Last year a kitten made headlines when it nearly died because its owner had it on a vegan diet. It survived but only because it was given a steady diet of meat. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need to eat meat to survive. They cannot get the protein and nutrients they need from a plant-based diet. However, it’s not as simple as stocking up on beef, chicken and tuna to keep kitty well-fed as they have complex dietary needs. Fortunately, it needn’t be complicated to meet them. Read our guide on cat food and good cat diets to keep kitty healthy.
Human food: good or bad?
Many cats get titbits off the dining table; they also get bits of biscuits, sweets, crisps and even tea and coffee. It’s nigh impossible to resist a sweet kitty face and persistent paw when you’re having a snack, but you need to be strong because many human foods are poisonous to cats. According to Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, President of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), cats should never be fed onion, garlic, grapes (and raisins), sweets, chocolates, biscuits, chocolate and alcoholic and caffeinated drinks.
There are some human foods that cats can eat in small portions, including:
- Steamed broccoli
- Steamed asparagus
- Green beans and peas
- Leafy greens (spinach)
- Cheese – in small doses as adult cats are lactose intolerant.
- Tuna – in small doses as too much tuna, which contains high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, can deplete vitamin E levels.
- Cod, halibut and flounder – which have lower levels of mercury than tuna, salmon and swordfish. All fish must be cooked, so sushi is out.
- Eggs especially scrambled and hard boiled.
- Chicken and beef
- Melon and banana (especially frozen banana)
Dr. Colleran says that while human food can be good for cats, it shouldn’t make up more than 15% of their diet.
Canned, dry or raw cat food?
Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, is a strong advocate for raw and canned cat food. She is dead set against dry food for 6 primary reasons:
- Low water content (5% – 10%).
- High carbohydrate content (35% – 50%).
- High plant-based protein content – low animal-based protein content.
- It is heavily processed which destroys nutrients.
- Bacterial and fungal contamination, as well as contamination by cockroaches and mites.
- Lengthy storage time can turn fats rancid and allow bacteria to spread unchecked.
Pierson argues that dry cat food can cause or aggravate urinary tract infections, insulin imbalance and dehydration.
She recommends canned food because:
- It’s not as heavily processed.
- It’s not subjected to high temperatures, which keeps nutrients intact.
- It has high water content (78%).
- It contains more of the right kind of protein – animal-based.
- It’s low in carbohydrates (less than 10%).
Pierson is even more in favor of homemade raw food diets, but again, not all raw meat is equal. Store bought minced meat is not recommended, but whole cuts that can be properly rinsed and prepared at home are. Homemade raw food is convenient in that it can be prepared in bulk and stored (saving you time). It also has the advantage that you know exactly what your cat is eating. However, it is important that you feed your cat a balanced diet that includes taurine, calcium, phosphorous, vitamins and protein in the correct ratios. If you’re going to go this route you should consult your vet or, even better, a specialist pet nutritionist.
Note, however, that many vets are happy to recommend high-quality dry foods, like Hills and Purina, as they are complete diets and don’t need supplementary food to provide all the vitamins and nutrients that cats need. Dry cat food also comes in specific formulas for different ailments, illnesses and life stages, for example, mobility problems, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, senior, active cats and light for weight loss or management.
You can also give your cat a mixture of dry and wet food, which works for some fussy eaters.
Treats are perfectly acceptable, but you will need to reduce main meal portions to balance the calorie intake. Purina recommends limiting treats to 15% of your cat’s daily energy needs.