Food for health and fitness is food for thought!
Like all cats, the domestic cat is a carnivore (primarily a meat-eater) and is adapted to a lifestyle of hunting prey for food. In fact, as obligate carnivores, they cannot thrive without including meat in their diet. This means that feeding a cat a properly balanced diet can be more challenging as felines have a number of special dietary requirements that need to be met. The ICC website offers an insight.
Cats, like all animals, require protein in their diet to provide for their needs. However, while humans and dogs can adapt to diets that have a relatively low protein content (e.g. plant-based diets), cats have a much higher protein requirement in their diet that would typically only be met by feeding a meat-based diet.
Proteins consist of chains of amino acids. These critically include Taurine, Argentine, Methionine, and Tyrosine, among others. These amino acids are not found in plants and without them, a cat will ultimately die. Cats need these amino acids from a meat source simply to survive.
Not only a good source of energy, but fat also provides soluble forms of vitamins A, D, and E. It makes the cat food more palatable and is a source of essential fatty acids that play a key role in maintaining the cat’s health.
Cats cannot convert the EFA’s found in plant sources, so they must find them in the meat in their diet.
Carbohydrates are not essential for cats and their diet is generally low in carbohydrate content.
Apart from kittens, most cats have low levels of the enzyme Lactase in their intestine. This is the enzyme needed to digest the major carbohydrate (lactose) present in milk. For this reason, consumption of ordinary milk, and especially in high quantities, can often lead to diarrhea in cats.
In keeping with their meat-only diet, cats require preformed vitamins that are not present in plants, including vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin B3. However, too much of these vitamins in the diet can also cause problems.
Although cats clearly need meat in their diet, it is also wrong to think that they only need a source of meat. Sometimes kittens are fed a meat-only diet as they grow up, using freshly cooked meat such as chicken. Although this meets many of their dietary requirements, some critical components are still missing. It is important to remember that in the wild cats would eat a whole animal carcass (meat, organs, and bones) and if fed only the meat this, among other things, is highly deficient in minerals such as calcium and will not allow the bones to grow properly.
Factors that make food delicious for cats
The smell of food is really important for cats, and they have a well-developed sense of smell. This is enhanced when food is slightly warmed and cats prefer food to at body temperature around 30 °C.
Taste and smell combine to make the food seem more flavorsome and appealing to the cat. Cat foods with a high level of protein and fat are generally much more palatable.
Cats are unable to taste sweetness, like dogs and humans, but can detect salty, sour and bitter tastes. This reaches back to the meat dependency and a diet without plant matter.
The texture of the food is also important, with cats generally preferring the texture of meat.
That being said, there is a great deal of variation between individual felines. They are influenced by what they are fed on in early life and will tend to prefer the same foods as they see their mother eating. Over a period of time, some cats develop a liking for wet food while others prefer dried food. Many will like to try a variety of foods.
The best feeding times for cats
A cat’s natural feeding regime would be to hunt prey and consume it throughout the day, meaning they eat small meals often. Domestic cats prefer to eat like this too, given the option, rather than being presented with one or two larger meals a day.
Many other factors affect a cat’s eating pattern too, such as the presence of other cats, household noises, light levels, etc. They prefer to eat from shallow bowls so that their whiskers are not brushing the sides of the bowl, and they can see around them while they are eating.
Glass or ceramic bowls are better than plastic as plastic bowls can soak up odors that can put a cat off eating food that he would otherwise enjoy.
If a cat is stressed for any reason, it will be much less likely to eat the food it is given and will be reluctant to try new foods.
Cats and obesity
As we all now should know, given the amount of coverage it has been given, obesity in humans and animals is on the increase to alarming levels. We eat food for energy but without exercise, the excess fat in the food becomes a problem.
Because of the way a cat prefers to feed little and often, and because it is naturally out hunting for prey, it is usually able to control its energy intake so that it avoids any excess weight gain.
Domestic cats are less able to do this, particularly if they are given a diet of highly palatable food and of course they need to actively seek out the food is often diminished. We fill their bowl with food so that they know exactly where to find it.
Additionally, most pet cats are neutered and while this has many health and welfare benefits, it does interfere with their natural ability to regulate calorie intake and can lead them to eat more than is required.
All cats are individuals and have different requirements to maintain their normal weight. Follow the instruction on the food packet/sachet/tin as an initial starting point but adjust the daily amount up or down as necessary to keep your cat in peak condition. If using dry food, ideally weigh the food each day rather than using a measuring cup – this is a much more accurate way of making sure you are feeding the right amount.
Dividing the food into several small meals will help and so will hide some of the food, especially if it is dry, in puzzle feeders that can be hidden around the house, meaning your cat will have to track them down.
A well-balanced diet and plenty of exercises will help to keep your cat in the best of health. If you are in any doubt about your cat’s health you should take him to your vet.