By: Dr. Hilary Slaven
This is such a great question! Like us, it is so important to feed our cats in a healthy way that is tailored to their needs. This makes for a healthy, happy cat and for better quality of life! There are many reasons why you might be asking on behalf of your furry friend.
And there are a lot of answers out there. (Don’t ask Dr. Google about this one. You’ll get too many confusing answers!)
Here are a few typical scenarios that we hear:
“I just got this adorable little kitten! What’s the best thing to feed him? When can he transition to adult food?”
We recommend feeding the highest quality dry kitten kibble that you can afford. Adding canned food to the diet can be a nice treat for a kitten and can help keep him hydrated. Kittens should be fed kitten food until they reach 90% of their adult body weight, which is typically 10-12 months of age. Your veterinarian can help guide you as to which foods may be a good fit for your kitten and your family, and how much to feed.
“Should I leave my cat’s food out all the time? That’s what he’s used to, but I think that he’s getting fat!”
Cats for centuries have survived on hunting and killing mice throughout the day (needing 8-10 mice a day for survival). Thus, they are used to eating many small meals over the course of a 24 hour period. This has not changed as cats have been moved indoors for our companionship. They still have the same drive to eat in small portions every few hours. Consequently, it is common for our domestic indoor kitties to eat 8-10 small stomach-sized meals throughout the day (and night!)
More food for thought: Most commercial cat foods are more calorie-dense than a meal that consists of a mouse. Roughly 10 kibbles of dry food would equal the same calorie content that one mouse would contain. Often indoor cats will eat closer to 20 kibbles of dry food per meal, which means that over the course of the day our indoor kitty could eat twice what it actually needs to maintain a healthy weight.
Add to this the fact that indoor cats can have a ‘lazy’ lifestyle and, with less exercise than their ancestors did in the wild. They do not have a need to spend energy looking and hunting food. Also, indoor cats are likely to be spayed or neutered, and this alteration can decrease the amount of food that a cat needs per day by up to 33%.
The short answer is: it is easy to overfeed an indoor cat. Every cat and family situation is a bit different, so a consult with your veterinarian would be best to calculate individual caloric needs and diet. Overall, many indoor cats need to have their food measured every day, and if that can be left out for grazing as the cat is hungry this would make him happiest. Exercising your cat with fun toys during the day can be helpful too to keep the cat’s weight in a healthy range.
“I have an older cat that is getting thinner. Should I be feeding him something different?”
There are many medical reasons for a geriatric cat to lose weight, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cancer, parasites, and cancer. A good physical exam by your veterinarian and potentially a blood test can help to rule out and find disease that could be causing a change in your kitty’s appetite and appearance.