SECTION 2: THE NEED FOR A SUITABLE DIET
Your cat must have a balanced diet that meets its nutritional needs
2.1. To keep your cat healthy it is essential to provide it with a nutritionally balanced diet from early in its life. This will ensure that it receives essential nutrients in the correct quantities. A good diet can help prevent the effects of many diseases.
2.2. Cats are true carnivores, and cannot be vegetarians. They must eat many of the components found only in meat and animal fat in order to thrive and survive. This is because many years of evolution have made them so successful at hunting that they cannot create certain nutrients from vegetables as other species can.
2.3. Therefore cats have to eat certain proteins, vitamins and fatty acids available only from meat or commercially prepared cat food. They also have a higher protein requirement than some other species, such as dogs.
2.4. An alternative to a prepared cat food is a homemade diet. However this requires an excellent understanding of your cat's nutritional needs and if you choose to feed it this way it is very important that you get advice from your vet or pet care specialist.
2.5 A cat's ability to digest milk is significantly reduced after it is weaned. An adult cat therefore no longer needs milk and, because milk is a food, it should never be used as a substitute for water, which is an essential part of your cat's diet.
A cat's healthy weight
Your cat should not be too fat or too thin
2.6. An obese cat is an unhealthy cat. Most cats will only eat as much as they need. Some, however, may overeat and become overweight leading to a reduced quality of life. Obesity can lead to a whole host of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
2.7. It is important to remember that an underweight animal may also be ill. You should, therefore, know the best weight for your cat and try to make sure that its weight stays approximately the same throughout its adult life, although there may be some variation in your cat's weight at different times of year.
2.8 You can assess your cat's weight by gently seeing if you can feel its ribs; if they are hard to find it may be overweight. If the ribs and backbone are prominent, then your cat may be underweight and ill. Below is a body scoring chart that may help you. If in doubt, ask your vet whether your cat is within its correct weight range.
Chart indicating weight ranges in cats1
How often to feed your cat
You should make sure that your cat eats regularly and has fresh water available at all times
2.9. Cats living in the wild would eat many small rodents or birds during the day and so pet cats may prefer to eat small meals frequently. They can have constant access to food, be fed as required, have lots of small meals or a couple of larger meals per day. It very much depends on the cat's preference and your lifestyle but you should try to cater for your pet's preferences so far as you can.
2.10. The food that you give your cat should be fresh every day. The amount of food can be measured out at the beginning of the day to guard against obesity in those cats that are not so good at regulating their appetites. If you have a "greedy" cat it is a good idea to have the measured food divided up into a number of smaller meals per day. Where cats are kept indoors, owners can give some dried food in 'puzzle feeders', such as a ball that a cat rolls along the ground which releases the food gradually. This helps keep the cat entertained.
Other dietary needs
2.11. Cats that are pregnant, feeding their kittens, ill, old or young may well have different dietary needs from the average healthy adult cat. Your vet is the best person to advise you about the care of your cat in these circumstances.
2.12. As the person responsible for your cat you are expected to:
- provide enough clean fresh water at all times;
- provide food suitable for your cat according to its age and condition;
- provide enough food to keep your cat healthy but not too much to cause obesity;
- make sure that there are as many food and water bowls available as there are cats. Spread these around so that each cat can eat separately without feeling threatened by the others. Check that all of the animals are getting adequate food and water suitable for their individual needs.