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The Basics of Cat Feeding and Feline Nutrition

8 min read

As a cat lover, you’ll want your furry friend to lead a long, healthy, happy and active life. One of the best ways to achieve this is by making sure your cat’s diet has the right balance of the five major nutrient groups: protein, fats & oils, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.

Cats are ‘obligate carnivores’, which means they need meat in their diet, so unlike dogs, they can never be vegetarian or vegan. Felines rely on protein as their main source of energy, and need higher levels of protein in their diet than dogs. Not only is meat a ready source of protein, it also provides three essential nutrients that cats can’t live without: taurine (for heart and vision), arachidonic acid (for skin and coat health) and Vitamin A (for coat and vision).

owner scratching ginger cat's head

At Purina, we’re passionate about providing the best diets for cats and ensuring that they get all the nutrition they need to thrive. That’s why we’ve created this article to give you all the information you need about feeding your cat.

Keep reading to find out all the essential elements that make up their diet and how much to feed your cat.

The essential elements of your cats diet

To keep them fit, you need to feed your cat the correct balance of all essential nutrients. A good-quality, complete cat food should be carefully formulated to provide them with the perfect balance of all the nutrients they need to thrive while, at the same time, still being delicious to eat. For the best diet for your cat, make sure they’re getting all of the following:

Feeding your cat moist or ‘wet’ food

cat licking lips ready for food

Moist or ‘wet’ food comes in cans, foil trays or pouches. When feeding your cat moist or wet food, always serve it at room temperature to allow your cat to get the most enjoyment from the textures and smells.

Once opened, cover any remaining portions and store them in the fridge for no more than 24 hours – and remember, the food will need to reach room temperature again for the next meal, so take it out of the fridge in plenty of time before serving. Wet food shouldn’t sit around uneaten for more than an hour as it will become unappetising and could attract bacteria, resulting in tummy upsets.

 

Feeding your cat complete dry foods

Dry foods are one of the best diets for cats. Their kibbles contain the right balance of nutrients and have a crunchy texture that can help keep your cat's teeth healthy. They are also more concentrated with nutrients than moist foods, so you only need to serve small helpings.

Whether you’ve decided to feed wet or dry food, read the label to check that it is a 'complete' food rather than 'complementary', otherwise you might be buying a snack/treat instead of a balanced meal!

Don’t give your cat dog food

Despite their appearance, dry cat food and dry dog food are not the same. The dietary needs of cats and dogs are quite different, so dog food is not suitable for cats and cat food is not suitable for dogs.

 

How do you change a cat’s food?

If you decide to change your cat’s food to a different type or brand, introduce the new food gradually over a period of seven to ten days. For cats it is best to put out two bowls, one with the old food and one with the new, so your cat has the opportunity to taste both.

Our article on feeding an adult cat can give you more advice on how to change your cats food carefully.

 

Homemade cat food

The idea of preparing a special homemade meal for your cat can sound like a labour of love, but unfortunately it isn’t recommended. It’s difficult to provide the best cat diet using home cooked or raw foods as some ingredients have very high or low quantities of essential nutrients.

Raw meat can also contain parasites and bacteria, such as Salmonella, which can make your cat ill so, as a cat owner, you need to pay particular attention to hygiene if you decide to feed a raw diet. Be very careful too about bones as these can splinter and even lodge in your cat’s intestine.

Find out more about human food for you cat including Can Cats Eat Rice, and whether it has any nutritional value?

 

Do cats need food supplements?

Healthy cats that are fed a complete, balanced diet don’t need any supplements. In fact, the addition of supplements could unbalance their nutrition and cause problems.

That said, some cats have special nutritional needs (e.g. for growth, certain medical conditions or during pregnancy) and cat food diets are available that are formulated for those specific needs. If in doubt, have a chat with your vet.

 

How much to feed a cat?

If you’re wondering how much to feed a cat, you’ll firstly need to bear in mind their breed, activity and lifestyle. A good place to start is by following the feeding guidelines on the pack as these give you approximate guidelines on how much to feed a cat. However, these are only a guideline and the actual amount needed will vary from cat to cat depending on things such as their size or activity level. Treats or snacks are fine in moderation, but reduce their main meals slightly if you do give them treats to avoid overfeeding! As a rule, no more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories should come from treats. Monitor your cat’s body condition score regularly with our tool and use this as a basis to adjust the amount of food you feed your cat.

That’s our guide to feeding your cat and getting the balance right. Want to find out more about choosing the right diet for your cat? Read our article on how to feed a fussy cat, next.