What do you feed your cat for top health?
Wet canned cat foods are the best food to feed your cat. These foods are high in protein and moisture to keep your cat strong and healthy.
Cat’s are strict obligate carnivores, that evolved off a diet of animal-based foods. Without animal-based foods, cats would not be able to get enough nutrients to stay healthy.
In this article, I’ll go into detail about how to feed your cat for top health.
I’ll go into detail about nine main diet factors that cats need to be healthy. I will go into topics such as fat, protein, moisture, and vitamins.
My name is Derrick, and I write for Simply Cat Care. Our goal with this website is to help cat owners learn more about taking care of their cats.
I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions relating to your cat’s health.
Let’s get into the article.
1. Feed Your Cat A Meat Based Diet
Cats are obligate carnivores in the wild.
This means they must consume animal-based foods such as muscles, organs, and bones or they will die.
It is only from the intervention of man (i.e. synthetic supplements) that cats are able to survive without meat in their diet.
Cats do not have the ability to digest and extract the nutrients from plant-based foods.
Much of the feline family, including lions and tigers, are obligate carnivores. That means this diet requirement evolved long ago in evolution.
Cats have a lot of unique physical features that suggest a preference for meat-eating.
- Low intestine-to-body ratio (i.e. less digestive capacity for high volume plant foods)
- Sharp carnassial teeth designed to tear meat and not chew
- Enhanced night vision for hunting prey
- Wider detection of sound frequencies for hunting
- Whiskers that vibrate and detect sounds of prey.
The evidence points towards an evolved specialization for consuming prey-based diets.
Not only that, but without supplementation, a cat would be deficient in a few vitamins if withheld meat.
When provided a choice, cats prefer meat over plant matter.
2. Feed Your Cat A Low Carbohydrate Diet
Cat’s do not need to eat carbohydrates.
- Starches (polysaccharides)
- Sugars (disaccharides and monosaccharides).
Common carbohydrate foods include grains, potatoes, legumes, fruit, and vegetables (e.g. corn).
Carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth using the enzyme salivary amylase.
The problem is cats have very little salivary amylase. Cats also have fewer disaccharidases (sugar digesting enzymes) to digest carbohydrates.
Even if cats have a high carbohydrate diet, these enzymes don’t increase to help with digestion.
On top of this, cats don’t have taste receptors for sweetness. When provided water with or without sugar, cats had no preference for sweet water.
As cats are obligate carnivores, they do not require plant-based foods to thrive and perform at their best.
Whilst cats are able to tolerate a small number of carbohydrates in the diet, they struggle with higher amounts.
In human beings, carbohydrates are a main source of energy as we are omnivores (similar to dogs).
However, there is no need for carbohydrates in a cat’s diet.
Cats have a higher rate of gluconeogenesis. This is a process that converts protein and glycerol (part of fat) into sugar in the body.
That means cats are adapted to a diet without carbohydrates.
One of the main reasons for high carbohydrate-based cat foods is they are cheap to produce.
Whilst that may be the case, the quality of these products for your cat’s health is questionable.
3. Feed Your Cat A High Protein Diet
Cats need a high protein diet for muscle strength and energy.
Called the ‘building block’ of life, protein is essential to your cat’s health.
The constituent of protein is amino acids. Amino acids form bone, hair, skin, teeth, muscles, and other organs.
If your cat does not get enough protein, these bodily structures would waste away. Used for energy in times of food shortage, the protein in a cat’s body becomes emergency fuel.
As mentioned earlier, cats have a high rate of gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis is used to break down consumed protein for glucose. The brain needs glucose, among other bodily tissues that are dependant on glucose.
When given a low protein diet, cats do not have the ability to downregulate the loss of protein in order to conserve bodily protein stores.
A cat’s diet needs to be at least 16% protein by energy.
A cat’s weight will fall if not getting enough protein due to lost muscle. decrease in body weight (most likely due to a loss in muscle tissue).
Muscles waste away for fueling your cat’s movement.
Of the 20 amino acids, 10 are ‘essential amino acids.
If not provided by the diet, the body will develop a deficiency. The body cannot produce these amino acids itself.
