Food plays a vital role in our health and in that of our pets. Each element in the feed has its own role to play.
Excess and deficiency are equally harmful for a cat´s health, so you should get informed as to the qualitative and the quantitative needs of your little cat, which are quite different from a dog´s.
Certain sometimes unintended mistakes in making up home-made rations can have serious pathological repercussions. A cat´s needs, moreover, depend on its physiological status (care, growth, lactation, or gestation) and sexual status (sterilised or not). Ready-made food nowadays meets this charge-book´s specifications, whether it be tins or biscuits. Of course, differences exist with respect to the quality of the ingredients: "premium" or "super-premium" are terms used when top-quality raw material goes into the making of cat-food.
Cats need some 50 nutriments in order to live.
Lack or deficiency in any one of these will lead to chain reactions and pathological disturbance.
With regards to proteins, which constitute the framework of body tissues and are made up of chains of molecules known as amino acids, certain essential amino acids which cats are unable to synthesise themselves are to be distinguished: e.g., arginine and taurine. Taurine deficiency can cause blindness and heart problems. It is a substance only to be found in proteins of animal origin, which means that cats, unlike dogs, are strictly carnivorous.
Lipids or fats are composed of fatty acids. They provide the organism with energy and contribute to cell membrane structure. Once again, there are for cats certain so-called essential fatty acids which are only to be found in meat and fish.
Carbohydrates or sugars for their part also supply energy. They are contained in vegetables. They also contribute to good intestinal transit when they come in the form of fibre.
Lastly, minerals, vitamins and oligo-elements need to be present in sufficient amounts but not in excess. With respect to home-made food, be especially careful not to give too much liver, which is rich in vitamin A and in the long run leads to knitting of the vertebrae.
Most cat-food manufacturers nowadays respect scientifically determined standards as far as the nutritional composition of rations is concerned. Kittens need rather more protein than do adult cats (30% as compared to between 10% and 20%). They also have high energy requirements.
For this reason, kittens need a high fat input in their food. Special Kitten foods meet these specifications. On the other hand, in adult cats too much fat leads to obesity: 10% would seem to be a reasonable level.
Gestating cats also require more energetic food, which is furthermore to be stepped up by 10% per week from the beginning to the end of gestation.
Adult cats do well on "maintenance" rations, although sedentary or sterilised cats may tend to become obese. This is why specific "light" or "castrated cat" foods have been developed: these come in wet or dry (biscuit) forms. Thus, each stage of life has, ideally, its own specific food. Your Vet can help you find your way through this maze.
Cats´ feeding behaviour
Cats, unlike greedy dogs, are "nibblers". They prefer to have several meals a day. If food is simply made available, they will take some 10 to 16 meals a day.
Various studies have produced a classification of cats´ preferences (although there are wide individual differences): in descending order, cats most happily eat fish (and tuna in particular), then beef, horse-meat, pork, chicken or offal, with a preference for red offal (liver and kidneys).
With respect to texture, preferences lie at the two extremes: they will go just as well for a very dry as for a very wet ration. As far as wet rations are concerned, chunky recipes are preferred to pastes. In fact, a cat´s preferences would appear to be strongly influenced by early experience: kittens, by imitation, eat the same as their mothers and in most cases will keep a life-long preference for the food they ate when very young.
Cats are fine connoisseurs when it comes to feeding, and are very sensitive to the tableware. Rather than stainless steel or plastic, glass, china or porcelain dishes are to be preferred. The dish should not be too deep: dog-tins are not suitable. To really make your cat happy, finally, try heating its food briefly in your micro-wave oven.
If you get the urge to cook for your cat, whereas shop foods are in fact perfectly balanced and more practical, at least do it properly so as to avoid harmful mistakes in feeding.
The following recipe, while still imperfect, is the best adapted to cats´ needs. Rations should be rich in animal products and enriched in vitamins and minerals.
According to Wolter (Dietetichat, published by De Vecchi), a typical balanced ration would be as follows:
- 50% lean meat, or fish offal
- 20% (dry weight) puffed rice or cereal flakes
- 20% cooked greens or carrots
- 10% additive containing dry yeast, salad oil, mineral and vitamin additive (i.e., one tsp of each per adult cat per day