Are You Correctly Feeding Your Feline?
When it comes to feeding your feline friend and maintaining a healthy weight, it's important to keep in mind that every cat is different and that there are many ways to feed your cat successfully.
Overall, instead of watching the bowl, keep your eye on your cat's physical and behavioral condition, and be sure to make regular appointments with your family vet to get guidance specific to your pet.
Pets come in all shapes and sizes, and there are variances even within each breed. For this reason, it is possible that what is considered a healthy weight in one cat may be over or underweight in another, explains Jessica Rushin, client services manager at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
In general though, healthy weights can be monitored visually. The American Animal Hospital Association created a body condition score that evaluates body fat in just that way - visually - and has a 5-point scale for cats. The goal for most pets is a BCS of 2.5-3 out of 5.
• Underweight cats (BCS 1-2): Minimal fat covering and a very obvious waist. Some may also have visible ribs, spines, and pelvic bones.
• Just-right cats (BCS 2.5-3): Well proportioned with visible waist behind ribs, which are palpable with slight fat covering.
• Overweight cats (BCS 3.5-5): Ribs are not easily palpated, with moderate to heavy fat covering and a barely visible waist.
For kittens, a weight gain of about a pound a month until they reach their full adult size is normal, explains Rushin. Nursing cats also need more calories, and older cats, cats with health concerns and those needing to lose weight also require adjusted levels of calories.
"The only reason why we use body condition score is because cats don't wear pants; you and I know that when our pants are getting a little tight, we push ourselves away from the table," says Dr. Tony Buffington, Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, and member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. "Keeping mammals, including humans, in normal body condition requires the right amount of food, the right amount of activity and a positive environment. If you lose any three of those legs, the stool's going to fall over."
Types of Food
The dry versus wet debate is moot: it is perfectly acceptable for cats to eat dry food, canned food, or a mixture of both, Rushin and Buffington agreed. It's equivalent to choosing between two types of cuisines for humans, like Italian or Chinese, Buffington rationalizes.
"Both wet and dry diets can be nutritionally complete, if they are of high quality and appropriate for the pet's life stage and nutritional requirements," Rushin says.
"Wet food contains higher protein levels, decreased carbohydrate levels, and a higher water content. However, dry food can safely be left out all day without spoiling. Fresh clean water should always be made available no matter what type of food the cat eats."
Both recommend feeding cats a high quality commercial diet because it allows pet parents to provide excellent nutrition in a convenient way since, as Rushin points out, "high quality foods are balanced to have the right amount of fat, calories, protein, vitamins and minerals, and carbohydrates to keep cats healthy."
Meanwhile, some pet parents prefer to cook for their cat, or feed organic food, while others offer a raw food diet. Whichever you are planning, just go over the details with your vet or holistic vet first, and monitor your cat closely to make sure she stays healthy.
For those going the commercial diet route, look for the Association Of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approval on food packages. They define the standard for how much of each of the key components of pet foods needs to be present to qualify for approval of maintenance, growth, and more.
According to Buffington, cats need about four grams of protein for every 2.2 lbs of their weight.
"If it's a diet from a company that's been in business for a long time, presuming it wants to stay in business for a long time, and the food has been tested according to feeding studies (AAFCO label), that's about the best you can do," he explains. "The commercial foods that are available for cats and dogs in this country are better than the foods available for most of the human population of the world, so they're not bad."
The key point both sources stressed is that pet parents can and should choose the best option that meets both their own and their pet's needs.
How to Feed Your Cat
Because cats can be fed successfully in a number of ways, pet parents may need to experiment to determine which method works best for everyone involved. According to Rushin, changes in weight or feeding behavior should be monitored and modified as needed.
- Portion-control feeding entails measuring your pet's food and is used for weight control programs and for animals that might overeat if fed free choice. Food can be provided in one or more meals daily.
- Free-choice feeding, aka "ad lib" feeding or "free feeding," makes food available at all times - as much as the pet wants, whenever it wants. This is most appropriate with dry food, which will not spoil if left out. Kittens and most nursing mothers are fed this way as well.
- Timed feeding makes a portion available for a specified period of time. For example, food is placed in the cat's bowl for 30 minutes then removed, even if the pet has not consumed it.
"There's no style à priori. Anything can work, again it's whatever works for the owner and the cat," says Buffington.
Because cats are carnivores, they're used to hunting for food; Buffington recommends providing opportunities for activity related to food, as long as both pet and pet parent like it.
"There are some very interesting toys that you can put food in and the cat has to move the toy around to get it," says Buffington, who added that in his experience, cats who tended to gorge then vomit or regurgitate their food up completely stopped after being introduced to the toy.
"Food is only part of knowing how to take care of a cat and if you're doing everything else right, as long as you're feeding the satisfactory diet in amounts sufficient to keep the animal in a moderate body condition score, you're doing a good job," Buffington concluded.
Image Source: Flickr user eviltomthai