Written by: Judy Karnia, DVM
We have talked in previous blogs about the Five Freedoms for our pets. These freedoms highlight what our cats truly need to be happy and healthy. Freedom from hunger and thirst is the first one.
We all know the story of the cat who gets fed by one person in the household, and then goes and meows at another person in the house to be fed again. Many cats love to eat, but good nutrition is more than just putting down food and water when your cat begs. We must provide the proper quality as well as quantity of foods in addition to ready access to water. Most cats could get by for years with generic kibble poured into a bowl with a connected water dish refilled each day. However, we can provide much better options to keep our feline family healthy and happy.
Freedom from Hunger
Choosing a food for your cat is increasingly becoming a very difficult part of being a cat parent. There is an overwhelming amount of marketing and advertising that can often be misleading or not the full truth. This can make it confusing to choose what food to buy. The best foods are ones that have been tested by being fed to cats and then testing the health of those cats. Many foods are formulated to meet the minimum standards but they have not been tested on actual cats to see how well the nutrients within the food are absorbed and used by the body. At our clinic, we sell Royal Canin, Hills and Purina diets because these companies spend millions of dollars each year on research for their diets, they have veterinary nutritionists on staff, and they also follow WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) guidelines. The types of ingredients are important, but the nutrients they provide are even more important.
Every cat can digest and react to food differently so talk to your veterinarian about if the diet you are feeding is best for your cat. Typically, it is best to feed mainly canned food with a small amount of a dental kibble or chews. Cats are carnivores and need more protein and fats and less carbohydrates. Canned food is best at providing this. It also provides water to your cat to help maintain good hydration and good kidney and bladder health. Cats in the wild don’t tend to drink much water but get much of their moisture from the prey that they eat. Cats do need some food or treats that they really have to chew to exercise and clean their teeth.
Studies have shown that cats are typically grazers and can eat up to twenty-two small meals per day! However, many of our indoor cats aren’t exercised enough, and allowing them to eat however much they want whenever they want can greatly contribute to the problem of feline obesity. Try different methods of feeding and talk to your veterinarian about what is best for your cat given their preferences. Many of our clients do meal feedings, where they feed a certain amount of calories two to three times daily.
One great way to relieve stress for indoor cats and provide mental and physical stimulation is to feed them with food puzzles. Go to http://www.foodpuzzlesforcats.com or google to find lots of good options. There can be a small learning curb with these, but most cats figure them out quickly. Cats in the wild spend many hours hunting and catching prey and food puzzles help to bring a little of that back into their lives.
Freedom from Thirst
If you have a dog, you probably see them go to their water bowl multiple times each day to drink, often after eating or exercise. However, most cats are not big drinkers. In the wild, they get most of their moisture from the food they eat. This is another reason why feeding primarily canned food is very helpful for kitties.
Cats also prefer not to have their water source right next to their food. Provide fresh clean water daily in an easily accessible bowl that is wide enough so that their whiskers don’t touch the sides. Some cats dislike stagnant water and prefer to drink from running water. If this is the case, purchase a water fountain for them or allow them to drink out of the faucet. This can encourage water intake in our already finicky cats. Offering multiple water dishes around the house can also be incredibly useful.
It also matters where you put the food and water dishes in your house. Although the easiest place is likely right next to the fridge, this may be a stressful location for your cat, particularly if there is more than one cats or lots of commotion around the food and water dishes.
Pay attention to your cat when they approach their water and food dishes. If they walk up casually or eagerly, tails raised, and dig right in, they are probably happy where they eat. If they approach slowly or warily with ears down and looking about or eat a little then dart off, they are stressed. This can affect their digestion and overall health. Cats may enjoy eating together if they are very bonded. Oftentimes cats prefer to eat separately, either in different rooms or around a corner. Cats that openly hiss at each other or lay back their ears when near each other should have alone time somewhere the other cat cannot bother them to eat and use the litter box.
If you provide high quality cat food, abundant attractive water, and a good environment to enjoy these, you will be helping your feline family to live happy and healthy lives.