Feeding Your Cat: The Basic Principles of Feline Nutrition

Your cat is a pure carnivore. This means that your cat must meet her nutritional needs by consuming other animals. Her natural diet would be birds, rodents, and rabbits. She would not be catching fish or hunting down cattle. She derives little to no nutrition from plant-based sources and should have little to no grain, fruit or vegetables in her diet. In the wild, your cat would be eating a high-protein, moderate-fat diet with only about 4-9% of her diet consisting of carbohydrates. Dry cat food contains 35-50% carbohydrates. Chronic high carbohydrate diets can lead to obesity and diabetes.

Why do we have dry food if my cat is a carnivore?

There are two reasons that dry food has been promoted all these years:

  1. It was originally thought that wet food contributed to increased dental disease in cats
  2. It is primarily a convenience for humans to be able to free-feed cats (which can lead to obesity and diabetes)
  • Cats were originally a desert species, so do not drink much water. The natural prey diet of a wild cat contains between 65-80% water. This satisfied their water needs.
  • Dry food averages only 10% water
  • Canned food averages 78% water. Much closer to a natural diet.
  • Cats on a dry food diet are often chronically dehydrated which can lead to many health problems, including bladder and kidney disease.

Transitioning dry food addicts to canned food

People often assume that since their cat loves dry food and turns down wet food when it is offered, that they will never change. The key is to do it slowly and patiently.
It is best to take 2 weeks with the transition and incorporate the new food into the diet a bit at a time. Never let your cat go longer than 24 hours without eating though.

Here are some tricks:

  • If your cat has been eating dry food on a free-choice basis, take up the food and establish a schedule of three times-daily feedings. Leave the food down for 30 minutes. Cats prefer their food at “body temperature”, but do not warm the food more than once or twice, as this will promote bacterial growth
  • Mix a small amount of chicken or turkey baby food with the canned food to flavor it
  • Crush a small amount of dry food and sprinkle it over the canned food
  • You may also keep some dry food on hand to give your cat as treats
  • Most cats should eat 6 to 8 ounces of wet food per 10 pounds of body weight

Learn how to read pet food ingredient labels.

  • Meat should always be the first ingredient on the label
  • Be aware that the “name” of the flavor is not necessarily the only ingredient
  • Ideally fish should not be fed to cats. Cats are often allergic to fish; in addition, fish meat and meal can contribute to bladder problems.
  • Ideally, the food you feed your cat should be grain-free to minimize carbohydrates

Cat Nutrition Information