Nutrition is an essential component of health, so it’s understandable to want to improve your cat’s diet. A cat’s diet, like a human’s diet, should be balanced and optimized for the cat’s particular needs. While this may sound easy in theory, cats are complicated creatures and satisfying their needs isn’t always easy.
A study by the University of Bristol found that 20.2% of the owners admit to giving their cats treats several times a week. Additionally, 34.6% of cat owners feed their cats whenever the cat is hungry and 31.5% feed by free choice.
Treats, on-demand feeding, and free choice feeding are all factors that can contribute to feline obesity, making these statistics worrisome. Fortunately, feeding your cat appropriately can decrease their risk of obesity.
With feline nutritional requirements in mind, here are some tips for ensuring that your cat remains in top shape. If you need some more advice, be sure to take a look at our guides to the best wet cat food, the best dry cat food and the best cat food.
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1. Make sure your cats have the right food for their age
Just like humans move from milk to baby food to a more adult diet, cats have to change their diets accordingly too. Feline life stages can be divided into four categories: kitten (0-12 months); adult cat (1-7 years); senior cat (7-11 years) and geriatric cat (11+ years). Each of these life stages has unique nutritional requirements.
While keeping an adult cat on kitten food isn’t dangerous and won’t cause them any immediate harm, the extra calories found in kitten food can lead to an increased risk of obesity. Feline caloric needs, as well as their vitamin and mineral requirements, can again change as they approach their senior and geriatric needs, so a transition from an adult diet to a senior or geriatric food can help optimize nutrition at these life stages.
2. Keep their feeding areas clean and free from germs
It may seem obvious, but there are a number of factors that can influence a cat’s appetite. For instance, plastic bowls tend to develop grooves and scratches in their surface over time, which retain food particles and bacteria.
This makes these bowls hard to clean, which can lead to odors in the bowl that may discourage your cat’s appetite. Many veterinarians recommend ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowls, to avoid the issues inherent in using plastic bowls.
Don’t just top off your cat’s water or put new cat food on top of the old food. Think about how you would like it if your dinner consisted of a freshly cooked lasagne draped over yesterday’s cold, stale offerings. Your cat probably won’t appreciate it any more than you. Instead, dispose of old food and clean the bowl thoroughly before refilling.
3. Give treats in moderation
Just like people, cats love treats. However, it’s important to resist the urge to deal them out freely. Treats are high in calories and low in nutritional value, so save them for special occasions, or as a reward for good behavior.
No more than 10% of your cat’s daily caloric intake should come from treats. A diet that is heavy in treats will lack many of the nutrients that are found in a well-balanced cat food. Consider saving treats for use as a special reward, giving them after nail trims or other less pleasant situations.
4. Make food changes gradually
Cats don’t require regular food changes, and it’s completely appropriate to feed your cat the same diet for years. However, there are a number of valid reasons to change your cat’s food. Maybe your cat has aged into a new life stage, their favorite brand has become unavailable, or a new medical condition requires a nutritional change.
Regardless of why you are changing your cat’s food, it’s important to do so gradually. A gradual diet change can help you avoid the diarrhea and other gastrointestinal effects that can accompany a sudden food change.
When changing your cat’s diet, you should aim for a gradual transition over a period of one week. On the first day, mix a small amount of your cat’s new diet with their old food. Each day, add a little more of the new food and a little less of the old food.
By mid-week, you should be feeding a 50:50 mixture of new and old food, and by the end of the week your cat should be fully transitioned to the new food. If even this approach seems too stressful for your cat, consider extending the transition period to ten days or even two weeks. By transitioning gradually, you should be able to minimize the effects that can be associated with a sudden food change.
5. Avoid certain types of human foods – they could be poisonous
While it may be tempting to give your cat the leftovers off your plate, or a bowl of chocolate ice cream to lick clean, you really shouldn’t. Many foods that seem perfectly innocuous to us can be dangerous to cats, causing anything from lethargy and diarrhea to serious pancreas and kidney damage – or worse.
Among the chief culprits are caffeine drinks, chocolate, onions, garlic, grapes, and milk. Be sure to read our guide to human foods that are poisonous to cats and, when in doubt, stick to cat food.
Like people, cats all have unique personalities and unique nutritional needs. It’s difficult to recommend a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to your cat’s diet. That said, following the above guidelines will go a long way towards ensuring your cat’s health and safety.
Looking to swap your feline friend over to a different diet? Before you do, take a look at our guide to changing cat food to ensure you transition your kitty slowly and safely.
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Steve writes and proofreads buying guides, news stories and advice for Pets Radar, drawing on his lifelong experience as a pet owner. Currently sharing his house with two cats and a dog, he draws on the many highs and occasional lows of pet ownership he has borne witness to in his writing. He has worked in publishing for 15 years as an editor, sub editor and writer on a range of titles, such as SciFiNow, How It Works, All About History, Real Crime and Horrorville. You can follow him on Twitter @stevewright22