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A cat maintains a balanced diet when its food sources provide it with all the nutrients it needs in the correct proportions, according to its physiological status, physical activity and age. While in their first days cats feed on milk, when they begin to wean a month later, their body undergoes changes that allow it to digest food. Until one year of age, their diet should have more energy and protein than an adult, who, depending on their metabolic state, activity and individual circumstances, will feed in one way or another. If we have a pregnant female, her diet should be higher than when she was not, as she must have reserves and ensure a good growth of the kittens. When our feline gets older, its diet must be adjusted to its new condition, for this we will select an adequate diet for older cats, and if it has any disease, an adequate feed according to the condition.
In this AnimalWised article we discuss feeding in cats and their peculiarities to explain what do cats eat according to their age and state.You may also be interested in: What do hedgehogs eat? Index
- Nutritional needs of cats
- What do baby cats eat?
- What do pregnant and lactating cats eat?
- Feeding the adult cat
- What do stray and wild cats eat?
Nutritional needs of cats
The nutritional needs of our cat will depend on its physical activity, reproductive state, environmental conditions where it is, age, health and metabolism. So, it is not the same to feed a pregnant cat as a baby cat, an older cat with kidney disease, a neutered cat that does not leave the house or a whole cat that spends the day exploring outside. Cats are not small dogs and therefore should not be fed as omnivores. The energy contained in the food is expressed in kilocalories (Kcal) and is obtained from the sum of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
The cats they are strict carnivores and they have high protein needs (at least 25% of the total diet), along with taurine, arginine, arachidonic acid and vitamin A, which they obtain through ingestion of animal tissue. Thus, the nutritional needs of cats are divided into:
- Protein. It is the most important nutrient, so when asking ourselves what cats eat we must bear in mind that protein must be the principal ingredient. If we talk about dry feed, it is essential that it contains at least 25% protein, ideally around 40%. The percentage of protein is closely related to the quality of the food. Discover the best natural feed for cats in this other article. Now if the animal enjoys a natural diet made at home or through brands that offer frozen or vacuum packed food, the percentage of protein should range from 90-95%, leaving the remaining 10-5% for fruits and vegetables. These last foods are optional, especially if the cat has the opportunity to eat entrails.
- Essential amino acids. The two essential amino acids essential in the feline diet are arginine and taurine. Arginine is necessary to synthesize urea and eliminate ammonia, since its deficiency causes ammonia poisoning (hyperammonemia), which can kill our cats in a few hours. Taurine, although its deficiency takes months to cause damage to the feline body, can be responsible for cardiac disorders (dilated cardiomyopathy with heart failure), reproductive disorders or retinal degeneration that can lead to irreversible blindness. Both amino acids are found in meat.
- Grease. At least 9% of the calories in an adult cat must come from fat, present in meat, so ideally, the percentage of fat in their diet is around 15-20%, especially in homemade diets..
- Fatty acids. These animals need a supply of fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6, vital for the skin, coat, cognitive, cardiovascular and immune systems. In addition, they are anti-inflammatory. These nutrients are used to obtain energy, thermal insulation, protection of internal organs and transport of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E). Omega 3 can be obtained through fish and shellfish, however, unlike other animals, they do not have as much capacity to synthesize the essential fatty acids required through linoleic acid (omega 6), so they need an extra supply of Arachidonic acid, which is formed from it and is found in animal tissues, seeing once again the importance of meat in the cat's diet. Its deficiency in cats causes blood clotting failures, alopecia, skin disorders and reproduction.
- Carbohydrates. With regard to carbohydrates, it has been confirmed that they can be maintained with a very low diet in them, since by catabolizing proteins they can meet their glucose needs. The one that frequently appears in dry cat food is cornstarch, as it is more digestible in this species. However, carbohydrates are not part of the essential nutrients for cats because these animals have difficulty processing them. In homemade diets, cereals are not added.
- Vitamins. Cats do need vitamins because they are important for many vital functions. Antioxidants (vitamins C, E and beta carotene), for example, are necessary to kill free radicals that cause cell damage and intervene in aging. Specifically, the Vitamin A It is very important in the vision of our cats, regulation of their cell membranes and the correct development of their teeth and bones, in addition they can only be obtained from animal tissues, the kidneys and liver being the best sources. However, high amounts of vitamin A can cause hypervitaminosis A with lethargy, failure to develop, and skeletal problems. The rest of vitamins, such as the B complex, vitamins D and E are supplemented in the feed of our cats. They synthesize vitamin C themselves.
- Minerals. Good cat diets are also usually supplemented with necessary minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium or trace elements such as copper, manganese, iron, zinc and selenium. In homemade diets, food already provides the necessary vitamins and minerals, as long as they are well formulated and balanced. We recommend consulting our article on the BARF diet for cats.
What do baby cats eat?
Newborn kittens will get from colostrum their mother's antibodies during the first 16 hours of life and, subsequently, nutrients through the breastmilk. If the cat rejects the litter, one of her cats is weak or sick or does not produce milk, they must be fed with milk formulated for newborn kittens, just like when we find orphaned baby cats in the street..
Baby cats during their first week of life take 10-20 ml of milk per feeding and to gain 1 gram of weight they should eat 2.7 grams of milk. It is important to use formulated milk for cats before normal cow's milk because the latter has a lower percentage of protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus. Specifically, cow's milk has 27% protein, which is why the 40% provided by formulated milk is preferred..
The kittens' energy needs increase from 130 kcal / kg per day at 3 weeks, 200-220 kcal / kg per day, divided into 4-5 feedings per month, until reaching a maximum of 250 kcal / kg per day at 5 months. of age, subsequently decreasing to 100 kcal / kg daily at 10 months.
