The food you feed your cat can have a dramatic impact on his health and wellbeing. Many of the most common reasons that cats are taken to the vet are related to diet, and by choosing food wisely, it’s possible to avoid or correct a variety of problems.
The amount of moisture, types, and quality of ingredients, and finding out your feline’s sensitivities are all important when ensuring your cat has a healthy diet.
Do make sure the food you choose contains plenty of moisture
Domestic cats are physiologically prone to an array of the urinary tract and kidney problems. Feeding a diet that contains moisture is one of the most helpful things you can do to help address the risk of these problems flaring up.
Since most cats don’t experience as much thirst as other animals and therefore are unlikely to drink large quantities of water, it’s especially important that the diet itself provides essential fluid(s).
This moisture helps to keep them well hydrated, which ensures the kidneys and urinary tract remain flushed out, and it helps to prevent bacteria from building up and crystals from forming.
Do choose food that lists meat as the first ingredient
Pet food ingredients panels are listed in order of predominance by weight, so when meat is listed first, it means that most of the recipe is made up of meat. Ensure that a recognizable source of meat is listed (for example ‘chicken’ rather than ‘poultry by-product meal.
Cats are carnivores, so it’s especially important that the vast majority of their diet be made up of good quality, digestible meat, and not protein in the form of byproducts like beaks, hooves, and feathers, which are difficult for the body to assimilate to.
Do take plenty of time to transition your cat to a new food
Try to phase in the new food over a period of several days by gradually mixing it with his old diet, rather than making an overnight switch. This allows your cat’s gut flora to adjust to the new food and makes for a smoother transition from a digestive standpoint.
Since cats are naturally quite opinionated about changes in food, a gradual transition also makes it more likely that he’ll adapt and accept what’s being offered (or maybe even allow you to sneak in the change without him noticing).
Do choose a food that is minimally processed
High heat and pressure alter the amino acid structure of proteins and destroy many of the delicate compounds in produce, like phytonutrients and enzymes. This is why many conventional pet foods are brown. Food that’s minimally processed is closer to the way nature made it, and a much healthier source of whole-food nutrition.
Heavily processed foods like kibble, also have to contain a large quantity of added (usually synthetic) vitamins and minerals, in order to help the food meet the cat’s daily nutritional requirements. Food that’s made up of fresher, less processed whole-food ingredients is a much healthier choice.
Do consult a reputable holistic veterinarian
Pet food shopping can be overwhelming, and while your cat will likely have his own strong opinions on what he will and won’t eat (which may also vary from week to week), a holistic vet can provide lots of useful advice on which brands to try.
Holistic veterinarians in general have a deeper understanding of the effects of different food ingredients on total health. They look at wellbeing from the standpoint of the whole animal and can help you to pinpoint formulas that can have a therapeutic effect.
Do not feed a food that contains red flag ingredients
Chemical preservatives like BHA and BHT, fillers, by-products, artificial flavor enhancers, and colorings can have a harmful effect on your cat’s health. Check the ingredient panel carefully so you know exactly what’s going into your cat’s bowl.
Harsh preservatives have been linked with an increased risk of cancer and other health problems. By-products and fillers lack nutrition and are difficult to digest.
Artificial flavors and colorings can also have harmful long-term effects on health and may even deplete your cat’s immune system. Red flag ingredients such as these can also trigger digestive problems.
Do not feed an excess of grains
Cats, in general, do not need to consume grain at all, and a grain-free cat food diet is preferable. If you do feed some grain, make sure it is a whole grain and preferably certified organic.
Processed grains and other refined starches can lead to obesity in cats, which in turn can make them prone to other health problems.
Do not feed wet food from cans lined with BPA
BPA (Bisphenol A) is a synthetic compound used prolifically in plastics. It is used in so many applications, such as plastic water bottles and food packaging, that traces of BPA are now evident in the urine of most adult humans in the U.S.
It’s especially important to avoid food that’s been packaged in BPA for cats because the compound is thought to be linked to an increase in hyperthyroidism in felines. Canned food is one of the most likely places for BPA to show up because it’s frequently used in the plastic lining of cans.
So if you choose to feed your cat wet food (which is, in theory, a better idea than feeding dry food, because cats are so prone to urinary problems), ask the company you’re planning to purchase, whether they can assure you that their can linings are BPA-free.
Do not slip into a battle of wills with your cat if he refuses to eat what’s being offered
While dogs can actually benefit from a day of fasting from time to time, the same is not true for cats. If cats don’t consume any food for more than a couple of days (or have significantly reduced food intake for a few weeks), the body can go into starvation mode and will send its stores of fat to the liver to be processed into energy.
Cats’ livers are not efficient at processing fat, and the fat can end up collecting in the liver itself, causing it to fail. This is especially common in cats who are overweight and with excessive body fat stores.
Do not feed your cat a food that contains ingredients from China
There are many concerns around pet treats and food ingredients that originate in or are processed in China. The country that was implicated in the widespread 2007 pet food recalls that affected numerous household pet food brands is also in question over tainted jerky treats, which are thought to be involved in numerous pet illnesses and deaths.
Ask questions of the companies you purchase your cat’s food from and look for transparency in ingredient sourcing so you can be sure you are feeding your cat food from trustworthy, safe sources.
The food you choose for your cat directly affects his total health and wellbeing. There’s a diverse spectrum of cat food choices on the market today, ranging from more processed kibble and canned food diets to freeze-dried, dehydrated, and frozen raw foods.
The above guidelines will help narrow down the types of food your choose from, but ultimately it’s important to remember that every cat is an individual, and the food you serve him should be selected according to his unique nutritional and health requirements, which will vary according to his age, breed and activity level.