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Feline Nutrition - What Owners Should Know

Feline Nutrition - What Owners Should Know

As cat owners, we want our furkids to have the best of everything - including the tastiest, healthiest food out there. However, with the dizzying variety of cat food out there, it can be daunting to select the food that’s most appropriate for your fussy feline.

We’re here to help! This article will tell you where to start your search for an appropriate cat diet, and the important criteria to use when selecting a cat’s diet.

Where do I start?

Your usual veterinarian is the best person to advise on your pet’s diet - especially if your pet has a medical condition! The right medical diet is crucial for successful management of many major health conditions. For instance, if your pet has a kidney condition, kidney diets are specially formulated to contain the right amounts of high-quality protein, so that your pet’s kidneys are not overburdened. When consulting a veterinarian, they will take history and do a thorough physical examination. They may also run additional diagnostics (e.g. blood tests) to get more information on your pet’s condition.

If your vet recommends a medical diet for your pet, My Animal Dispensary stocks a wide range of medical diets. Check with your vet before purchasing the right diet from our range.

Once your vet is alright with you buying non-medical diets for your pet, you may wonder how to proceed. The first step is to ensure that you buy a complete, nutritionally-balanced diet that is appropriate for your pet’s life stage.

How do I buy a complete, nutritionally-balanced diet for my cat/kitten?

Look out for an “AAFCO label”. “AAFCO” stands for the “American Association of Feed Control Officials”. It is an independent organization that sets the standards for pet and animal foods. Pet and animal foods have to fulfill many requirements (e.g. feeding trial requirements) by AAFCO before displaying the label on their products.

Do kittens have different dietary requirements from adult cats?

Yes. For instance, studies show that kittens need more calories, essential fatty acids, calcium and phosphorus than adult cats. Therefore, even if a diet has an “AAFCO” label, that label may only be for adult cats and not kittens. Therefore, when selecting a diet for your kitten, do check that the AAFCO-labeled diet is appropriate for kittens.

Pregnant and breastfeeding cats also have different dietary requirements from non-pregnant cats. If your cat is pregnant, consult a veterinarian for detailed dietary advice.

Commercial or Homemade?

Many pet owners are suspicious of kibble. They desire home-cooked diets for their pets as they prefer fresh ingredients with known origins. However, if pet owners cook dishes at home for their pest, these dishes have not been extensively researched and have not undergone rigorous feeding trials. Therefore, these dishes are less likely to be nutritionally complete and balanced than commercial diets.

The good news is that there are workarounds. There are commercial brands that offer fresh foods with the AAFCO label. Also, under a veterinarian’s guidance, you can also feed nutritionally complete and balanced diets to your pets. You can do this by asking your vet to refer you to a veterinary nutritionist.

Wet food or Dry food?

In general, we recommend feeding a mixture of both wet food and kibble to your cat. Wet food improves your cat’s water intake, and hydration is important for the body to function properly. This is even more important for male cats. Male cats are at increased risk of blocked bladders, as they have narrow urethras (the tube that drains urine from the bladder). Blocked bladders are life-threatening. An increased water intake is more likely to flush out sediments in the bladder and reduce the risk of blocked bladders.

It’s important to introduce dry kibble, as research suggests that your cat’s dental health will benefit when dry kibble is present. (On another note, you can care for your cat’s health through other means like teeth-brushing and dental supplements)

A combination of wet food and dry food can also help your cat to be less fussy. In the future, IF your cat has to go on a medical diet that is only available as kibble or as wet food, being exposed to both types beforehand can help your cat to transition to the medical diet.

Do note that a combination of wet and dry food is only a general recommendation for cats, and may not be the ideal solution for all cats (e.g. very old cats with no teeth). Do consult your usual veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet’s diet.

Can we feed dog food to cats?

Dog food should not be fed to cats. Cats will generally need higher amounts of vitamin D than dogs. Although both cats and dogs need vitamin D in their diet, cats cannot absorb vitamin D from plant-based sources (unlike dogs). In addition, cats generally have higher protein requirements than dogs.

Furthermore, dogs can be vegetarian - unlike cats. This is because cats can only get certain nutrients from meat and nowhere else (unlike dogs). Read on to find out more.

Why can’t cats be vegetarian or vegan?

No - cats cannot be vegetarian or vegan. They need meat to survive. This is because meat contains taurine, arginine and vitamin A - three nutrients that cats need, but cannot produce on their own.

Taurine, an essential building block (aka amino acid) for protein in our bodies. Although humans and dogs can produce their own taurine, cats cannot. Without taurine, cats’ heart muscles cannot function, leading to heart failure.

Furthermore, cats cannot produce vitamin A. Cats can go blind without Vitamin A! Vitamin A is also needed for skin health and good immunity.

In addition, cats cannot produce their own arginine. Arginine is another amino acid that helps to remove ammonia (a waste product) from the body. Without arginine, toxins can build up in cats’ bodies, leading to vomiting, brain-related signs (e.g. seizures) or even death.

*To ensure that my cat gets these nutrients, should I feed supplements to my cat?

If your cat does not have any medical conditions, a complete and nutritionally-balanced diet that’s formulated for your cat’s life stage is sufficient. Do note that over-supplementation can occur - for instance, Vitamin A poisoning can occur in cats!

However, cats with certain conditions will benefit from supplements. Consult your vet before starting your pet on any supplements. Some consideration on the range of supplements (e.g. heart supplements, liver supplements, joint supplements, vision supplements) to suit your cat’s needs.
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