A Vet's tips on feeding your cats
This week on the blog we continue to look at ways you can take your cat’s health to the next level, adding extra energy and years on to your cat’s life. I want to talk about how to feed your cat to keep them happy and healthy. There are a couple areas I want to address when looking at feeding cats. First is when or how often you feed them.
In the wild, cats will eat up to ten small meals a day, hunting and eating on their own. Some owners may have heard this and think that means they should leave food out for their cat to access at all times. This is NOT the best way to feed a house cat. There are a few cats who may be able to self-regulate if given free access to food but the vast majority of cats with over-eat and become over-weight or obese. So the biggest thing to take away from this is that cats should be fed meals! I feed Bender 2 meals a day and he sometimes gets a light “snack” or treat between his two meals.
To satisfy your cat's desire for hunting, a great way to feed them is to make use of the “feeding toys” or “food puzzles”. These are generally small round balls that you can place a small amount of dry food into. The cat needs to bat around the ball with their paws or push it with their head in order to roll the ball and get the pieces of food to fall out. These are great for getting your cat a bit more active, slowing down their eating, and to simulate a hunting type situation.
Feeding meals is very important in terms of monitoring your cat's health. If you leave food out all the time it is much more difficult to know exactly how much your cat is eating, especially if you have more than one cat at home. If you don’t know how much each cat eats it will be very difficult to change feeding amounts if you cat needs to lose weight and you may not notice if your cat goes off their food when sick. Even if you have multiple cats you should feed a measured amount of food to each cat. The ideal is to feed each cat separately because cats are normally solitary feeders. If they eat next to one another it will increase the speed that they eat and they may feel they are in competition with one another. One cat may bully the other cat and get more than her fare share. Feeding stations should also be away from the cat’s sleeping area and litter box. One more tip: use shallow but wide food and water dishes so your cat's whiskers don't touch the sides. Following these guidelines is the best way to keep your cats happy at meal times!
The other really important thing I want to highlight about feeding your cat is to include wet food in the diet. A common myth that is circulating among pet owners seems to be that wet food is not as healthy for your cat as dry food. This is not true and in fact the opposite might actually be true (though more research in this area is required). I recommend all cats have some wet food in their diet and generally I feel it should make up at least 50% of your cat’s diet. Why is that? The main reason is because of the high water content in wet food. As a general rule cats don’t seem to drink enough to keep themselves well hydrated. I don’t know exactly why this is. Some people speculate it could be because in the wild they would get most of their water from eating whole prey. Perhaps they prefer running water to still water in bowls? Whatever the reason may be, we tend to see a lot of urinary tract problems in cats. In male cats we see blockages of the lower urinary tract, which can be life threatening, and in female cats we see inflamed bladders and bladder infections. In elderly cats we see a startling amount of kidney disease (could this be from chronic dehydration?). Increasing your cat’s water intake will reduce their risk of lower urinary tract problems and help keep the kidneys in good shape. I often add a bit of water in with Bender’s wet food so it’s a bit like a soup or stew just to get that extra bit of water into him to prevent urinary tract disease.
In addition to the high water content, wet food tends to have lower levels of carbohydrates than dry food does. Many veterinarians believe that high levels of carbohydrates in dry cat food leads to higher levels of obesity and diabetes in cats. To be honest this is still a controversial subject due to limited amounts of research. However I can tell you that when we treat diabetic cats we always recommend a low carbohydrate and high protein food so it makes sense (to me at least) that feeding a similar type of food could prevent diabetes from developing in the first place.
I feed Bender a two meals per day, one meal consists of wet food, (Royal Canin Feline Adult), which is formulated to prevent urine crystals from forming and helps prevent lower urinary tract blockages. His other meal is a dry food specially formulated to help clean his teeth and gums ( Royal Canin Feline Dental). I believe this is the best diet to keep him healthy and minimize the number of dental cleanings he will need, long into his late teens to early twenties. I hope this was helpful! Please comment or call the clinic if you have more questions about feeding recommendations for your feline friends.
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Ingrid Sproll