PDSA's Care Advice

The ideal diet for your kitten or cat

Cats are true carnivores, meaning they have to eat certain nutrients that are only found in meat or commercial cat food. It is preferable to feed a complete commercial cat food to achieve the correct balance of nutrients. Cats do not need treats and should only be given healthy treats occasionally, if at all, to avoid becoming obese. A cat’s age, weight and shape, alongside packet feeding guidelines and veterinary advice, should be taken into account when deciding how much to feed a cat.

Kittens

When should a kitten start to eat solid food?

Kittens start to eat solid foods from about three weeks and are fully weaned at about eight weeks.

How often should I feed my kitten?

At first they need small meals often (about four or five a day) but by about six months, two meals a day are usually fine. This can continue throughout their adult life, depending on your cat’s preference.

Picture of cat eating suitable food

Cats

What should I feed my cat?

Cats should be fed a healthy balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Cats are true carnivores, meaning they have to eat certain nutrients that are only found in meat or commercial cat food.

Feeding a complete, commercial cat food is normally preferable to a homemade diet. It’s not easy to achieve the correct balance of nutrients if you make your cat’s diet yourself.

Do cats of different ages need different food?

One of the best ways to achieve the correct balance of nutrients is to feed according to ‘life stage’. This means feeding a different diet according to whether your cat is a kitten, adult or senior cat. This is because cats of different ages have different nutritional requirements. For example, kittens need more calories in their food because they are so energetic.

Several leading brands of commercially available cat food offer different foods for different life stages. Buying these is a good way of ensuring your cat gets the right nutrients.

How much food should I give my cat?

Follow the packet feeding guidelines so you know how much to feed. Weigh the food out to check you’re getting it right. Feeding the right amount of food is important because obesity is the commonest nutritional problem seen by vets and causes health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

How often should I feed my cat?

It’s a good idea to weigh out your cat’s food at the start of the day, following the packet feeding guidelines. Then you can put the entire measured amount down at once, give it as several small meals or divide it into a meal for morning and one for evening. It depends on the cat’s preference and your lifestyle but you should try to cater for your cat’s preferences as far as you can.

 What treats can I give my cat? 

Most cat foods these days are complete, meaning they contain all the nutrients that a cat needs, in the right amounts. If extra food is given, as treats, your cat must do something with the extra calories. If your cat isn’t exercising enough (which can be a problem with cats kept permanently indoors), the calories will be turned into fat.

Cat obesity is a big problem and causes health problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

You can show your affection for your cat in ways other than food. Lots of cats enjoy playing games with their owners, as well as affection. You don’t need to use food to show cats that you love them.

If you can’t resist feeding treats once in a while, give a small amount of lean meat. Reduce the amount of food in their main meals that day, so that the overall amount fed stays the same.

Water

Your cat will need constant access to fresh, clean water from a clean bowl.

Food and water bowls

A cat needs two shallow bowls; one for water and one for food. Pottery bowls are ideal as they are easy to clean. Replace them if they are chipped or cracked.

PDSA's Findings

PDSA has produced the first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK, revealing the state of our pet nation - The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Over 11,000 pet owners were surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for - below are the findings for cats and their diet.

Overview

The majority of owners assessed their cat as being overweight or obese. This supports the findings of previous research, which has demonstrated that there is currently a pet obesity epidemic in the UK. Obesity reduces a pet’s quality of life, is linked to a number of serious health problems and can shorten a pet’s lifespan. Sadly, many owners report that they feel ‘happy’ when they feed treats to their cat, but many may not realise that they are actually killing their pet with kindness.

Graph showing the percentage of cat owners who give a daily treat

Key findings
 

Too many fatty treats are contributing to the obesity epidemic in cats.

  • Worryingly, nearly one in three cat owners (29%) say they use ‘common sense’ rather than taking informed advice when deciding on feed quantity. 9% say it depends on the cat’s appetite or begging. It is worrying that, given the prevalence of cat obesity, owners are not using informed sources (e.g. packet feeding guidelines, veterinary professionals) to decide how much to feed their cat.
     
  • More owners said their cat is overweight (41%) or obese (12%) than said it is the ideal weight (38%), or underweight (9%).
     
  • The likelihood that a cat will be obese peaks among cat owners aged 55 and over (16%).
     
  • 69% of cat owners feed a standard adult cat diet, with half (50%) using a mix of wet and dry food. 13% of cat owners feed scraps/ leftovers as one of the main food types that their pet eats, while others feed raw meat and bones (2%), cooked meat (12%), fish/ prawns/ tuna (16%), liver (1%), or hunted prey (7%). Such foods, when fed as a cat’s main food type, do not provide a balanced diet.
     
  • Fewer cat owners (86%) than dog owners (98%) give their pet a treat.
     
  • While the majority of cat owners give their cat a specific diet, the research shows that the diet cats are following may not be relevant to their life-stage. For example, among junior cats, 55% are following an adult diet and 1% are even following a diet for a senior cat.
     
  • The most popular treats are meat and fish other than in cat food (52% and 51% respectively). Commercial cat treats (32%) and cheeses (26%) are also popular treats. All of these treats contain calories and fat, which can contribute to obesity.
     
  • The majority of these treats are given regularly. For example, among owners who treat their cat, 17% do so once a day and 38% at least once a week.
     
  • As is also the case with dog owners, giving a treat is most likely to make the cat owner feel ‘happy’ (49% report this), which is worrying because owners may not be considering the harmful effects unsuitable treats are having on their cat’s long-term health.
     
  • A significant number of owners regularly give their pet fatty and sugary food such as cake, cheese, chips and chocolate meant for humans. These can also contribute to dental disease.
     

Improve one thing today ... Cut out the treats!

 

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