Once your cat reaches maturity, at around 12 months (this varies with breed), it's time to settle into a regular feeding routine. To maintain an optimal body condition, your cat's diet needs to include the right balance of the five major nutrient groups; proteins, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins and carbohydrates. Any good-quality, manufactured complete pet food should provide your cat with this basic nutritional balance.
If you prepare your own food at home, it can be very difficult to provide the right nutritional balance. Any one of the many high-quality manufactured cat foods will contain a scientifically developed combination of precisely the nutrients your cat requires. Fat and protein levels are carefully measured to help maintain a healthy body condition. Minerals and vitamins are accurately balanced. All cats are 'obligate carnivores', meaning they must have meat in their diet. Only meat provides taurine (essential for vision and a healthy heart), specific polyunsaturates, such as the fatty acid arachidonic acid, and a particular form of vitamin A. Unless advised to do so by your vet, it is unnecessary to give your cat food supplements if you are feeding him/her a commercially manufactured complete cat food.
Advances in pet nutrition mean there is now a wide range of commercially produced cat foods designed to match your cat's specific needs more accurately. If your cat spends the majority of their time indoors, for example, they may benefit from a special indoor formula with high levels of indigestible fibre to help ease swallowed hair through the digestive system without forming hair balls. Less active cats require fewer calories, so feeding a 'light' formula could help to avoid weight gain. Always consult your vet before changing to a different formula designed for a certain condition. Special diets are also available to help manage medical conditions or aid recovery from illness and may be recommended by your vet.
Remember the difference between a 'complete' and a 'complementary' food. Complete foods require no supplements. Complementary foods, such as treats and snacks and some purely meat/fish-based foods, are not nutritionally balanced on their own. If you’re feeding your cat a complementary food, limit the amount according to manufacturer’s guidelines and, to prevent over-feeding, always reduce your cat's main meal intake proportionately.
Of course there’s no real harm in preparing an occasional home-cooked treat, but always use only fresh meat and fish that is thoroughly cooked, with no salt added and the skin and bones removed.
Unless your cat's circumstances change dramatically, there is no reason to break your regular feeding routine from the early days of adulthood to the end of the seventh year as your cat reaches seniority.
What to feed?
There are many types of cat food available - different recipes, formats and formulas, as well as the choice of wet or dry. Ultimately whether you serve wet or dry is a matter of personal preference (yours and your cat’s) or may be influenced by certain medical conditions.
- Dry complete diets have some specific plus points. They are convenient, easy to measure and use, easier to store and have a longer shelf-life once opened than wet foods. They also help to remove plaque from the teeth. If you choose a dry food, you can expect your cat to chew it more actively and take longer to eat, to drink more water and to return regularly to the food rather than eating it all at once. Unlike many dogs, cats prefer to crunch on their dry food and generally find it less attractive when soaked, so keep it dry.
- Some cats simply prefer wet food's aroma and texture, and wet can still be very convenient with single-serve formats ensuring a fresh, easy-to-serve meal each time. Your cat will also eat more in one sitting rather than going back and forth, and will drink less. Serve the food at room temperature to ensure your cat can taste and smell it properly. Warming up an opened can may take up to two hours from being taken out of the fridge - alternatively, you might consider microwaving canned foods for a short time, but be careful of hot spots. In general, avoid serving food that is either too hot or too cold.
- Many owners serve a mixture of dry and wet, as some cats prefer wet food in the morning and to have dry food left out during the day.
Ensure your cat has clean, fresh water to drink at all times, preferably in a large ceramic bowl. Plenty of water is especially important if you are feeding dry food. If your cat is reluctant to drink, try a bigger bowl - some cats don't like it when their whiskers touch the sides. Metallic bowls can put a cat off drinking too as they see reflections and shadows when they put their head down to drink. Ideally water is not positioned directly next to food as cats prefer some separation between resources. If cats go outdoors, a bowl to collect rainwater may be more popular than the clear, fresh water indoors. Remember, milk is not a substitute for water. Cats don’t need milk after weaning and many are intolerant of lactose (milk sugar) that can cause diarrhoea. Even specially formulated low-lactose ‘cat milk’ should be treated as a food not a drink, with food intake adjusted accordingly.
Once opened, cover cans and store them in the fridge, warming the food up again before serving. Don't leave wet food out for too long, as it can go stale very quickly. It is inadvisable to keep opened wet food for longer than 24 hours even when refrigerated, so you may prefer to use a single-serve product, such as a pouch or foil tray.
