Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Should we feed our cats the same diet day after day or provide some variety?

This may be more complicated than it appears. It's not a yes/no type of question, and is probably best answered, "It depends." Youngsters of most species are taught by their mothers, if they're lucky enough to still have them around, what foods are appropriate for their well being and are also taught the skills needed to obtain the right prey and how to eat them. In this case, predators such as cats must learn to hunt, perform the "kill bite" correctly, and how to dispatch the prey. They learn things like eating the organs first, such as the brain and stomach, to get the best nutrition. They also learn how to protect their catch from intruders who would steal their prize. (Does your cat swat at you if you get too close to her food dish while she's eating? This is why. Don't take it personally. Just respect kitty's need to eat undisturbed.)

While all this describes wild cats, these instinctive behaviors can help us understand why our sweet, gentle house-kitties still do some disturbing things, such as bringing you the mouse they just bagged, or other oddities in from outside if they have access to do so.

However, today's question probably applies most specifically to our household cats that never go outdoors. So I will forego the details of the hunt. Just realize that hunting is basic to any cat, even one that has no experience with it. However, just so you know, don't expect a tame cat to "go wild" if it gets outside and is expected to fend for itself. They do have to learn how to hunt properly and if they don't, they will not be successful and thus will not survive outdoors. The instinct exists but the skills must be learned.

So, in the interest of a housecat that never goes out, let's assume you just got a kitten. Depending on its age, you will want to feed an age-appropriate diet so it grows into the healthy cat Nature meant it to be. Kittens are in  "learn mode" so you will be the teacher. If you teach baby kitties to eat only dry kibble (or some company's so-called "kitten food"), they learn to accept it as normal and may refuse anything else, even for the rest of their lives. But a single-source commercial food can have some risks, one of the most common being kidney disease.

Meat has moisture; kibble pretty much has none, maybe 10% at most. Cats aren't known for being big drinkers, so don't expect kitty to make up for that deficiency by drinking more. Again, instinct. Given that the cat is known for evolving from its desert-dwelling ancestors, they need moisture, and Nature provides it by giving them an appetite for meat. So the first thing you could try is offering the little ones some meat. It really helps if an older cat is present to demonstrate, as kittens learn by watching the older ones.

But if they are orphans, you will have to be the one to encourage them to eat meat. If they turn it down, try offering canned food, which can be up to 80% water. You can even add more water to this food to make a "kitty soup" to help them get enough moisture in their systems to prevent stress on the kidneys.

Also keep in mind that kittens are growing fast and have a high energy level, which requires frequent refueling with high energy kinds of food. Meat fulfills this requirement better than kibble, but if that's all they have access to, they need to eat often and a lot.

If you acquire an adult cat and it only eats dry food, you probably should try to offer some variety, especially food with moisture in it. The worst canned food is better than the best dry food, according to some veterinarians who really understand feline nutrition. But if you can afford it, it's worth it to use higher quality canned foods. Look for real meat as the first item in the ingredients list on the label. Then mix things up by feeding canned food made from different meats for variety, such as chicken, beef, pork, or even venison, duck and rabbit. This allows the cat to experience different flavors and benefit from the qualities different meats offer. Chicken has a higher protein content than beef, for example.

You will need to be patient with adult cats stuck in a routine as they usually need more time to learn new habits. Transitioning a cat to a new way of eating can take quite a while, so be patient and don't give up. My kitty Frosty took more than five years to accept raw meat. She still prefers her canned food for regular meals but recently seems to have decided that meat morsels make great treats. When she first got here, she only ate kibble, so she has come a long way.

You can find more information on this subject online by searching Cornell University's Feline Health Center.


Also check out this site:

https://catinfo.org/commercial-cat-foods/  (Dr. Lisa Pierson)

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