All mammals need a mix of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that can not be produced by your body and must be supplemented through the animal's diet, but each species' dietary needs are unique. And cats aren't any exception.
Unlike dogs and humans, cats are carnivores. They evolved eating different foods and thus, need different essential nutrients. For example, cats can't synthesize adequate levels of the amino acid taurine. If it's not supplemented by their diets they are able to develop eye and heart disease.
“Cats are unique,” says Dr. Susan Wynn, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners board certified in veterinary nutrition. “They tend to be more specialized carnivores. They require more specialized nutrition.”
So, what can cats eat? Find out, below.
What to consider on Cat Food Labels
Because cats are carnivores, the very first ingredient you want to see listed on commercial cat food is a meat source, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian and author. Ingredients like corn, peas and rice can provide protein, but cats need meat.
This might be chicken, seafood or pork, or perhaps an organ like heart or liver. Don't rely solely on the guaranteed analysis, which lists the food's protein and fat content, says Morgan.
“The guaranteed analysis might say the food contains 35 % protein, but a lot of that protein might be originating from vegetable matter,” Morgan says.
Unless the animal has a food hypersensitivity, there is no best meat for cats, she adds. It's all about your cat's preference. Some like chicken, while others prefer pork or seafood.
Additional ingredients vital for cats include fat, B vitamins and vitamin A, to name a few. But it's difficult to say how these may appear around the label. Some companies get the vitamins and minerals from whole foods, for example, liver is a good supply of vit a, and fat may come in the food's meat source.
“Your best bet would be to look for the AAFCO statement that the meals are complete and balanced for the animal and it is life stage,” Wynn says. “The AAFCO statement will even let you know when the meals are not complete and balanced.”
What About Grains in Cat Food?
Ingredients like corn and other grains are often used in cat food to provide vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Grains also help dry food maintain its shape and crunch. What this means is dry meals are usually full of carbs, so go easy, as a lot of carbohydrates can lead to obesity, pancreatitis and diabetes in cats, Morgan says.
Some cat foods also contain vegetables. Despite the fact that cats are carnivores and don't need vegetables and fruit, they might still benefit from having these components in their diets, Wynn says. Again, it's all about evolution.
“Think about what may be contained in the stomach of the bird or mouse in the wild,” she says. “There may be tiny levels of vegetables or seeds.”
How Often Do Cats Need to Eat?
Whether you're serving dry or wet, canned or homemade food, most cats are fine with two feedings per day, the doctors say. Both Wynn and Morgan discourage “free feeding,” or leaving a bowl of food out for the cat to eat at her leisure. This may lead to overeating and obesity.
Some individuals will object and say cats are grazers, Morgan says, but grazing in the wild is much diverse from grazing at home.
Most natural foods are significantly lower in fat and calories than what we buy our pets at the shop, Wynn says. For instance, a mouse only provides about 30 calories, she adds, so the average cat in the wild would need to eat 6 to 8 mice each day. It doesn't mean 6 to 8 servings of cat food.
Helen Anne Travis is really a freelance writer located in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and also the Globe and Mail.