Health Topics

Dinner Is Served

(This article was originally published in the July / August 2012 Issue of Pets Magazine and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)

By Dr. Christina McRae, King Street Cat Hospital, Whitby, ON

There are seemingly an infinite number of choices available when it comes to selecting an appropriate food formulation for your kitten or cat, not to mention a tidal wave of information (and misinformation) on the Internet that can often be confusing.

Best bet? Ask your veterinarian for guidance, and he or she will help you select the best food for your cat based on its age, health status and your budget.

In the kitten's early growth stage, for instance, you need to provide a diet that offers the right amount of nutrients required for optimal growth. A growing cat might need as much as twice the energy as an adult pet.

The following are essential requirements for your young cat's food:

  • High energy
  • High protein
  • High biological value
  • High digestibility
  • High palatability
  • Appropriate fibre content
  • Adequate vitamin and mineral content

Aside from these general requirements, remember that cats and dogs have different nutritional needs, so never feed food formulated for one to the other. Dogs, for instance, can thrive with a large percentage of vegetables in their diet. Cats are strictly carnivores, however, and must eat animal tissue because they are unable to synthesize a number of key vitamins such as niacin and vitamin A.

Your cat needs specific nutrients to remain healthy and active throughout its lifetime. Cats need large amounts of protein, which is essential for building and maintaining muscles, hormones, enzymes and their immune systems. Carbohydrates are needed for the production of energy, while fats are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Fats provide a concentrated source of energy and essential fatty acids and can help improve taste and digestion of food.

In order for a cat's regulatory body functions to perform properly, they need to consume minerals, such as calcium, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium, as well as iron, zinc, copper and others. Vitamins A and C, as well as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin in the right amounts are also important. Cats also require taurine in their diet, as they cannot produce it themselves (unlike dogs and humans). Taurine is an amino acid important for the heart, eyes and reproductive system.

Remember that obesity contributes to significant health problems. You can prevent unhealthy weight gain by weighing your pet every week, checked against the target weight range provided by your veterinarian, and adjusting food intake accordingly. You should also avoid unhealthy snacks, and take healthy snacks into consideration when calculating how much regular food is given each day.

Wet or Dry Food?

As obligate carnivores, cats are not designed to process carbohydrates in large quantities. So, which is the best food for your cat, wet or dry (the latter of which tends to contain more carbs)? Your veterinarian will be able to make a definitive recommendation, but both dry and wet foods have their advantages:

  • Wet food is lower carb and tends to have high protein and higher water content. This latter aspect is especially appealing, since cats aren't great at hydration and often suffer from diseases (e.g., those of the urinary tract) that can benefit from proper water intake.
  • Canned food has fewer calories per cup of food than dry food, because the water takes up so much space in the food.
  • Some dry foods are designed to prevent tartar buildup on teeth (but most do not have dental cleaning properties, contrary to popular belief.
  • High-quality wet brands are well tolerated by most cats, and do not cause gastrointestinal issues if (like any food) they are introduced properly and given in the requisite amounts.
  • Some cats prefer the crunch of dry foods, and biting into it can exercise ligaments in the mouth that hold teeth in place.
  • Dry food can be more convenient for owners to manage.