flexible, but there are three different approaches you can take:

  • Portion-control feeding involves dividing their daily amount into set mealtimes, usually two per day.
  • Free feeding where food (usually dry kibble) is available around the clock.
  • Timed feeding where food is put out for a specific duration and removed.

Portion-control feeding is usually the best option for most cats as it can prevent overeating and gives owners the opportunity to keep an eye on their cat’s eating habits. If you still prefer free feeding over strict mealtimes, it’s important to measure out their recommended daily amount at the start of the day and top up the bowl from that amount. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Consistency is key, so always stick to your chosen feeding routine.

 

How many treats can I give my cat?

There’s nothing wrong with the odd treat to reward your cat’s good behaviour, but it’s important not to overdo it as they can be highly calorific. Always opt for treats that are low in sugar and carbohydrates and limit the amount you give them. Treats should make up no more than five to 10 per cent of your cat’s diet. Larger treats can be broken up into smaller pieces, meaning you can still give your cat a few tasty rewards without feeding them too much.

If you do decide to treat your cat, it’s important to slightly reduce their regular food to balance out their daily intake.

 

Don’t forget to hydrate

Water is an essential part of your cat’s nutrition, and not drinking enough carries serious consequences. Unfortunately, many cats don’t drink as much as they should, so you may need to find ways to actively encourage them to stay hydrated.

A deep, narrow water bowl may touch your cat’s whiskers which can be uncomfortable, so switch to a wider, shallower dish. Additionally, make sure their water is always fresh, clean and easily accessible to encourage regular drinking. If your cat still isn’t drinking enough, giving them wet food can supplement their water intake.

In some cases, a lack of thirst can be a sign of an underlying condition. Always speak to your vet if you have any concerns.

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