Your cat’s dietary requirements vary from yours in several respects, the basic difference being that a cat is a carnivore (a meat-eating animal) and man is an omnivore (he eats all sorts of things).
How to feed a cat
A cat’s teeth are different from ours: they are sharp, adapted to tearing flesh. A cat does not masticate on smooth molars as we do: his food gets quickly lacerated into shape and then disappears with indecent haste.
He does chew his food more than a dog does, but does not grind it as we do. The tongue, with its spoon action, plays an important part in feeding, but the slack lips do not.
Herbivorous animals (those eating leaves and grass) have long intestines to aid difficult digestion; those of carnivores are short, those of a cat exceptionally so. The cat is more of a true carnivore than a dog: a dog can happily be fed on a diet which is half cereal, but a cat needs meat and very little else.
One of the peculiarities of the feline diet is the high demand for specific types of protein and the lack of any genuine requirement for carbohydrate and roughage. The amount of food needed by some cats is far greater, body-weight for body-weight, than that needed by some dogs.
Another peculiarity is that the cat is able to cope with a very high quantity of fat in his diet and apparently thrive on it. Unless a cat leads a very sedentary life and is overweight, a natural amount of fat in his diet will do him good.
Cats have long been “civilized,” but in their natural state their food would consist mostly of rodents, small rabbits and birds, eaten with the feathers. The vegetable contents of the stomach would probably also have been swallowed, adding a little important variety to the diet. In addition, cats occasionally, like dogs, eat couch grass as an emetic, though this has no nutritional function.
What can cats eat?
Under the unnatural conditions arising from his long and often lethargic history of cohabitation with man, the cat has learned to adapt his diet to some extent.
He will usually no longer live solely on meat and water though, while he likes some variety, the extra foods he is prepared to consider are far less catholic than those accepted by a dog. There are many stories of depraved felines hung up on titillating extras such as chocolate ice cream, but such tastes are not normal.
In addition to natural cat foods such as red meats, fowl, rabbit and offal, most cats like fish (a traditional but not really a primary food for cats), milk (not natural for adult cats, but good if it agrees with them) and any other foods of animal origin, such as egg and cheese.
A diet consisting of meat alone may be lacking in certain dietary elements. However, we have known a series of strappingly healthy elderly cats who would not deign to touch anything but meat, offal, fish and milk.
They will frequently learn to accept a small vegetable or cereal addition to their diet, and if you can get him to accept a pollution up to 25 percent of vegetable and cooked cereal matter in his food, so much the better for you, though fat cats should not get too much carbohydrate, and no cat can cope with a lot of roughage.
Cats also require high levels of fats in their diet. This is also used as a source of energy as well as a source of essential fatty acids and vitamins. Diets containing high levels of carbohydrates do not seem to be very palatable to cats and they may not contain sufficient quantities of proteins and fats.
The water requirement of cats varies considerably with the type of diet being fed. Cats fed on canned foods, which contain as much as 75 percent water, only need to drink small quantities once daily. If dry food is the main source of food a much greater quantity of water must be provided as these foods only contain about 10 percent water.
The presence of lactose in the diet from milk or milk derivatives gives some cats and kittens diarrhea. This may be caused by the lack of the enzyme which is essential in the digestion of lactose. Many commercial cat foods contain dried milk powder and this may be the reason that some cats tolerate one type of prepared food better than another.
Cats require comparatively high levels of Vitamin A. Pregnancy and the subsequent feeding of a litter increases the requirement dramatically. Lack of sufficient levels of Vitamin A may be reflected in a weak litter failing to gain weight and susceptible to disease.
Vitamin A is contained in liver, eggs and milk. Care should be taken not to overdo the amounts of Vitamin A given, as an excess of this vitamin can bring about deformities of the skeleton. Care should be taken to feed liver only once or twice weekly in small amounts.
Vitamin D is required only in very small quantities and the use of Vitamin supplements intended for human use should be used with caution as these usually contain high levels of Vitamin D.