Store dry food in a dry, clean environment, and clean out the container regularly. An airtight container keeps the food more palatable by sealing in aromas. Serve dry food dry. Many cats prefer to crunch on their dry food, and find it less attractive if it’s soaked.
Treats and snacks
Most owners like to give their cats something nice to eat in addition to their main meal. Scraps from the dinner table or a small piece of food fed by hand are seen by many as a way of showing affection. However, human foods are high in calories and sometimes salt, and lack many essential nutrients, so you risk overfeeding or upsetting the balance of your pet's diet. Many brands of commercial treat are also available but can also be high in calories.
Some commercial treats are designed to taste great and complement the main meal without upsetting the nutritional balance, and some claim benefits to digestive or dental health.
Remember, when you do give treats, always reduce your cat's main meal by an equivalent calorific amount, and feed according to manufacturer's directions. Limit treats to no more than 15% of his/her daily energy needs to prevent putting his/her overall diet out of balance. Remember that if your cat is on a special diet advised by your vet, for weight loss or another medical condition, treats may be forbidden as even a little human food can upset such a diet. Ask your vet what you can and can’t feed if this is the case.
Many cats, given the choice, would prefer several small meals a day. This is a little inconvenient for owners, but cats are equally adept at taking food in fewer, larger meals and most cats adapt to eating two meals a day quite happily. Nonetheless, as they’re natural 'grazers', leaving some dry food out between meals suits feline eating habits well.
Always read the feeding instructions printed on product packaging carefully, but remember these feeding guides are only there to give you a starting point. Every cat is an individual, so the most important consideration is to feed them enough to maintain a lean, healthy, ideal body condition. If you are in doubt about how much to feed your cat, contact your vet.
It’s worth remembering that a change in circumstances can lead to a change in nutritional requirements. For example, if you move from a house with a garden to one without, your cat's activity level may drop, and he/she may need to eat fewer calories to maintain optimal body weight.
When and how to feed
Cats are creatures of habit, so it is best to feed them in the same place and at the same times each day, in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the house. Choose a surface that can be easily cleaned, such as a tiled floor, or use a feeding mat. Always serve the food in a clean bowl; ceramic or metal bowls are preferable and some cats prefer a saucer or flat bowl. Place the feeding bowl far away from the litter tray and, if you have more than one cat, put feeding bowls a reasonable distance apart to avoid confrontations. If the cats do not get along, completely separate feeding locations may be required.
There are a variety of reasons why you may need to change your cat’s diet. Nutritional requirements may alter as a result of changes in lifestyle, age or environment, or a medical condition might require a special diet. Remember to consult your vet if your cat refuses his/her usual diet or starts to eat less. If a diet change is required, consider that a cat's digestion can be easily upset if you change his/her food abruptly, whether between canned and dry, or between brands. A slow transition process will help your cat to digest the new product more easily, by naturally adjusting the enzymes and bacteria in the digestive tract. When introducing a new food:
- Put a little of the new food in with the current food and mix it all together, although some cats do not like mixing of flavours, so you can also:
- Offer both foods separately to allow your cat to try the new brand.
- Over the course of seven to ten days, gradually increase the amount of new food offered, whilst reducing the amount of the former until a complete change is achieved.
- If a cat is unwell and a diet change is recommended, consult your vet on the best way, and best time to attempt the diet change as the transition may be easier once your cat has recovered and is feeling better.
If you switch from wet to a dry food, your cat will chew it more actively and will certainly require more water, and may visit the bowl sporadically, rather than eating it all in one sitting. If switching from dry to wet, expect him/her to drink a little less, and eat more as a meal, in less time. As dry foods are in general more energy-dense than wet foods, your cat may need to eat proportionally more wet food to gain the same calories.
Treating your cat
Occasional treats put out between mealtimes or fed by hand are a great way to build the bond between you and your cat. However, human foods and some treats are high in calories and lack many essential nutrients, so you risk overfeeding or upsetting the balance of your cat's diet. Some treats are designed to taste great and complement main meals without upsetting the nutritional balance, and some claim benefits to digestive or dental health.
Remember, when you do give treats, always reduce your cat's main meal by an equivalent calorific amount, and feed according to manufacturer's directions. Limit treats to no more than 15% of his/her daily energy needs to prevent putting his/her overall diet out of balance.
Cats have a reputation for being particular about what’s in their bowl. Many have favourite textures and flavours, and quickly turn up their noses at anything unusual.
However, fussiness can be the first indication of disease so always contact your vet if your cat’s appetite decreases. As well as following any veterinary advice, there are additional ways to encourage cats to eat including:
- Create more privacy at mealtimes. Switch feeding time until after the rest of the household has eaten, and feed in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the house.
