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Cat Food: What It Should and Shouldn't Contain?
There is a bulk of information regarding what should be given to cats and what to avoid. However, one can choose popular commercial foods for cats. However, cats are carnivores. Thus, they can eat regular human foods with a variety of meat, fish, vegetables or even fruits.
However, there are some foods that are strictly prohibited for cats. This article will dive into a range of foods to bring out what cat foods should contain and what it should not contain.
What Should Cat Food Contain?
Just like humans, a cat needs sufficient nutrition for their well-being. It is crucial to keep track of what cats are eating as their everyday food. The best nutritious foods for cats include:
As carnivores, cats can digest animal-based proteins more easily than plant-based proteins. Thus chicken, turkey, cooked beef or lean cuts of deli meat come under safe foods for cats. These are considered the highest nutritional treats for cats.
However, raw meat could be dangerous as it may contain E. coli and salmonella bacteria. This can have consequences like vomiting, diarrhoea, and lethargy in cats. If you are giving raw meats to your feline friend, make sure they should not contain any such bacteria.
Fish is healthy for cats as they contain a good amount of Omega-3 and Omega-6. They will help cats to have great eyesight, heart health, and kidney by fighting off diseases and arthritis.
However, raw fish can be potentially dangerous for a cat due to bacteria. It is highly recommended to check the raw fish if it is safe. Thus, sushi or sashimi is not a good option for cats.
Eggs are a high protein source for cats unless it is raw. This animal-based protein is best suited for their digestive system. High-quality proteins maintain a good balance of all the required amino acids to maintain a cat's health.
Raw eggs contain a protein called avidin. Avidin prevents the absorption of vitamin B and biotin in cats. This causes potential damage to skin conditions and dull coats.
Whole grains are one of the best cat foods for a good source of fibre, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Cats can consume oats, rice, corn, polenta, ground cornmeal, barley, wheat berries and breadcrumbs etc.
But make sure to smash them or cook them before feeding them to cats. It helps them to digest fast. Whole grains are a cost-effective source of food for cats that offers easily digestible vitamins and energy.
Few cats do not like vegetables in their diet. But it provides a good source of fibre, vitamins and water to help the digestive system. Thus, it is the best kitten food you can give. Peas, chopped carrots, broccoli florets, corn, green beans, spinach, winter squash, pumpkin, frozen corn, zucchini, and lettuce are some of the best vegetables to offer cats.
However, it would be ideal to serve vegetables cooked or steamed. Cats’ digestive system cannot break down plant cell walls properly.
According to studies, cats cannot taste sweet. They do not have the receptor to experience sweetness. Yet, they must consume fruits to meet the nutrient requirements for easy digestion, strong immunity, and overall health. Cats can eat several fruits like bananas, apples, berries, watermelon etc.
Although it would seem that cats are not interested in fruit diets, they are healthier alternatives for cats, just like humans.
What Cat Foods Should Not Contain?
The following are the food you should avoid giving to your cat:
Milk and Dairy Products
Moreover, it will be the same with kittens as well. Though they are too little to digest any dry food source, milk can be potentially bad for them. Veterinary physicians suggest other milk substitutes for kittens.
Cats are mostly lactose-intolerant animals though they are popular with dairy products cartoons and storybooks. They do not have the proper digestive system to process milk or dairy products like cow milk, cheese, and cream. It can cause an upset stomach, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Grapes and Raisins
Grapes and raisins can be dangerous for cats. Their digestive system does not work like humans. Some cats suffer from stomach upsets, repeated vomiting, hyperactivity and more severe problems like kidney failure for grapes and raisins. However, there have been exceptions as well. Thus, grapes and raisins are not advisable for cats.
Chocolates can be fatal for cats as they contain Theobromine and caffeine. Cats are more sensitive to caffeine than humans. Both of these elements can cause toxicity and severe health issues such as abnormal heart rate, vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, elevated body temperature etc. A large amount of any of the toxic ingredients like Theobromine and caffeine can even result in heart failure or coma in felines.
Garlic and Onions
Onions and garlic or any members of the allium family are lethal to cats in any form raw, cooked, powdered or dehydrated. Eating them in any form will cause abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhoea. Garlic is 5 times more likely to cause major health issues and life-threatening situations.
The alcohol present in beer, wine, whiskey or any liquor can kill a cat. Alcohol does the same thing with cats' physiology as it does with humans. The difference is just in the quantity of damage. They are significantly vulnerable to alcohol because of their small body. Two teaspoons of whiskey can put a cat in a coma, and one more spoon to heart failure.
Even if cats just lick alcohol, it can result in coordination problems, blood sugar drop, impaired respiration, blood pressure and body temperature fluctuation, seizures etc.
Cats require Vitamin A, Taurine, and Arachidonic acid to live, which are absent in dog foods. This is why nutrient-rich dog food can leave a cat severely undernourished. Though occasional intake will not hurt much. Giving dog foods to cats can result in weak vision, night blindness, weak muscles, skin issues, dull coat, heart disease, and liver and kidney problems.
Although cats can eat bread sometimes, it does not provide nutritional value to them. So, bread cannot be among the regular foods to give to cats. Also, cats should not eat bread before baking it as it contains yeast. As a dough swells, it will cause abdominal pain in them. Additionally, the yeast ferments the dough, and it produces alcohol which can lead to poisoning in cats.
Not to mention, cats are curious animals. They are going to nibble on several foods which they are not supposed to eat. There it becomes a bit riskier to leave cats on their own. Always make sure to keep them out of reach of these aforementioned dangerous food choices.
What Are the Required Nutrient Value for Cat Foods?