Meat-based products are the best source of protein for cats.
4. Feed Your Cat Enough Taurine Based Foods
Taurine is an essential amino acid that must be provided to keep your cats heart and eyes healthy.
There are 10 essential amino acids in your cat’s diet.
That means you need to give them to your cat.
Humans don’t need taurine, but cats do.
In humans, taurine is a non-essential amino acid. This means our body makes its own taurine.
Taurine is only found in animal products and if not supplemented will lead to a taurine deficiency.
Taurine produces bile salts, which help digest fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
A range of taurine deficiency conditions exists which include liver fat accumulation and degeneration of the retina.
Blindness, for example, can be a sign of taurine deficiency.
Feline taurine retinopathy or feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD) are the clinical signs of a taurine deficiency.
Thousands of cat deaths from heart conditions occurred in the 1980s due to poor quality food that wasn’t supplemented with enough taurine.
5. Feed Your Cat Enough Fat
Cats need fat for energy and for improved taste.
Fat also helps your cat absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) needed for top health.
Finally, cats need the essential fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) in their diet.
Unlike humans, cats can’t convert linoleic acid (a plant-based fatty acid found in sunflower oil, canola oil, and soybean oil).
Inflammatory processes require AA. Inflammation sounds bad but this is a necessary process for general healing in the body.
Plant-based products such as linseed and canola oil contain a high amount of linoleic acid, however, this is of no benefit to cats due to the inability to convert these fats into AA.
Cats also require a small amount of omega 3 fatty acids from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega 3 helps regulate inflammatory processes and improve validation and immune system function.
Cats have a limited ability to convert plant-based omega 3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid) into essential fatty acids.
Instead, your cat benefits from animal-based foods high in omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These include salmon and green mussels.
6. Feed Your Cat Enough Total Calories
Cats need enough calories for energy, but not too much as this leads to weight gain.
Dry cat food and other human-based junk foods are high in calories and prone to increasing weight.
On the other hand, wet canned cat foods are lower in calorie density and tend to help with weight control.
Feline obesity represents a significant health problem that impacts a cat’s longevity.
Too little food won’t be enough to provide for the essential nutritional needs of your cat.
If you want to learn how to calculate your cat’s energy needs properly, I’ve written this handy guide here.
7. Feed Your Cat Enough Vitamin A from Animal-Based Foods
Vitamin A is needed for eyesight, kitten growth, and reproductive health.
In humans, beta carotene converts into retinol (vitamin A).
Found in many plant foods including carrots, pumpkin, and spinach, beta carotene is a key source of Vitamin A in humans.
In other words, a human can simply eat a lot of these plant foods to obtain the vitamin A they need in their diet.
On the other hand, cats cannot convert beta carotene to Vitamin A. Whilst they can absorb beta-carotene, it gets excreted before conversion into vitamin A.
Cats must consume foods that are high in pre-formed vitamin A (retinol).
Found in animal-based products such as egg yolks and liver, this pre-formed vitamin A is a crucial requirement for cats.
If a cat was not provided animal products, it would be deficient in Vitamin A if this was not supplemented.
One thing to be mindful of is not to feed your cat excessive amounts of liver as this can lead to vitamin A toxicity.
Most commercial wet canned cat food contains enough vitamin A, but if you feed a homemade diet you’ll need small amounts of liver to keep your cat healthy.
8. Feed Your Cat Enough Vitamin D from Food Sources
Cat’s can’t get vitamin D from sunlight and need dietary sources of vitamin D for bone and dental health.
Humans can get enough vitamin D from getting sunlight exposure on their skin.
Cat’s do not have this luxury:
Vitamin D is important for bone, and teeth health.
Plant food does not contain much vitamin D and won’t help your cat get the vitamin D your cat needs.
Since cats don’t have the ability to convert sunlight exposure on the skin into vitamin D they must get vitamin D from animal-based foods such as liver, salmon, and egg yolks.
9. Hydrate Your Cat
Cats are prone to not drinking enough water.
Eating a lot of dry foods can limit the amount of water in a cat’s diet.
If not given access to eating wet foods and meat, a cat does not drink enough water.
