Cat Diet: How To Choose the Right One


Hi, Dr. Neely:

My question is about feeding a proper cat diet. I look forward to your response.

Littermates Koo and Jessie are just past six months old.Koo is an even six pounds, a long-hair calico built like an owl. She loves wet food and will eat some dry food only if there’s no wet food about. Jessie is an even 10 pounds, a short-hair built like a tank, with bright blue eyes and sleek muscles. He loves dry food and will eat some wet. I feed them high-quality food – Avoderm wet and Felidae dry, though I’m open to others. It’s hard to afford them, but I’m hoping a good cat diet will prevent later vet bills.They are both active and loving, though less active then a few months ago, and they wrestle less. They both got fixed recently. Koo’s incision healed well after two weeks. Jessie barely noticed that anything had happened to him.My concern about Jessie is that he’s getting chunky already. All those carbs – I don’t want a diabetic cat. But he’s still growing – maybe he’s chunky now and will slim out later? I sure don’t want to short him on the nutrition he needs to grow.And Koo is so scrawny – I worry she’s not getting enough of anything. But her tummy must be tiny. Maybe she needs more frequent meals? She is gaining weight, but at a much slower pace than Jessie.

Until six months, I always had dry food out, and fed wet food 3 or 4 times a day.Controlled feeding makes sense to me, and both sorts of food make sense to me, though I think the wet food is more nutritious. I started controlled feeding recently.Morning we do wet food first followed by dry; late evening, dry food first and then wet. I put down some dry food one other time during the day. Both of them are hungry when mealtimes come, eat steadily for five or six minutes, switch bowls for a last nibble, and wander off. Once they’re out of the room, I put the food away.Still, I am left with my basic concerns: is Jessie getting fat, and is Koo getting all she needs. Do I need to feed them in separate rooms and limit portions for Jessie and/or feed Koo more often? I’ve tried twice, but the separation freaks them both out and nobody eats much. I got an automatic feeder, because I don’t want our relationship to be dominated by my role as food-giver. But that adds to my confusion because then I really have no idea how much Koo is getting, since they’re eating out of one compartment that opens on a timer… and she tends to be passive with Jessie, since he easily wins in any physical contest. Help please! And thanks in advance.

Mary Beth

Hi, Mary Beth,

Thanks for writing. Your questions about cat diet are not unusual or rare. There's many theories and much confusion over the subject of feeding cats and kittens.

First of all, there is not one tried and true method that suits every cat. Each cat is different from another and may need a slightly different cat diet. Genetics are involved, metabolism is different, amounts of exercise vary, and the individual cat's preference as well as the owner's choice of food offered all will make a difference.

You are in the position many cat lovers with multi-cat households face, except with a couple of additional concerns. Your two kitties are quite different in weight even though they are the same age. On top of that, they are kittens and are far from the end of their growth phrase.

If we break the broad picture down into their respective parts, we come up with this.

cat sleeping

(1) Jessie is a male and Koo is a female. Almost without fail, male cats are larger than females.

(2) In spite of that, a 4 pound difference at this age is quite a difference, but without seeing them and examining them, I could not say if Koo is too thin or if Jessie is too heavy or if they are both fine.

(3) Apart from the difference in their sex, there are also differences in the bone structure of all cats. 18 pounds on one cat may not mean the cat weighs too much or is fat while 18 pounds on a cat with a different bone structure may be quite excessive. This may be the case with Jessie and Koo. Again, without examining them, I cannot say for sure.

(4) These days, the only reason to feed a cat diet that is just dry food is one of convenience to the owner. The cat's best interests are served by feeding only canned food. Canned food has far more water in it and is now recommended for all cats, not just those with urinary tract problems. It is pretty much impossible to make a cat drink more, so canned food provides extra water to cats, who by nature are not big drinkers.

While it is true that the cats I have seen over the years that eat a cat diet of dry food have far fewer dental problems, teeth can be cleaned and maintained professional by your vet while other illnesses may not be so easily managed.

(5) I hear more often than I ever expected that two or more cats in the same household have individual bowls and never touch the food in the others. I'm sorry and don't mean to offend anyone, but I am very skeptical when I hear that. The reason I bring this up is the very real possibility that in the face of controlled feeding, Jessie may eat more than his share of the food and Koo may not be getting enough.

