It’s so easy to think of your cat as indestructible and as not needing any help from you.
After all, you’re just the help, there on sufferance to feed, clean up after and amuse the owner of the house!
Cat’s are extremely intelligent. Think about it for a second. How often has an off-leash dog run out in front of your car and how often has a cat? I’ll bet the dogs far outnumber the cats!
I love my husky Max, but I’ll be the first to admit that he isn’t the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed. He sure doesn’t hold a candle to Archie, my housemate’s tomcat.
But for all their intelligence (and conceited superiority — yes Archie I’m thinking of you), the truth of the matter is that your cat needs you, even more so than dogs do, especially when it comes to what you decide to feed them.
This is because, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they NEED MEAT TO LIVE.
Unlike dogs, cats have not evolved to be able to eat large amounts of carbohydrates and plant based food because in the not so distant past, cats only ate the animals they caught.
While dogs still need a certain amount of protein in the form of meat, they are nowhere near as dependant on meat as cats are, having evolved around the tables of humans (and so eating what we ate) for at least 15,000 years.
This is why many cats can develop serious health issues after eating dry, low-quality cat food for extended periods of time.
When it comes to cat nutrition, it is so important to remember that cats are not humans or small dogs and that they have strict dietary requirements.
In light of this, we’ve decided to put together a cat food pyramid infographic that you can refer to quickly and easily and that lists all of the basic food groups for your cat. We’ve also added tables as guides for calorie and water intake, based on your cat’s weight and whether it has been neutered or not.
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When it comes to cats, it’s all about the protein. Protein is at the bottom of the cat food pyramid and should make up at least 50% of your cat’s diet.
Unlike humans and dogs, cats must consume animal meat and by-products in order to get the vast majority of the nutrients they need.
This characteristic separates them from dogs and humans and if cats do not have enough protein, they break down their own muscle more quickly in order to feed the body’s protein requirement.
Cats are also unique in the way their bodies deal with Vitamin-A, which is important for body growth and in maintaining healthy hair and skin.
While dogs can synthesize Vitamin-A from beta-carotine in plants, cats cannot, and rely completely on animal tissues for this important nutrient.
Cats also require the amino acid taurine in order to prevent heart and eye problems. As cats cannot synthesize taurine from other amino acids, they must get it solely from animal sources.
Taurine also assists your cat’s vision, heart function and its nervous system and forms biliary salts in your cat’s small intestine which assist it to digest fats.
When feeding your cat dry or wet commercially available foods, make sure that the majority of the ingredients are quality sources of protein.
Quality sources of protein include the muscle meat of animals such as fish, chicken, turkey, beef, rabbit, venison and lamb.
Other excellent sources of animal proteins include, organs, skin, sinew, gizzards and edible bones such as uncooked chicken ribs and wing pieces.
Fats make up the second tier of the cat food pyramid and should make up 30% of your cat’s diet.
Animal fat is extremely important to your cat, as much of their natural food in the wild is very high in fat.
Fats provide a number of benefits to your cat including being very high in energy, with fats having up to twice the energy content of proteins and carbohydrates.
Fat also contains an important fatty substance called arachidonic acid. This Omega-6 fatty acid is essential for energy production and is only found in animal fats and not in plant based fats such as vegetable oils.
Fish fat is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which prevent inflammatory conditions such as artery and urinary tract infections.
Fats also help transport nutrients to cells, control inflammation, contribute to hormone production and provide a barrier against bacteria and viruses.
Good sources of fat are beef fat, pork fat and chicken fat. Fish oil, krill oil and flaxseed oil are also excellent sources of fat.It should be noted however, that flaxseed oil does not contain arachidonic acid.
Carbohydrates are not as important to cats as they are to dogs, as cats lack the metabolic pathways required to utilize and efficiently digest carbs.
Because cats have evolved to use animal protein as energy, excessive carbohydrate intake will be stored as body fat. This is why cats that are solely fed low-quality dry foods may often have weight problems.
This being said, if fed to your cat in small quantities, carbohydrates are an excellent source of fibre.
Fiber assists with digestive function and aids the health of the large intestine and gastrointestinal tract.
All of the carbohydrates your cat will ever need are found in dry cat food, dry cat foods contain rice, wheat, corn, barley and oats.
That being said, dry foods are certainly not all created equal and it is very important to select the best dry cat food for your pet. The best dry cat foods will have very high protein and fat content with moderate carbohydrate content.
Carbohydrates should make up no more than 10% of your cat’s diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
While cats do not need large amounts of fruits and vegetables, it is good to feed them these occasionally. Many cats will love the variety and the sweet flavor of fruit.
If your cat is fussy and does not want to eat fruit, try to look for a cat food or treat that contains fruit and vegetable ingredients.
Fruits contain many excellent antioxidants such as Vitamin E which is found in green leafy vegetables, berries, mangoes and apples to name a few. Vitamin E assists in the formation and maintenance of cells and the metabolism of fat.
Fruit and veggies should make up to 5% of your cat’s diet.
Even though they only constitute 0.7% of your cat’s body, minerals are essential in keeping your cat healthy and are involved in almost every physiological function in its body. They should make up no more than 3% of your cat’s daily food intake.
Minerals assist with enzyme formation, pH balance, the utilization of nutrients and in oxygen transportation. Much like vitamins, they work together with one another to provide these essential functions.
The minerals your cat receives will vary with its diet, but the most important minerals are calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
The most important mineral for your cat is calcium, as it is involved in bone formation, blood coagulation and the transmission of nerve impulses. Nowadays calcium is often added to high quality cat foods, so calcium deficiencies in domestic cats are uncommon.
Phosphorus acts in conjunction with calcium and is available in most whole meat products. It is important to regulate the amount of phosphorus you give your cat, as high phosphorus levels may lead to kidney damage. This can be done through feeding your cat the correct quantities of high quality food.
Magnesium assists with the proper absorption of calcium, phosphorus and vitamins C and E. It is found in large quantities in milk and fish.
Vitamins are essential for your cat’s metabolism, normal growth and bodily functions. Most of the vitamins your cat needs can be found in its diet and should make up about 2% of your cat’s daily food intake.
Vitamins are either fat or water soluble and your cat’s diet should contain a variety of both.
Fat soluble vitamins remain in the body for longer periods of time, while water soluble vitamins pass through your cat’s body more quickly.
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K, while water-soluble vitamins consist primarily of vitamins C and B.
An informative list of daily recommended does of vitamins and the specific benefits they provide your cat, can be found here.
Cat nutrition doesn’t end with your cat’s physical food. Giving your cat a truly balanced diet means that you should provide your cat with adequate drinking water.
Water makes up around two thirds of your cat’s body weight and helps to keep a cat’s kidneys healthy and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. If your cat is hesitant to drink water, using a water fountain may encourage it to drink more often.
All this being said, unlike dogs, cat’s have evolved to not need large amounts of water and they derive much of their hydration requirements from their food.
Dry cat food is 10% water on average and wet cat food contains an average of 73% water, so these figures must be taken into account when calculating daily water intake. This article breaks down how to make these calculations in a simple and easy to understand way.
Make sure that you hydrate your cat primarily with water and not milk, as cats are not biologically capable of breaking down milk properly, as they do not possess the enzyme lactase that is required to break down lactose.
Milk will cause some cats to have an upset stomach and may lead them to vomit or may cause diarrhea.
If your cat seems to be ok with milk, give it to it only as a treat. If you do not want to use milk, try a specially formulated ‘cat milk’ instead of actual milk.