Q: Does my cat need to have meat and/or fish products in its diet?
A: Domestic cats are descended from strict meat-eaters, and their behavior reveals their carnivorous nature. When hunting, domestic cats will seek small prey such as mice, birds, and insects. They may even kill and eat a rabbit. They will stop eating a meal of commercial cat food and go off hunting if distracted by potential prey. The particular chemistry and structure of the cat’s gastrointestinal system is well-suited to digesting and absorbing nutrients from animal-based proteins and fats.
Unsupplemented vegetarian diets can result in harmful deficiencies of certain essential amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins.
Q: How much fiber is good for my cat?
A: Fiber in the diet is probably good for overall gastrointestinal health and may help overweight cats trim down. Dietary fiber is thought to help maintain proper weight by diluting the caloric density of the food and through physical effects and hormonal interactions. For reasons not yet understood, dietary fiber also seems to help in the management of mild hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), a relatively common problem in older cats.
On the other hand, too much fiber in the diet can decrease the digestibility of other important nutrients. Also, certain features of the cat’s intestinal tract, including a relatively small colon and nonfunctional cecum, suggest that cats may not be able to utilize dietary fibers as well as other animals. Meals should not have more than 10% fiber.
Q: How often should I feed and water my cat?
A: If given free access to food, cats will eat between 12 and 20 meals a day, evenly spread out over the 24-hour light–dark cycle. Cats should be fed more than once a day. Fresh water should be available at all times, but the amount needed varies with the type of diet and the environmental conditions. Cats don’t drink as much per kilogram of body weight as do dogs, perhaps because of their evolution as desert animals. Cats will drink approximately 2 milliliters of water for every gram of dry food they eat. Whereas dogs will drink enough water to replace 6% of their body weight in one hour, cats will take 24 hours to do the same. The weak thirst drive of cats puts some cats at higher risk of developing urinary tract stones. While they may be better off eating canned cat food, which contains 78–82% water, simply adding water to dry food will also help to protect against stone formation.
Q: How can I help my overweight cat trim down?
A: The most obvious answer is to put less of the same type of food in its bowl each day, still allowing it to eat at all times of the day. This is not the same as letting it eat as much as it wants at all times. About 30 to 40% of cats will overeat and become fat if given this latitude. Some cat owners offer less appealing food. Another option is to feed one of the low-calorie cat foods on the market. It’s also important to remember to keep your cat from sampling the cat-next-door’s food and to refrain from giving it table scraps.
Q: Is it true that cats are finicky eaters?
A: It is true that taste, texture, and moisture content of food is more important to cats than it is to dogs. Cats will choose foods on the basis of these features rather than nutritional adequacy. That is why it is important for cat owners to make sure their pets are getting the recommended amounts and mix of all of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
In contrast to dogs, cats will not eat a powdered, commercial diet. They will, however, eat the same diet if it is provided as pellets, in a mash, or in gel form. Typically, they like the gel form the best. They are more sensitive to bitter taste than dogs and prefer warm to cold food.