How to Feed Your Cat

We are continuing our series for beginner cat owners with a section about basic cat care. In this article, we want to teach you how to feed your new cat.

Table of Contents

You will learn:

  • What is the best type of food for your cat;
  • What to be careful about dry cat food or kibble;
  • What to look for on commercial cat food labels;
  • How often you should feed your cat;
  • How much food you should give your cat;
  • And more…

Yes, this is a cat feeding guide for beginner cat owners. That said, we are sure most experienced cat owners will be able to learn something from this article as well.

What is the best food to feed your cat?

First, there are several types of food.

  1. Dry cat food or kibble.
  2. Semi moist food
  3. Wet cat food.

Second, when it comes to the commercial cat food, there are so many different manufacturers. While most are, not all are nutritionally complete for your cat.

What do I feed a new kitten?

No matter what is source of nutrients you choose, when you bring a new kitten home, it’s best to keep feeding the same food type (and brand, if possible) which was served in their previous home. The reason is your new kitten will be under enough stress getting used to their new home. Changing their food may upset their stomach.

So definitely ask the breeder or the shelter staff for this information.

How to change a new kitten‘s food

When your new kitten becomes confident in your home (which may take anywhere from a few days up to several months depending on many things), you can start transitioning them to another type of food. The best way to do this is gradually. Start by mixing a lot of their old food with a very small amount of the new type. Continue this by adding a bit less old food and a bit more new food every day. Eventually you’ll be able to feed your kitten their new food only. Normally, this transition should be done over a week or so. Please note that it will depend on how well your new kitten accepts their new food.

Which food type should you choose for your cat?

Most cat owners choose dry cat food. It’s the most popular type mostly because of the ease of use and it’s low price. However, dry food is not the perfect food choice for cats. Really?

Dry food is not the best choice for cats?

Why? Because it has too little moisture. Nature has built cats so they get the bulk of their water from their food. Most cats don’t drink enough additional water. How come? This comes from the fact that cats, in general have a weak thirst drive. If your cat eats dry food, they will more than likely be dehydrated chronically. This will impact their long term health.

According to a research paper by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Feline Health Center,

“Canned cat food is typically about 70 to 80 percent water, and can be fed in addition to or instead of dry.”

Did you know your cat is an obligate carnivore? That means they lack the ability to digest carbohydrates. If you look at most dry cat foods, they tend to have lots of carbohydrates. That’s one of the issues with most dry cat food diets.

Is canned food a better choice for cats?

Canned cat food while it’s not as easy to serve as dry cat food is a better choice. Why? A canned diet provides enough moisture to meet your pet’s requirements. In fact, most canned food can be as much as 70% or more of water. These are often called wet food. That’s a good thing as an adult cat gets most of its water intake from food. For the most part, the average canned food is nutritionally more complete than your average dry adult cat food. However, you still want to check the label (read below) to make sure your cats nutritional needs are being met.

Is a raw diet good for cats?

Feeding your cat a raw food, homemade diet would be the best choice for most cats. The reason is, you get to control what goes into your cats bowl. Unfortunately, most cat owners are afraid to try it or don’t have the time to commit to feeding their cat in this way. While your cat will benefit from a homemade, raw diet (especially an indoor adult cat that you want to reduce their body weight), the time commitment is high.

In working with many of our patients that are looking at their cat’s weight, have a senior cat, or know they have an overweight cat, feeding a raw diet can really help control their body weight. As you control every calorie that goes into you cat’s bowl, it really helps for weight loss. It’s also more like how a cat would eat in the wild. For more info on that, please see our post What do wild cats eat. We do believe that raw diets are a great choice for any cat. Even a raw food from an average recipe is better than dry food.

Yes, there are concerns about the risk of illness if raw food ingredients aren’t handled properly. The good news is that there are a few companies that make a raw food diet so it’s much easier for you to serve.

Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Health
Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Health

We encourage our patients that are serious about looking into raw food for their cat’s diet to read a book by Kymythy Schultze: Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Health. She explains why a raw food diet is the best choice for your cat. She provides several great, nutritionally rich recipes for your cat to start with.
There are also commercial raw diets available . While, they usually are better than processed food, you will still have to check the label to see what’s in it.

What to look for in cat food?

If you are choosing a commercial cat food, always take a look at the label. The label will tell you everything you want to know about what your cat will be eating. So what should you look for?

The main part is the list of ingredients. They are usually ordered by how much of each ingredient is in the food. The most important are the first ones listed.

Chicken meat is the most common cat food ingredient. And it's not bad.
Chicken meat should be considered a good ingredient in a cat food. It’s also a very common one.

Meat by-products. These are commonly used and as a general rule, a thing to avoid. What are they? Meat by-products are anything that is not meat. Surprisingly, many of them are still necessary for cats. For example, in our home made recipe we add chicken bones, skin, heart and liver. Technically these are meat by-products. If you think about what a cat eats in the wild, they eat the whole rodent. So this makes sense. On the other hand, if your chosen pet food lists by-products as the primary ingredient, you may want to look for one with meat as the primary ingredient.

What to avoid in cat food?

