Your cat's diet plays a key role in its overall health status, and it needs to be carefully designed and monitored. A healthy, well-balanced diet should address the cat's personal nutritional needs, physique, and lifestyle. However, sometimes we can get carried away when spoiling our purrfect companions, thus making a few mistakes when designing their diet. To help you learn what not to do when feeding your kitty, here are the most common feeding mistakes to avoid.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," – Hippocrates, a Greek physician and The Father of Western Medicine.
1. Feeding too much food
One of the most common feeding mistakes among cat owners is inadequate dosing. The amount of food you give your cat should be appropriately adapted to its nutritional needs, as well as its level of physical activity. Instead of keeping the food bowl full at all times, feed your cat smaller portions two to three times a day.
The size of the portion and the feeding frequency should be adapted to the cat's age, health status, and the food you're giving your cat. Younger and more active cats will require more food, while older and less active cats generally need less. Furthermore, certain cat foods are higher in calories than others, so make sure to always read the dosing instructions on the label and adapt the portions accordingly.
And don't forget about those kitty treats! We all love to treat our bundles of joy, but the treats can sneakily and quickly add up additional calories. Check out this useful chart by Royal Canin for more information on how much you're actually feeding your cat with treats!
Feeding too much food or food of inadequate nutritional content are the leading causes of feline obesity. Obesity is a serious health concern which can significantly reduce your cat's lifespan. Obesity was linked to increased risk of some diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, osteoarthritis, chronic infections, and even some forms of cancer.
2. Feeding diet of inadequate nutritional content
Your cat is a natural born predator. Mr. Kitty’s digestive tract is designed to digest meat. Cats need a high intake of protein, and food high in fat is not a problem – their gut can handle it. However, their food should never be high in carbohydrates, which provide empty calories without any nutritional benefit.
Furthermore, your cat's diet should also address all other nutritional needs such as vitamins and minerals. For example, homemade cat food often doesn't provide an appropriate calcium-to-phosphorus ratio or it can create vitamin deficiencies. If you would like to feed your cat homemade food, make sure to consult with a veterinarian who can guide you away from food fads and direct you to design a properly balanced diet.
3. Feeding only dry food
"The biggest mistake people make is feeding cats dry food." - Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, a California veterinarian focused on feline medicine and nutrition, cited Pets WebMD. Throughout their evolution, cats’ diets have always been rich in water (for reference, mice, a cat's natural food, consist of 70% water). Because cats historically got enough water with their food, they naturally don't drink as much water voluntarily as do dogs. This is why feeding your cat only dry food, which contains only 5-10% water, can lead to dehydration and may lead to higher risks of urinary tract diseases.
It is recommended to combine canned food (~78% water) into your cat's diet to ensure higher water intake. Make sure to provide your cat with multiple sources of fresh and clean water available at all times, too. Water fountains can also be a great way to motivate your cat to drink more water.
4. Feeding potentially toxic substances
Certain everyday foods and substances - which are seemingly harmless – should never be included in a feline diet. One of the more common foods which shouldn't be given to cats are milk and dairy products, chocolate, and garlic.
Milk is commonly given to cats, as most of them seem to love it. However, most cats are actually lactose intolerant and can therefore suffer from a number of stomach problems after drinking milk. Of course, this is not always the case, but there is no way to tell whether your cat is lactose intolerant or not without giving them the milk and risking them getting sick.
Chocolate and other sweets should be avoided because they contain methylxanthine, a substance toxic for both cats and dogs. And finally, some people believe that by adding garlic to their cat's diet, they are protecting it against intestinal parasites.
"This is one of the biggest misconceptions around," Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, professor of medicine and nutrition, as well as the Acree Endowed Chair of Small Animal Research, in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee told WebMD. "There is no proof that garlic prevents any parasitic infestation, including intestinal worms or fleas."
On the contrary, high dosage of garlic, just like onions, is associated with destruction of erythrocytes which can lead to anemia. For more substances which should never be given to cats, please read our "Top Kitty No Nos" article.
5. Going vegetarian or vegan
Cats are obligate carnivores and have evolved to eat meat. They cannot live on a vegetarian diet, as certain nutrients found in meat cannot be easily replaced by a plant-based diet. For example, taurine, an amino acid important for heart health, sight, and overall health, is found only in animal tissues.
To maintain a vegetarian diet for cats, one would have to be extremely careful to substitute for all the nutrients the cat would get from its natural food. Most vets strongly encourage cat owners to provide their pets with a meat-based, well-balanced diet which will provide cats with sufficient nutrients they need to thrive.
Appropriate nutrition is essential for your cat's well-being. Make sure to regularly consult with your veterinarian, who will direct you to design a diet that will address your cat's specific needs according to their age, health status, physique, and lifestyle. Share these tips with your friends and let's all try to make less cat feeding mistakes!
P.S. Did you know feline diet can now be personalized according to breed ancestry and genetics? Read this article to learn more about personalized feline diets.