Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Top 10 Feline Feeding Tips.

My cat Magpie contemplates breakfast while perusing the passing food choices available 
on the others side of the windowpane.
There are few shortcuts to success in this march toward the final curtain call. When I talk to my clients about how to best care for their cat(s) I focus on essentially a very few topics.

I remind my clients that we really "are what we eat, and we get what we pay for."

For cats, the strictest of carnivores of all of our domestic species, the poorer the diet, and the more contained your cat, the more likely you are to have problems.

Cats are roamers and hunters. They are lean muscled inquisitive beasts who all roar loudly on the inside even if they purr quietly on the outside. They are built to eat flesh, and not chewy cookie like food, they are also less tolerant to the accumulation of adipose (fat) tissue then other species. They tend to accumulate fat around vital organs, like heart, and suffer significantly if that fat remains. The consequences are staggering and severe. Joint disease in 4 and 5 year olds when I typically only see it in 15 plus year old fit cats. Diabetes, the terrible consequences of this disease are often life-threatening and life-costing. Recurrent chronic infections, overwhelming amounts of urine that isn't always deposited in the litter box. Difficulty breathing, poor coat, inability to clean themselves leaving fecal matter stuck to the back of the rear legs and tail area. It is a sad reality that many cats struggle with obesity simply because we, their parents, are feeding them a poor quality kibble based diet.

Tigger presents for a pat.
Here are my recommendations for what and how to feed the felines in your life;

1. Rely on canned food and minimize access and quantity of dry food
A normal sized middle aged house cat (8-10 pounds) should be fed 1/2 of a high quality 5 ounce can twice a day. In my home for my 4 cats I use Science Diet. I vary the flavors to keep my cats interested and avoid problems posed by an exclusive single animal based protein. If your cat is used to eating only dry, and is currently overweight start at 1 can twice a day. If they aren't finishing it start to reduce to 1/2 can twice a day.
Confession Notice; The number of clients who tell me that "They cannot feed canned food," is ludicrous. When I ask "why?" The answer is almost invariably, "because I don't like the smell or the mess." I have trained myself to not respond the way my gut wants to. Instead, I remind them that the best diet choices available are freshly killed small rodents.

2. Offer 1/2 cup of dry food per cat a day. This should be age, lifestyle, and appropriate for any underlying disease(s). Again, in my home I use Science Diet adult feline. In general, most of my obese, diabetic cats have been on a poor all-you-can-eat food trough dry food. Worst yet, they are cartooned, day-glo foods with packages that look like these;

Cartoon logo, day-glo colors, and weird shapes,
the junk food telltale trifecta.

Drumstick and fish shapes, with filling..
Filling and "soft inside, crunchy out"
and a cartoon character.

3. Choose a high end commercially available diet. My personal favorites are Science Diet. I have fed it to my cats for decades and I have seen this company stand by their product, their patients and my non-stop veterinary help requests for decades. (I am not paid, compensated, nor biased in any form by any company). I typically buy multiple cases of different flavors and offer a mixed variety to my cats. It is important to not feed one type, or allow your cats to become addicted to only one flavor or type. Having your cat find a favorite can lead to them becoming intolerant to any other foods and make a treatment of a disease by change in diet incredibly difficult.

4. Food and water bowls should be emptied and cleaned at each meal.

5. Pay attention to who is eating and how much they are eating. Too often we catch a sick cat after days to weeks of reduced eating. Free feeders are the most difficult to monitor for adequate food intake. If it is out all of the time many people don't know when, or how much the pets are eating until it they are very skinny and weak.

6. I love water fountains for cats. They seem to enjoy running water, and it encourages drinking. I also like to add cat grass to them. The cats often enjoy the greens and they are fresh and organic.

7. Any kind of diet change, especially for cats, can be difficult. The best advice is to do it so slowly and so gradually that they don't realize it is happening. For the first few weeks (or months if needed) leave the wet food out and gradually reduce the amount of dry available. If your cat is finishing all of the dry and demanding more give in, but try to make it the highest quality dry available. If they are being reluctant to try the wet add a tiny bit of canned tuna, or chicken/beef baby food, or even lunch meat. 

My cat Wren, takes a little love bite nibble.
8. If your vet advises that your cat should be on a prescription diet I would still recommend that you try a gradual transition. If you cat is not so keen on the new diet it is better to have some of the 'good' versus all of the 'bad'. Let them decide how fast you can transition them. If you are having a difficult time with the prescription food ask your vet about other options. In many cases there are a few different manufacturers and a few other options.

9. Cats are ALWAYS in charge. The old "eventually they will get hungry enough and eat it," is NOT TRUE for cats. Cats can, and do, go on hunger strikes that can lead to irreversible life-threatening liver failure or disease. Surrender before they prove their point with an expensive potentially deadly disease (hepatic lipidosis). If your cat is getting so finicky that they are refusing the best stuff, start feeding other stuff. In the end a cat has to be eating, and as disease, or age, advances feed them whatever you have to to keep them eating. Try the following; gravied canned foods, chopped cooked chicken, fish, shellfish, meats, hot dogs, baby food meat flavors, tuna, or any of the foods or treats from number 2 above. In the clinic we have a special 'junk food' section that we pull out as our secret weapon to encourage our sick cats to eat.

10. Embrace the challenge that is the independent intelligent spirit of a cat. They have their reasons for every decision that they make. They need more than most of us can offer in a life of jobs, kids, responsibilities, and convenient diet choices. Too often we are not meeting their dietary needs, their inquisitive curious minds, and their exercise stamina. I have become an advocate of lots of choices, loads of mental and physical stimuli and an appreciation that we, unknowingly, and unintentionally asked them to live a life of boring captivity. Take your cats for a walk (try a harness or an enclosed outdoor cat cage), or even a playmate to chase and play with in the house. What about a cat room with shelves on the walls, cat trees, and an indoor garden of their own?

If you have any tips, or thoughts on how to best care for cats please leave me a comment. If you have a pet care question please visit me anytime at Pawbly is a free open pet community designed and dedicated to helping pet people care for the pets in their lives.

I am also available for veterinary care at the vet clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, in Jarrettsville Maryland, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


  1. I started adding a can of water to a can of wet food for my renal and diabetic kitties ages ago and found that all my cats like this so do it now for all my cats. I assume this, along with water fountains, helps keep their kidneys healthy though I don't know whether this is true or not.

    1. Hello,
      I think that the higher moisture content in canned food does help flush the kidneys. But you still have to be careful of the protein content as it is harder on the kidneys to process this.
      Thanks for stopping by,

  2. Great article. I've went back and forth on what to feed over the years (and sometimes the cats just quit eating a certain brand so a switch has to be done) but the best thing I ever did for my kitties was build a giant enclosed catio. They tend towards 'skinny' (thin and fit) now instead of the obesity they were edging towards. I know it's not an option for everyone, but it sure has worked wonders for them. Kinda drives ME crazy though to hear that cat flap snick-snick open and shut all the time.....

    1. Hello,
      Thanks for reading and for adding your catio experience. I think it is a fabulous idea.. I know my cats love to have lots of exercise and playtime too!
      Please keep reading and posting comments,

  3. as an obligate carnivore, cats have absolutely no need for dry food. We humans feed it because it is convenient for us. I understand why you might be partial to Science Diet food, but have you actually looked at the ingredient list on those things? they are far what I would call an ideal diet for an obligate carnivore who lacks the digestive enzymes to break down plant matter.