Feline Nutrition [How To Feed A Cat]

Cat Eating

This month’s column is dedicated to cat lovers, and it’s all about how to feed a cat, or feline nutrition. Many of the medical problems that I see in cats are related to what they eat. Here are some common questions that I have been asked over the years.

What is the ideal meal for a cat?

A mouse! Well, I actually don’t recommend feeding mice to your cat. But a mouse is a high protein, low carbohydrate, high moisture meal. This defines the ideal meal for a cat. It is the type of meal cats have evolved to eat. However, the problem with literally eating a mouse is concern for parasites, as well as other food-borne illnesses such as bacterial infections that can result from being uncooked or under-cooked.

What can I feed to my cat that has all the good nutritional qualities of a mouse without the health concerns?

High quality canned food is ideal for a cat: high in protein, low in carbohydrates and lots of moisture. Keep in mind where cats come from. Their ancestors were in arid environments, without readily available sources of water. Cats are built to get their water out of their food. They do not normally have a strong thirst drive.

What about the kibble that I feed my cat? She loves it! And I love how easy it is to feed. Plus canned food is smelly. My cat DOES drink plenty of water so she must be getting enough!

Kibble generally is low in protein and high in carbohydrates. Cats are very efficient at converting carbohydrates into fat. Also, the quality of the protein in kibble is usually poor. Even high quality kibble is far too low in moisture content. Many people who feed their cats kibble often see them drinking. This is not normal. A properly fed healthy cat drinks water very rarely; they are getting water out of their food, as nature intended. Cats who are fed dry food consume about half of the water that they would when eating canned food. Incidentally, if your cat is drinking a lot of water this may indicate a medical condition, such as mentioned below.

So what’s the big deal? What happens to cats that eat kibble?

Very often, cats that eat kibble are overweight or obese. They are continually slightly dehydrated, even if you see them drinking. Cats that eat kibble are at increased risk for diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and various urinary tract disorders, including life-threatening urinary blockage. This is only a partial list of problems that eating dry food can cause or contribute to.

Finally, cats develop their taste for food early in life! It is important they establish good eating habits when young. Often cats that have been eating kibble for years are resistant to switching. Feed your cat an appropriate diet from kitten-hood. If you do have a cat that is stubborn and doesn’t want to switch from kibble, the following website has a great resource just for cats like yours. For an excellent, detailed source of information, go to:


Isn’t dry food good for my cat’s teeth? Isn’t canned food bad for my cat’s teeth?

I’m not sure where these myths come from, but I hear them frequently.

The fact of the matter is that I see many, many cats that have been on dry food their entire lives, and still have significant dental disease. The origin of dental disease in most cats is genetic. So I might see a family with multiple cats all on the same food, and a wide variety of degrees of dental disease.

If you want to prevent dental disease in your cat, diet isn’t the answer.

I will write more about this in the future, but the short answer to dental health in cats is brushing your cat’s teeth. Appropriate dental treats can be helpful, but are NOT a substitute for brushing teeth. Don’t laugh. Check here.

I’ve tried feeding my cat canned food but he just won’t eat it. He loves dry food. What do I do?

I mentioned just above that cats develop food preferences early in life. This has to do with taste, smell and texture. So you want to start cats on appropriate food (canned) as soon as you get them.

If your cat doesn’t like canned food, Catinfo has a section devoted entirely to that unfortunately common problem.


The Bottom Line

Cats are highly evolved, highly specialized carnivores. Their entire anatomy and physiology is built around hunting and eating prey. Just because dry food is available and convenient doesn’t mean cats should eat it. Dry food was created as a marketing tool for human beings, not for the sake of cats.

Feed your pet the way she was made to be fed. Don’t give hamburger to your horse. Don’t give dry food to your cat.