This can lead to dehydration and potentially kidney problems. Canned food contains more moisture which is beneficial for your cat’s hydration needs.
Try to give your cat at least 5-10 ounces of water to drink a day.
Some things can improve water consumption. For example, using a flat saucer can be a more pleasant experience for a cat due to friction and discomfort in the whiskers.
Check out my guide to the best cat food bowl for help.
Feed Your Cat: More Tips For Awesome Health
Here is a list of additional tips to feed your cat.
Whilst getting the right foods in your cat’s diet is important there’s a lot more to think about.
Let’s take a look at some additional tips.
How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
In the wild, cats eat 7-20 small meals in the form of prey. This includes hunting during the night.
It’s not surprising that cats end up wanting to eat all the time, but this practice (free-feeding) may result in your cat eating too much and gaining weight.
You need to give your cat properly spaced meals.
A feeding schedule is a great idea for your cat.
An example of this is:
- 5:00am – Meal 1
- 8:00am – Meal 2
- 6:00pm – Meal 3
- 9:00pm – Meal 4
You may use dry cat food as a way to keep your cat fed whilst you are out of the house (e.g. work).
However, a diet of too much dry food might not be the best option for kidney health due to the lack of moisture.
Regular feeding is a good idea for your cat as it prevents hunger. Kittens benefit from small and frequent meals to make sure they develop to into healthy adults.
Kittens benefit from up to four or more daily feedings. Check out my article on how often to feed your cat for more information.
What Cat Food Should I Buy For My Cat?
The best food for most cats is wet canned cat food.
Even a budget wet canned food is better than dry cat food due to giving your cat a high amount of moisture and protein for health.
The type of cat food should align closely with the proper dietary needs of cats which most wet canned cat food choices do.
Check out my deep dive into choosing the best cat food for your cat to learn more.
Can I Feed My Cat A Diet Of Dry Cat Food?
You don’t need to give your cat dry foods.
This is because all the nutrients your cat needs are in wet canned cat foods, with the benefit of easier digestion and higher moisture content for kidney health.
Dry cat food has the benefit of being convenient for periods outside of the house (e.g work).
Feeding your cats 100% dry cat food is not recommended.
If you want to use dry cat food, I recommend only giving your cat up to 25% of their diet via dry cat food to make sure they get enough moisture. Check out my article on the best dry cat foods for health.
Try to use a dry food product that is as low in carbohydrates as possible.
Cat I Give My Cat Milk To Drink?
Yes, but only in small amounts.
Milk contains lactose which cats are intolerant to.
Cats tolerate up to 85ml of milk per day which equates to about 1/4 a cup.
Lactose-free milk may be a suitable alternative. Seek the advice of a veterinarian for more help with dairy products.
I have more information about this topic in my article on whether milk is safe for cats.
How Do I Help My Cat Lose Weight?
If you want to help your cat lose weight, you must reduce its calorie intake.
Just like any other animals (e.g. dogs) fed an improperly balanced diet, cats can become overweight or experience obesity.
In general, the main things to avoid are:
- Giving your cat leftover foods
- Too much dry cat food instead of wet canned cat foods
I recommend avoiding feeding your cat leftovers as a replacement for pet food as this can be dangerous to their health.
If you want to learn more about how to help your cat lose weight and dechonk, check out my helpful guide.
Conclusion: Tips To Feed Your Cat
That wraps up this article on 9 tips for feeding your cat.
Your cat is an obligate carnivore and thrives off an animal food-based dietary regimen.
Cats can eat fresh meat products or a combination of wet canned and dry foods.
Cats require several essential nutrients that they can’t get from plant foods. This includes:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Arachidonic acid (essential omega 6 fatty acids)
- EPA and DHA (essential omega 3 fatty acids)
Most commercial-based cat products supplement these required nutrients.
Animal-based food products are the best source of healthy dietary requirements for cats.
Make sure to give your cat lots of water during the day, especially if on a dry food-based meal plan.
Seek veterinary advice for more ideas on providing a balanced meal plan every day for your cat to eat.
Looking for more useful guides for cats
Check out some of our helpful guides below.