Calcium and phosphorus
The important minerals in the diet of cats are calcium and phosphorus. In the newborn kitten calcium levels are very low and the only source is the milk of the mother.
Cat’s milk contains relatively low levels of calcium, so by the time the kitten is weaned at 6 weeks it is growing rapidly but still has no reserves of calcium. It is most important that the owner realizes this and adjusts the diet accordingly.
Can cats eat dog food?
Cats have unique nutritional requirements which cannot be satisfied by the feeding of foods formulated for dogs or by the sharing of food prepared for humans.
The main difference between cat food and dog food is the very high level of protein necessary in the cat’s diet. Adult cats require a minimum of 21 percent protein and kittens need 35 percent. This is at least twice the level required for dogs. Cats seem to break down protein as a source of energy, whereas other animals utilize carbohydrates for this purpose.
It is always best to train a cat to accept the diet you consider best for him right from kittenhood, though changes may be attempted later if they are introduced gradually. A cat not used to eating vegetable or cereal foods should have them added to his favorite food in very tiny amounts at first; then gradually increase the additions.
However, don’t offer him new foods which you are not convinced will do him good, just because they are cheap. It is better to give him less food but good food, and a variety of good foods.
Once you know something about feline nutrition, you will be in a more impartial position to decide what is best for your cat than he is, so try to win the battle of wills over the dinner dish. It is necessary to bear in mind the somewhat abstruse peculiarities of feline makeup which affects a cat’s response to what he is prepared to eat.
The cat is a very discriminating and particular animal whose senses are highly responsive to the smell and taste, and even to the appearance and texture, of his food. He is very quick to detect any unapproved additions, be they ever so minute.
When you get a new kitten you need to ask the previous owner what he has been eating and continue that same diet at least for the first few days, until he is settled. Sudden dietary changes can cause tummy upsets, though this may not mean that the changes are unsuitable if introduced slowly.
If you consider the kitten’s old diet to be inadequate, inconvenient or boring (or not suited to his particular likes and dislikes, which, within reason, ought to be taken into account), then introduce gradually any changes you deem necessary.
But remember that a cat is a rigidly conservative creature who only likes the foods he knows, and you must start as you wish to go on. It is extremely difficult to get an adult cat to break habits formed in the first three months of his life.
If introduced to new foods at an early enough age a cat can, however, prove remarkably omnivorous. Most adult cats will drink cow’s milk because they are introduced to it as kittens; many caught young will also enjoy vegetables and cereals or other “unnatural” foods.
However, it is important to remember the cat’s exceptionally high demand for protein, which he prefers to be mainly of animal origin: most cats will express little interest in a low-protein diet. On the other hand, some good quality animal fat in an otherwise unpalatable diet may increase its acceptability.
Once a young cat is settled into a good, varied routine which suits him, be firm and try to keep the upper hand. Never offer any food which isn’t anything but absolutely fresh (cats are justifiably revolted by meat which is even slightly off), but if a finicky cat refuses a meal which you know is wholesome, don’t relent and give him something else.
Leave the food out for half an hour: sometimes a cat, seeing that nothing better is going to appear, will make do with what is there. If he does not, remove the offending food and let him wait till the next meal. However, such methods should not be pushed beyond a certain point as frequently even hunger will not force a cat to eat food he has set his heart against.
The Best Cat Foods
Sometimes meats are more interesting served cooked than raw, especially if you are not quite certain of their freshness. Cats are almost always very particular on this point and won’t touch meat that is even slightly off. If you think it is a little borderline, then cook it lightly and leave your cat to decide upon the success of the operation.
One should not condemn him as a fussy nuisance if doubtful meat is rejected: unless you are convinced that refused food is completely fresh then give him the benefit of the doubt, and credit him with a more sensitive nose, and let him have something else. Fresh raw meat is best of course, but the following healthy cat food recipes make interesting alternatives.
