Healthy diet plans for cats and kittens
Like all the members of the cat family, the domestic cat is an obligate carnivore. This means in order for cats to survive and thrive their diet needs to mainly consist of meat. In fact, an absence of meat can lead to deficiencies and health problems. This is why cats are perfectly adapted to a hunting lifestyle with sharp teeth and claws and a talent for stealth.
Cats can sometimes seem to be fussy eaters. Factors that influence palatability of food for cats are complex, but include texture, smell and taste. Also, food temperature is important as most of their food in the wild would be at body temperature.
The smell of food is particularly important and cats have an extremely well developed sense of smell. While cats can taste substances that are salty, sour or bitter, they are not able to perceive sweet tastes. This is why cat foods tend to be very smelly to stimulate that appetite. Cats do not like food from the fridge, as the smell is reduced; they find warmed food and more pungent food more appetising.
While a lot of cats prefer the texture of meats, many prefer dried food, but both can be fed as a sole diet. However it is important to never feed cats dog food.
Cats like to eat small frequent meals and graze through the day rather than eating two large main meals. This is because in the wild they would hunt their prey frequently and eat little and often. Hiding food in different places provides some fun and challenge for a cat.
What should a kitten’s diet be?
Because kittens are growing and developing at such a fast rate for the first 12 months, they have higher nutritional demands than adult cats.
It is usually possible to start weaning kittens from around 3-4 weeks of age, at which time small amounts of a good quality kitten food can be offered. It is usually best to start with a wet (tinned) kitten food or to soak some dry kibbles, designed for kittens, in water to thoroughly soften them.
Small kittens will struggle to eat from bowls used for adult cats, so using shallow dishes that they can walk on to are better, although much messier! Kittens should be fed little and can be moved on to dry food by not adding water to the kibble.
Weaning is usually completed by around 6-8 weeks of age. Try to avoid making sudden changes to the diet, as this can result in stomach upsets, so gradually introduce change over 7-10 days.
What should an adult cat’s diet be?
Cats often enjoy different foods with various flavours and textures and what they need is a diet that is balanced and suits their personal preferences.
Due to their unique and special dietary requirements, it can be extremely difficult to provide a good balanced diet for cats with home-prepared foods. Feeding a good quality commercial cat food (tins, sachets or dry food) is a more straightforward option. If the choice is made to feed a home diet, then careful research must be undertaken to ensure that the diet is complete, balanced and will not lead to any nutritional deficiencies.
If your cat is suffering from any ill-health problems, e.g. kidney or bladder disease, a specially tailored diet will be required. Advice from your vet or veterinary nurse should be sought.
Always ensure that your cat has access to fresh clean water. This is especially important when feeding dry food alone, as the cat will naturally take in less water than if on wet food, which has a much higher moisture content.
If in any doubt, always check with your veterinary surgeon.