(6) Six month old kittens are definitely less "crazy" in their activity than very young kittens. However, they should still be doing plenty of wrestling and chasing. I seriously doubt if Jessie's 10 pounds is enough to make him less active, but eventually excessive weight will.

(7) There are varying opinions about whether to use controlled feeding or free choice feeding for your cat diet. I used to prefer free choice feeding but that was before we knew how important an all canned food diet is for cats. Dry food was easy to leave down for a long period of time and allow free choice feeding. However, canned food loses its freshness very quickly and then the cat doesn't want to eat it. For that reason, planned meal times is the way to go. Also, planned meals will help control obesity far better than free choice feeding.

Bottom line, for your specific situation I believe the following:

- 6 months is too young to worry about obesity and diabetes. Jessie is probably just meant to be a large boy and should not be dieted unless he is really becoming overweight and shows an increasingly large "belly" near 1 year of age.

- The cat diet I would recommend for any cat is an all canned food diet which can be fed 2-3 times daily. Canned food also has the advantage of being eaten more quickly so if two cats need to be watched while they have their meal so they do not eat each other's food, it is easier for the owner to take the time to do that.

- While kitten canned food does exist, it is not necessary to feed kittens a cat diet of kitten food if it is canned. The adult regular canned foods have sufficient protein for kittens.

If you are still worried about Koo not getting enough, since she likes canned food and canned food is usually eaten quickly at one time, you can supplement her daily if you wish with an additional meal of canned food. Give it to her in a room by herself or give it to her with just a very small bite to Jessie at the same time with you supervising the whole time.

- Owning a digital scale and keeping a chart of their weights is very useful.

- Encourage exercise by providing toys and interactive play with them.

- Avoid "people" food and too many treats. Greenies, a popular cat treat, is loved by many cat lovers and cats and is very hard and crunchy and good for teeth, but should be given sparingly. A cat diet should be cat food!

- Provide fresh water in at least 2 separate bowls changed at least once daily, preferably twice. Fill the water bowls to the brim. Cats drink more water if it is fresh and if the bowl is really full. Better yet, purchase a pet fountain which tends to encourage cats to drink more.

- Regarding the brand of cat diet that is best for cats,my opinion of that has changed so often over the last 10 years, it is impossible to say with certainty. What I say today may no longer be true tomorrow. However, some general considerations:

(1) Feed only canned food(2) Stay away from beef and fish due to the tendency of cats to develop allergies (3) Feed food that is primarily meat and some fat and low in carbohydrates. Cats are obligate carnivores and need animal protein and fat. They do not do well with plants so stay away from foods that add grains and even vegetables.

There are many foods on the market and new ones added frequently that sound like healthy pet foods because they say they have less preservatives, no by-products and claim to have many other desirable features. Just be careful about the claims and read the labels and even contact the manufacturers to make sure you know what you are feeding your cats.

Ideally, we would all cook for our cats because there really is no ideal cat food available commercially. However, I know that is not realistic for many. Quite honestly, I don't even do it. With that consideration, my favorite cat diet of the moment is Wellness canned foods, primarily the ones that are not beef or fish and that are very low in carbohydrates because I also have a diabetic cat amidst the rest of my cat family.

Obviously, there are sure to be other suitable diets and I try to be open-minded about other possibilities. One thing is for sure, however, and that is the fact that most of our commercial cat foods have real problems. The dry foods are totally unsuitable due to their high carbohydrate content and less than desirable meat products, preservatives, dyes, and other fillers.

Bottom line, without seeing them, my gut feeling is that Jessie is not overweight at the moment, but will have to be watched for that possibility as he ages. Koo may also be fine for her bone structure. Rarely is a cat too thin unless it is really ill or is a malnourished stray or a pregnant or nursing mom with many kittens. If Koo is bright and alert and playful and appears healthy and eats well when you put food down, she is probably fine.

I hope this gives you the information you were looking for about a cat diet. There are several other articles about cat nutrition listed below.

Thank you for writing,

Warm Wishes, Dr. Neely



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