1. Baked bread and meat
Take 2 thin slices of buttered stale wholemeal bread and at least 225g of any meat or offal scraps. Place one slice of bread, butter side down, at the bottom of a greased ovenproof dish, cover with pieces of meat and place the second slice of bread, butter side up, on top. Pour over a teacupful of stock or water and let it stand for an hour, then bake for 30 minutes in a moderate oven, keeping it covered.
2. Beef and egg fricassee
Any oddments of raw or cooked beef are suitable. Simmer in 1.5cm of stock or broth for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in an egg. Mix well and return to the heat for 3 minutes.
3. Hotch potch
Take about 450g of scrag end of lamb and a calf’s foot, both cut in pieces. Place in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours. When almost cool, remove the bones.
4. Meat and giblet casserole
Take about 170g of any available meat scraps, cut in chunks, and dredge with wholemeal flour. Place in a greased ovenproof dish. On top of this spread chicken or turkey giblets cut in pieces. Pour over ½ teacupful of stock, cover, and bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes.
5. Rabbit baked in tin foil
Wrap the whole uncooked rabbit securely in a sheet of tin foil and bake in a moderate oven for 2 hours. When almost cool, remove all bones.
6. Stewed ox liver
Raw liver has to be fed in moderation as it is a laxative. To cook liver cut it into chunks and dredge with wholemeal flour. Fry lightly in a little butter or fat, then transfer to a saucepan containing 1.5cm of stock. Do not simmer for longer than 5 minutes.
7. Baked kidney custard
Place 115g of sliced kidneys in a greased ovenproof dish. Mix together one beaten egg, 275ml milk and a dessertspoonful of wholemeal flour, and pour over the meat. Cover and bake in a moderate oven for 30 mins. When almost cool, slice.
Although it is traditional to feed cats on fish, it is not their natural main diet and is not quite as nourishing as meat. Nevertheless, it is a great favorite with most cats, adds variety to their diet and is a valuable alternative source of protein. It is also easily digested and rich in minerals.
However, cats tend to lose their taste for it if it is fed too often and too much fish may produce eczema, digestive troubles, and a bad-smelling cat so that it is advisable not to feed it more often than two or three times a week at most.
Most parts of a fish can be used, including skins and soft tails, but not bones. Cats often like raw fish but be careful of this unless it is perfectly fresh and has been very well filleted. An extensive diet of raw fish will actually produce a vitamin B deficiency in the cat, causing serious disease. It is probably better for fish to be cooked as it is then much easier to remove the bones.
9. Canned cat foods
Many household pets have benefited from modern convenience foods, which are the products of much research into animal nutrition. The pet food business is a multi-million dollar industry which is highly competitive and the best pet foods on the market are unquestionably useful. You can feel confident that a good cat food will provide the sort of nourishment your cat needs, having been specially designed for that purpose.
With the best will in the world, an owner might not always know what is best for his pet. This problem is not helped by the fact that a cat frequently has very definite ideas himself about what is best for him – and he is not always right. A cat easily becomes addicted to a deficient diet. Having once proved his penchant for one particular food, he may wish to eat that to the virtual exclusion of all else. With a good commercial cat food at least a balance of elements is provided.
Canned cat foods are frequently a godsend and a cat should be trained to accept them as a standby and as an added source of variety, served two or three times a week alternately with fresh foods. If your cat shows no enthusiasm for cans after being brought up on fresh meat, try mixing a small amount of canned meat with a favored fresh diet at first, increasing the amount as he gets used to the new flavor.
10. Meat broth
Any leftover cooked or uncooked scraps of meat, gristle, skin or bone may be used, but avoid anything highly seasoned. If you are buying meat specially to make broth, a calf’s foot is very suitable.
Simmer for two to three hours, using just over a liter of water to 450g meat and bones. After cooking, carefully remove all bones and bone chips but leave in the scraps of meat, skin and gristle. If you are using a whole calf s foot, it will need to be simmered for six or seven hours, topping up the water when necessary.