Feeding Your Cat a Balanced Diet

Your cat has specific nutritional requirements and depends on you to provide a complete and balanced diet for a long and healthy life. Cats have different nutritional requirements to dogs and should not be fed dog food.

What are the key nutrients in a diet?

The key nutrients in a diet are fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals and these must be present in the correct amounts and proportions for a diet to be nutritionally complete and balanced.

  • Vitamins are required for bone growth, good vision and for the body’s metabolism.
  • Minerals are essential for strong bones and teeth
  • Fats are required for energy and contain essential fatty acids that provide healthy skin and a shiny coat
  • Carbohydrates also provide energy and the fibre content aids digestion
  • Protein is essential to develop healthy muscles, organs, nails, hair, cartilage and ligaments
  • Water is also an essential ingredient and vital to life –clean, fresh water must be available at all times

Why are cats different to dogs?

Cats are strict carnivores and require food of animal origin to survive. Cats are unique in that they need specific nutrients which they cannot manufacture in their body, unlike dogs, and are not present in foods of plant origin. These essential nutrients found in animal tissues must be supplied in the cat’s diet and include Vitamin A, taurine and certain fatty acids.

However, meat alone does not supply all the essential nutrients and cats cannot survive on an all-meat diet. In the wild the cat would consume its entire kill, including bones, organs, tendons, skin and muscle to provide the correct balance of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Meat is low in vitamins and also has an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus, which can affect bone growth.

Cats also require a higher level of protein and fat in their diet than dogs and a lower level of carbohydrates. From this you can see that dog food is not a suitable diet for your cat.

Which food should I choose?

Nutritional requirements of cats change according to their age, level of activity, reproductive status and health.

Premium pet foods made from high quality ingredients are designed to consistently provide a complete and balanced diet for all life stages of your cat. They are available in dry or canned (wet) forms and being complete mean that supplements are not required. A combination of both can be fed. If feeding treats as rewards for training, reduce the amount of food given accordingly, otherwise use the dry food as treats throughout the day and leave the wet food for mealtimes.

Home-prepared diets require special care to be well balanced and are best designed in conjunction with your vet’s advice.

How much should I feed my cat?

Animals will usually eat enough to satisfy their energy needs. Use the recommendations on the product label as a guideline to ensure you are not under or over-feeding your cat.

Kittens under three months of age should be be fed four times a day, then gradually reduce the feeds to twice a day by twelve months of age. Adult cats are usually fed morning and night while some like to have lunchtime feed as well. Cats have a relatively small stomach and naturally prefer smaller meals more often.

Some cats are prone to obesity and you may need to reduce their intake or change the type of food you are using to a light formula or one designed specifically for weight loss. Don’t forget your cat needs exercise, too and plenty of fresh water, especially if fed on a dry diet..

Tips for feeding cats

  • Serve cat food at room temperature – warm food smells better and encourages the cat to eat
  • Any changes in diet need to be made gradually over 3-4 days to avoid digestive upsets
  • Avoid feeding large amounts of raw fish, tinned tuna or liver, which can harm your cat
  • Remove uneaten portions of food and replace with a fresh supply
  • Cats like privacy so feed separately to dogs and other cats in a quiet place
  • Don’t place your cat’s food near it’s litter tray
  • Raw chicken bones can be fed to cats to help keep their teeth clean
  • Cats do not require milk but can be given lactose-free pet milk 
  • Fresh water should be available at all times
– Last updated 16 November 2012
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