Cats need a sufficient amount of nutrients from multiple choices. However, one can be confused about how much should be provided. Thus, there is a list to help out with the proper measurements of essential nutrients.
Measurement of Nutrients (gm)
What Types of Nutrients Do Cats Require?
Follow the below pointers to understand the nutritional requirement of cats in detail:
1. Proteins and Amino Acids
There are 10 specific amino acids in dietary proteins that cats cannot produce in their body. Among these, Arginine and Taurine are some of the important amino acids for cat health. Deficiencies of any of the amino acids will result in serious health problems. Thus, keep an eye on pet cats' diets to see if they consist of an optimum amount of protein intake. A protein-rich diet will reduce their health issues and maximise their lifespan.
2. Fats and Fatty Acids
Dietary fats provide a more concentrated source of energy than proteins or carbohydrates. These fats can come from animal fats and seed oils. Dietary fats are crucial as they supply fatty acids to the body. It helps in maintaining body temperature, absorption of vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and cell structure and proper function. Moreover, cat diets should contain more or less 9% of fat content as a dry matter to keep them healthy.
Carbohydrates are highly beneficial as they are an instant source of energy. However, they are not popular with cats. Yet carbohydrates can be included in healthy cat diet suggestions from grains like rice, wheat, oatmeal etc. These are ingredients of many wet cat foods as they help in digestibility and nutritional absorption.
Vitamins are crucial for every mammal in the right proportions. Vitamin deficiencies can lead to multiple complications in cats. Let's take a deeper look at all the essential vitamins required for cats, their functions and the underlying consequences of deficiencies.
- Vitamin A
- Functions: Vision, immune system, cellular differentiation, growth, fetal development
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Insufficient Vitamin A causes cataracts, conjunctivitis, retinal degeneration and other eye problems; weight loss, reproductive and growth disorders, and muscle weakness
- Excess Vitamin A could cause outgrowths of cervical vertebrae, osteoporosis and skeletal lesions in kittens.
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 63 micrograms
- Vitamin D
- Functions: Skeletal structure, phosphorus balance, mineral absorption and maintenance
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Abnormal skeletal development, rickets, ataxia, progressive paralysis, loss of appetite and body weight, lack of grooming.
- Excess Vitamin D will result in vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, and soft tissue calcification.
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 0.4 micrograms
- Vitamin E
- Functions: Protection against oxidative damages
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Pain sensitivity in the abdomen, depression, anorexia, fat tissue pathology
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 2.5 milligrams
- Vitamin K
- Functions: Bone and other proteins absorption, clotting factors activation
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Prolonged clotting times in blood, haemorrhaging
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 82 micrograms
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
- Functions: Healthy neuron impulse transmission, metabolism of carbohydrates and support normal growth
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Neurological deformities, convulsive seizures, abnormal reflexes, heart-rate fluctuations, learning deficiency, and changes in the nervous system
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 0.33 milligrams
- Vitamin B6
- Functions: Red blood cell, nervous system, immune response, generation of glucose, niacin synthesis, regulation of hormone, activation of the gene.
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Impaired growth and development, abnormalities in kidney tissues, seizures
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 0.16 milligrams
- Vitamin B12
- Functions: Enzyme functions like breaking down food into smaller particles, muscle building, and detoxification
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Intestinal disorders, diarrhoea, loss of weight, vomiting
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 1.4 micrograms
- Functions: Breaks down fats, and regulates oxygen absorption and supply
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Shrinking of testicles, fatty livers and cataracts
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 0.27 milligrams
- Functions: Energy supply and enzyme functions.
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Elevation of body temperatures, weight loss, red tongue with ulcer and congestion, anorexia
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 2.5 milligrams
- Pantothenic Acid
- Functions: Energy metabolism
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Fatty liver, impaired growth, small bowel disease
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 0.4 milligrams
- Folic Acid
- Functions: Mitochondrial protein synthesis, nucleotide and amino acid metabolism
- Symptoms of Deficit/Excess: Elevated iron levels in the blood, lower growth rate
- Daily Recommended Quantity: 47 micrograms
Minerals are essential for cats in their proper development. The 12 minerals that are crucial for their health include:
All these minerals help in enzyme formation, vitamins and nutrient absorption, maintaining pH balance, regulating oxygen in the body etc. Moreover, insufficient minerals may cause bone and muscle disorders, impulsive neuron transmission and many more complications.
Although many cats do not like water much, it is as much essential for them to survive and maintain health just as humans.
Water is extremely crucial to provide health benefits in cats, including:
- Maintain body temperature
- Eliminate harmful toxins from the body
- Circulate nutrients and energy to organs and cells
- Metabolise nutrients
Moreover, wet cat foods contain 78% to 82% water which provides a great source of hydration to their body. Thus, it is highly advisable to keep a tap on your cat’s water intake throughout the day.
Having discussed all the necessary details on nutrient requirements in cats, there is another vital thing to consider. This is why there is a list of ideal calorie intakes of cats depending on their age and weight.
Stages of Ageing
Energy Needs Per Day (Kilocalories per day)
5 lbs to 10 lbs
15 lbs to 20 lbs
Domestic Lean Cats
170 to 280
360 to 440
Domestic Obese Cats
180 to 240
280 to 310
100 to 810
230 to 1360
336 to 603
851 to 1091
As per studies, estimated feline life expectancy is 15 years depending on their geographic location, breed and other factors. Compromise in nutrients will reduce their lifespan even faster. Thus, it is essentially important to understand specific nutrient requirements in felines for their owners to keep them healthy and alive. One can carefully plan cat food requirements as per their age, weight and other factors through all the suggested options.