- Make sure his/her bowl is clean. Many kittens won't eat out of a bowl that has bits of old food in it. Wash food and water bowls after each use.
- Some cats prefer to use saucers rather than deep bowls.
- If he/she normally enjoys dry food, try replacing the food. Dry food absorbs moisture and becomes stale, especially in warm weather.
- Try to serve wet food at room temperature, as it smells more attractive and is easier to digest. This could take some time if the food is kept in the fridge, or you can microwave wet food for a short time until it’s warm (never hot) to the touch.
- Stronger smelling food may help tempt the fussy cat.
- Vary food type (dry and wet) and flavour.
- Remember, cats that spend lots of time outdoors have plenty of opportunities for an unscheduled snack. By dinnertime, your cat just might not be hungry. Again, a higher-quality food may help encourage him/her to reject outdoor alternatives. Hot summer days further suppress the appetite, but always check with your vet that there is no underlying medical problem.
When your cat does eventually return to his/her food, offer lots of praise and affection as soon as the bowl has been removed.
If the fussiness continues
If your cat’s fussiness continues, consult your vet as there may be an underlying disease stopping your kitten eating. A full check-up is advised as there are many reasons why a cat’s appetite may decline.
Adult cats can have a tendency to put on weight, particularly those living indoors or getting a little older. Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in cats, affecting around one in three in the UK. Therefore it's important to manage your cat's weight carefully, given the associated health risks that obesity implies.
How to tell if your cat is overweight
It can be tricky to tell if your cat is overweight. For reference, use the Body Condition Chart. Regular assessments by your vet are recommended but to check for yourself simply run your hands around his/her flanks and abdomen. At ideal weight you should be able to feel, but not see, his/her ribs quite easily, without a heavy covering of fat. His/her waistline behind the ribs should be clearly visible when looking down from above, with no sign of swaying folds at the sides when he/she walks.
Your cat is moderately overweight
- if his/her waistline is not clear or hard to see, you can feel some fat under his/her tummy, but you can still just feel his/her ribs under a layer of overlying fat.
Your cat is obese
- if there is no waistline, you can’t feel his/her ribs and his/her tummy looks rounded with a heavy, hanging covering of fat (fat pad) that sways when he/she walks.
Returning your cat to ideal weight
Before embarking on any dietary changes or ‘weight-loss programme’ consult your vet. It is important your cat is weighed and checked for any underlying disease problems before any dietary change or restriction. To help your cat lose weight, start by cutting out all treats and titbits for a period of two weeks, including milk. Make sure everyone else in the family knows the rules so there’s no affectionate cheating! If you have several cats, feed him/her separately to avoid stealing. Dividing the cat’s food into smaller, more frequent meals may help with hunger but keep track of what and how much you are feeding. Your vet may suggest reducing the amount or switching to a special, lower-calorie diet. Never ‘starve’ your cat or restrict food without veterinary advice as this can lead to serious medical problems.
Some specialist cat food brands also offer special formulations created specifically with the needs of neutered or indoor cats in mind. Typically these are adapted to the reduced energy needs of young and adult neutered cats, helping to promote a lean body mass, maintain good regulation of glucose metabolism and a healthy urinary tract.
Food is only part of the equation. Lifestyle can be important too. Lack of exercise can often be the cause of weight gain, so encourage your cat to stay active and burn up more calories. A dedicated playtime can help and many cats enjoy time spent chasing a ball or using a ‘fishing’ toy.
You should also consider the benefits of moving him/her onto a specially formulated 'light' food. Light diets are less concentrated with a lower calorie content, so you may not need to cut down on the actual amount you feed. These diets are enriched in all the essential nutrients except calories, so even if you do need to reduce feeding quantities you can be sure your cat is continuing to get all the right minerals and vitamins in the correct proportions. Note that if you currently feed your cat a diet recommended by your vet, you should consult him/her before making any changes.
After a fortnight, check the body condition again and continue the diet until an ideal body condition and weight is reached. Rapid weight loss is dangerous and can indicate a serious underlying problem. Successful weight loss should be slow and gradual and can take months, so be patient. You may be able to join a weight-loss programme run by your vet to allow close monitoring of your cat’s weight loss along with help and advice. Once you've succeeded, you may want to slightly adjust feeding quantities to stabilise his/her weight.
Purina brands for adult cats
Purina produces many of the UK's leading dry and wet adult cat foods, each the result of the very latest scientific advances in quality, taste and nutrition, designed to give you, and your pet, an outstanding choice of recipes and formats, for every life stage and lifestyle.
Find out more about PURINA® cat foods.