The natural weaning of kittens usually start around four weeks. At this time, we can favor the introduction of solid food by mixing the feed for baby cats with water or milk, progressively reducing the liquid until leaving only the dry feed. Here, its ability to digest lactose decreases and amylases increase to digest the starch present in the feed. Thus, over six weeks, when they consume 20 grams of dry matter per day, total weaning is achieved, requiring more kcal than an adult cat because it requires three times more energy. In the case of offering a homemade diet, the food should also be introduced gradually until the mother completely rejects the little ones..
It is important to respect the natural rhythm of separation because it is with its mother and siblings that a cat begins to receive its first teachings and begins the period of socialization..
What do pregnant and lactating cats eat?
The gestation of the cat lasts a maximum of 9-10 weeks and her energy needs increase each week, requiring at the end of the gestation a increase of 25% on energy requirements maintenance, around 100 kcal ME / kg per day. In addition, it is important that you consume more fat to accumulate reserves that you will need during the last weeks of gestation, since the weight gain will go to the kittens, and during lactation. In total, a pregnant cat gains 40% more than her normal weight, but loses 20% after giving birth, while the remaining weight will go away during lactation or she may even become thinner than she was before, since her feeding during lactation will cover between 80-85% of her needs, the rest is provided by the cat from her reserves.
Depending on the size of the litter, the energy requirements will increase more or less. As they will always be higher than the maintenance needs, during pregnancy and lactation it is a good option to feed our cat with a I think formulated for kittens due to the high amount of energy it has. Once the lactation process is finished, if the cat is at her weight and with energy, she will return to the proper diet for adult cats. Let's see below what is the diet of adult cats and what type of food there are.
Feeding the adult cat
¿What do adult house cats eat? The energy needs of adult cats vary greatly. A house cat with little activity has enough with 60 kcal of ME / Kg / day, if it is neutered or is especially calm or higher, the figure can drop to 45 Kcal / kg / day, while if it is active it rises to 70- 90 Kcal / Kg / day. Age must also be taken into account, since the youngest tend to expend more energy and their needs are higher than in older cats..
The sterilized cats they have more appetite, but at the same time their energy needs are lower. Therefore, if a nutritional adaptation is not carried out, one year after the operation our cats are 30% overweight because the excess energy administered accumulates in the form of fat in their body, hence the majority of neutered cats are overweight. weight. In these cats, energy consumption should be reduced by 14-40% and administer about 50 kcal / kg / day, it is also advisable to have a specific feed for sterilized cats or to establish a home-made diet by the hand of a veterinarian specialized in nutrition..
When the cats come in in advanced age, It is common for them to suffer from diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes or hyperthyroidism, needing a diet according to the process. In addition, due to the increase in free radicals that cause aging, a food that is superior in vitamin C and E can be administered, which we comment are antioxidants. The energy content of the food should not increase due to its lower activity and protein should be increased and phosphorus decreased, as well as avoiding ingredients that acidify the urine to prevent kidney diseases.
¿What to feed a cat?
Once you've seen what cats eat and their nutritional needs, ¿what food can we give them? The feeding of cats can be based on three types:
- Wet food
- I think dry
- Homemade food
If you do not have the appropriate knowledge or have doubts when it comes to balancing nutrients, the best way to feed a cat is with wet and dry food, alternating both options and taking into account that they must be of quality. As we have said, meat must be the main ingredient, so it is essential to read the labels and evaluate the product before buying it. In this other article we help you choose the best wet food for cats.
Cats are animals that prefer to drink several light meals throughout the day instead of two plentiful. Therefore, in this species it is preferred that they have their daily ration of feed always at their disposal and distribute their ration of wet food in several doses. They prefer water fresh and moving, hence many cats prefer to drink water from the tap or a source rather than from their drinking fountain.
The homemade food, For its part, it has many benefits compared to industrial food, such as the possibility of choosing the products and guaranteeing that it receives the contribution it needs from each nutrient, especially meat. However, it is very important to keep in mind that they must also receive other nutrients already mentioned, so it will be necessary to add more ingredients in order to provide them. Likewise, it is preferable to avoid raw food, unless it has been frozen and thawed in advance, because it can have parasites or microorganisms that can make your cat sick. In this case, it is advisable to distribute the food in four daily intakes. Once again, we insist on the importance of informing and consulting with a veterinarian specialized in nutrition to determine a homemade diet based on the specific needs of the cat in question..
What do stray and wild cats eat?
The wild cats eat naturally any prey to which they have access, be they lizards, rodents, birds or any other small animal. These dams provide them with all the necessary nutrients that we have discussed, they also have a high percentage of water.
The stray cats of city, rather than hunting prey that are more difficult to find, they stir the containers in search of food or have food that some people give them, either individual cats or from controlled feline colonies. This last term refers to the structuring of cats in groups in a very specific place where they have spaces to take refuge and people who feed them. In addition, animal protection entities help these colonies by providing them with food, shelters, health care and collaborating in their sterilization to avoid uncontrolled breeding that could end up in public health and ecological problems, killing other animals such as certain populations of wild birds. The great advantage that cat colonies have is to prevent the spread of pests of rats and other animals that can transmit diseases to people.
Although many people think that the life of stray cats is fuller than those found in homes, in reality cats in the wild tend to live more precariously, more exposed to diseases, adverse weather conditions and food shortages. So these cats have lower life expectancy and quality, they do not usually reach 9 years of age, while our domestic cats, with their nutritional needs covered, adequate room temperature and adequate veterinary care, can reach 18-20 years. Therefore, knowing what cats eat and all the information related to cat feeding is so important..