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.
Cat food vs Dog food
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.
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 tinned 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.
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 six 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.
Unfortunately it is common to start feeding young kittens with a predominately meat diet which is high in phosphorus but low in calcium. As we have mentioned, some kittens cannot tolerate cow’s milk and if no supplements are given signs of a deficiency of calcium soon appear. The kitten may be of normal size but is reluctant to stand or walk and appears to be in obvious distress when forced to move. The bones of the skeleton are very fragile and may fracture easily.
Diets high in calcium should be fed to the pregnant female and continued throughout lactation. Kittens should not be given whole meat diets alone after weaning, and if milk is not tolerated, extra calcium must be given. Calcium carbonate in the form of powder or tablets is a simple, inexpensive means of correcting the calcium-phosphorus imbalance.
Cats should not be given fresh raw meat. Cooking or freezing fresh meat for at least 14 days avoids the possibility of the transfer of the Toxoplasma parasite. Eggs are a useful protein and vitamin supplement, but should be cooked first to render the white of the egg digestible. In cold climate it is important to increase the daily food intake during the cold months, particularly in the young active animal or pregnant or nursing female.