For many years we have been taught and have recommended to our clients that offering free choice, 100% dry food is a perfectly acceptable method of feeding. In some cases this remains correct, but in many others it is fraught with problems. To provide your cat a more natural diet you need only make a few minor changes.
Old Habit 1 - Leaving Food Out All Day
Many cats who have access to food all day overeat, as they graze all day long. It's a problem many of us can sympathize with.
In nature cats are opportunistic hunters. They patrol their territory on morning and evening routes, perhaps catching a small rodent or bird along the way. They do not set off in hunting parties to bring game home for the family. Thus, a cat may eat once each day or even once every other day, depending on her hunting skills. Therefore, it is not natural for cats to have food available all day without having to work for it. Space meals out, and consider making your cat "work" for food by hiding some pieces in corners or in Play'n'Treat balls.
Old Habit 2 - Feeding Dry Food Only
Dry food is made with a large amount of cereal product such as rice, corn, wheat, oats, soybean or other grain. Cereal is high in carbohydrate and low in protein. This gives it a long shelf life and allows it to sit in an open dish for extended periods without spoiling.
In nature cats prey on small rodents, small mammals or the occasional bird. Because most animals are 70% water, the natural diet of the cat is approximately 70% moisture. The other 30% consists mostly of protein with some fat and very little pre-digested grain (carbohydrate) existing in the prey's digestive tract. This natural diet is very different than processed dry food as its water content is much greater and its protein/carbohydrate ratio is much higher!
One concern is cats that eat only dry food may not make up the difference in water intake adequately or optimally. We believe many cats do not, predisposing them to bladder and kidney problems.
Another concern is how cats handle the low protein/carbohydrate ratio found in dry food. As we've already discussed, the protein/carbohydrate ratio in the natural diet is much higher than what exists in dry food. We believe that some cats do not handle the amount of cereal in an all-dry diet very well. They have been strict carnivores since before the invention of fire! Too much carbohydrate and too little protein is resulting in excessive weight gain for many cats.
We recommend feeding cats two small meals per day with mealtimes set preferably 12 hours apart. Food should be set out for only 30 minutes and should consist of a small amount of a meat-based canned food with a small side order of dry food presented in the same bowl.
The amount you feed depends on your cat. A starting point would be 1½ ounces of canned food plus 1-2 tablespoons of dry food at each meal. You may then adjust the amounts or proportions of canned:dry to fit your individual cat's needs. Overweight cats should get a larger amount of canned food and with only a small amount of dry food. Cats with a history of bladder or kidney problems should have mostly canned food with additional water added to the dish.
Cats quickly adjust to the mealtime routine. They enjoy having meals at specified hours and will even alert you of feeding times. The added bonus of scheduled mealtimes is that it allows you to observe your cat's eating habits and note when changes occur.
• If your cat always begs before mealtime and suddenly stops, something is wrong.
• If your cat normally cleans his dish and begins leaving large portions behind, something is wrong.
Owners with cats who graze throughout the day have a more difficult time noting if their cat is not eating normally. It is especially difficult if there are multiple cats or an opportunistic dog in the house. In these situations, your cat can be ill for an extended period of time before you are able to notice. If your cat exhibits abnormal eating habits for a period of 24 hours, or two meals, we recommend you give us a call.
How do you choose your cat's food? Here at The Cat Doctor we stock Wellness, Weruva, ZiwiPeak, Orijen and Royal Canin foods and recommend these for our patients. Whatever food you purchase, read the ingredient list. By law, ingredients must be listed in decreasing amounts, with the most plentiful ingredient listed first. Canned food should primarily be a meat product or meat by-product with little cereal content. We have no preference for beef, chicken, duck, liver, or fish. Dry food should contain some meat product, but cereal will most likely be its major component. There are now “grain-free” dry foods available with a higher protein content than traditional dry foods, which can be beneficial for some cats, but they still contain carbohydrate ingredients and should not be available all the time.