  • Fish in cat food should be avoided. Why? The reason is that most fish used in pet food contains too much phosphate. Beef is another protein source that is a common allergen for cats. For this reason, we recommend to avoid it. Of course, if your cat is not allergic to beef, (which you can only know by feeding beef to your cat and monitor them), you can use it with no problems.
  • Grains and vegetables are not necessary in a cat food. Cats are meat eaters. Their bodies have evolved over the eons to get all their nutritional requirements from eating small animal. They don’t have the ability to get anything from carbohydrates such as wheat or corn. However, we have found that it can be difficult to find a commercial cat food which contains no grain. It’s really tough when you look at adry diet like kibble. If grains are in the ingredients list, check if they are listed as far towards the end as possible. If you can, select a grain free diet.
  • Additives, like vitamins and amino acids and minerals are also important. However, what is necessary depends on the main ingredients and the method of processing. Most processed commercial cat foods should contain supplemental vitamin B and an amino acid Taurine. It’s rare to find just those unfortunately. Downside is that even scientists do not know the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and other supplements needed. Why not choose not to process food in the first place?
  • The price of the food is important (money doesn’t grow on trees yet we hear), it appear to have a correlation with the quality of food. This makes sense as using quality ingredients that cost more than cheap ones will make the price higher. Also, paying people that knows about feline nutrition costs more as well. You should still check the label, as high price does not assure the quality of the food.

How to feed your cat?

You now know what to feed your cat. So how do you feed your cat?

Feeding Dish

  • You will want to find a tray or plate to use. We have found that most cats enjoy eating off of a plate. While it’s most common to serve their food in a bowl, many cats don’t like to stick their head in them to get the last bits of food. The other thing most cats don’t like is when the edges of the bowl touch their whiskers. Of course, make sure to wash the plate at least once a day. We found our cats like their food dish cleaned after every meal.

Find a feeding location.

  • It’s best if it’s on an elevated surface, like on a cat tree, on a window sill, or a piece of furniture. If you have an older cat, they can more easily eat without bending over when their feeding dish is up off the floor.

Use The Feeding guidelines.

  • Make sure you are serving the correct amount as written on the label. Most commercial cat food have feeding guidelines on the label. If you would like more information on how much to feed your cat, please read our article How much to feed your cat. Remember, those numbers are not written in stone and depend on many factors. Factors such as “do you have an obese cat?”, what is the healthy weight for your cat?, etc. The directions on the label are a very reasonable starting point. You can make adjustments whether your cat gains or loses weight. If your cat is always hungry, please read our article on Why is my cat always hungry?

Serve several meals.

  • The digestive system of your pet has evolved to digest several small meals. The reason for this is that in the wild, cats hunt for their food which is composed of small rodents rather than a large prey animal. In the wild, cats may eat up to 10 small meals per day. You should aim for approximately three to five meals per day. Yes, this is takes a lot of time and effort on your part. As you plan your cats nutritional needs for a day, divide the daily amount of food necessary by the amount of meals you’ll serve. If you are feeding a raw or a canned diet, make sure your cat eats the whole meal in one sitting. If they don’t finish it all in one sitting, serve a smaller amount at the next feeding.

    Try to stick to, at least an approximate schedule.  A feeding schedule is really important in your cat’s eyes. Free feeding, or leaving food out is an option but for many cats is confusing their feeding instincts. If you have multiple cats it’s also very difficult to calculate how much each cat is getting to eat.

    Cats have evolved their inner clock to be super precise. Why? Their hunting success is dependent on the ability to tell time and when their preferred animal prey is more active. Having scheduled meals in your household environment will fit into your cats natural instincts and lowers your cat’s stress.

Cat feeding schedule tips

  • Do not feed your cat right when you wake up. Wait for an hour as ab example. Feed them before you leave for work. The reason for this is while it doesn’t affect your cat’s well being, but will prevent your cat from trying to wake you up in the morning for food.
  • Try to schedule last meal before you go to sleep. This isn’t for your cat’s benefit, but for your benefit. The reason for this is cats are used to taking a nap after their meals. Having a schedule of serving their last meal (it may be smaller than usual) right before you go to sleep yourself, will make sure your cat is less active during the night. The idea is that you, the loving cat owner will sleep better. We tell our patients that this is most effective if the last meal is preceded by a playing session of 15 or 20 minutes. Of course you should still play with your cat during throughout the day.
  • Keep fresh water accessible. Even, if you are feeding a diet containing enough water to meet your cat’s needs. You should still provide a bowl of fresh water accessible at all times. Remember to replace the water at least daily. This is even more important if your cat is on a dry diet. According to the Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Feline Health Center:

“Cats need to consume about 4 ounces of water per five pounds of lean body weight per day, so the average 10-pound cat should drink about one cup of water per day.”

Above article covers basic feeding guidelines for cats. Be sure to read our next article which is closely related to cat food – a teeth cleaning. Yes, yes, cats do need this, as well. By learning how to feed your cat, they will be healthier and happier. And a happy pet is what we all want right?

This article is a part of series about basic care for your cat.

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