The best diet for your cat
The right diet is really important for your cat. It’ll help keep them happy and healthy. The diet they need will vary depending on their age and we recommend feeding cats dependent on their life stage.
Obesity is a growing problem for the UK’s pets. We see lots of overweight cats every year which can cause lots of health problems they otherwise might not get. Keeping a close eye on your cat’s diet will help keep them at their ideal weight. You may find regularly weighing your cat will be useful in keeping your cat’s weight in check. You can read advice about obesity in cats on our PetWise Pet Health Hub.
A Cat’s Diet
Cats are classed as ‘obligate carnivores’, meaning that they are strictly meat eaters. Their bodies need certain nutrients (which can only be found from animal meat) they are physically unable to make themselves. An example of these are Taurine and Arginine, which are essential building blocks for your cat’s health. Without them, your cat could become extremely ill. Taurine deficiency can cause dangerous heart problems and eye issues that can lead to blindness.
The easiest way to make sure your cat is getting all the nutrients they need is to feed them a good quality, complete cat food. You can buy these from pet shops, vets, supermarkets or from our PDSA Pet Store.
As well as life stage diets, you can also get diets which are specifically for the needs of neutered cats. Once neutered, cats can quickly gain weight on the wrong diet. Neutered cat diets tend to be lower in fat to keep your cat trim and healthy.
Some people choose to feed their cat a raw diet - which if done incorrectly can pose a risk to your cat's health. Read our vets' advice on raw diets.
‘Life-stage feeding’ matches your cat’s diet to what they need at different ages and stages of development. As well as energy, cats need different levels of protein, vitamins and minerals and fats in their diet depending on their age. Commercial cat food companies make food especially for these life stages.
A cat’s life stages for feeding are varied depending on food manufacturer, but this is a good guide:
- Kitten: 0-12 months
- Adult cat: between 1 and 7 years of age
- Senior cat: over 7 years of age
- Geriatric cat: over 11 years of age.
Feeding your kitten
Kittens start to eat solid foods from about three weeks of age. This first food should be soft and easy to digest, so dry food should be soaked in water or kitten milk (remember not to give your kitten cow’s milk as this can upset their tummy). This should be given as small amounts, often, as their mum will still be feeding them too. Kitten’s tummies are still small, but by about eight weeks your kittens should be fine having five small meals per day.
From eight weeks, the number of meals your kitten has should be gradually reduced over the coming months until they are about six months old, when they will be down to two meals per day. If your kitten is new to you, you would need to ask the breeder or rehoming shelter what your kitten has been fed and continue with this food until your kitten is well settled into their new home, as sudden changes to their diet can cause upset tummies and diarrhoea.
If you decide to change to a new diet once your kitten is settled, this would need to be gradually introduced. You can read our vets’ full advice on this online.
Feeding your adult cat
Lots of cats prefer to ‘graze’ throughout the day instead of being restricted to meal times, eating between 8 and 16 times a day if given the chance! If you let your cat graze feed, then it’s best just to leave dry food out for them, as there’s a chance wet food will go off or be eaten by another cat.
It’s a good idea to weigh out your cat’s food at the start of the day, that way you won’t be tempted to over feed. Most cats are very good at knowing how much they need to eat, but some really like their food and will keep asking for more. If your cat eats all of their daily allowance in one go and begs for more, it may be better to feed them two meals a day, splitting their daily allowance in half.
Here are some of our tips for feeding your adult cat:
- Your cat will need constant access to fresh, clean water from a clean bowl.
- Choose shallow bowls. Cats prefer these as they can see around them as they eat and drink.
- Shallow bowls also prevent a cat from brushing their whiskers against the side of the bowl.
- Choose bowls which are easy to clean, such as pottery bowls. Buy separate food and water bowls and have an extra of each, because cats are happier with choice!
- Avoid plastic bowls. They are harder to clean and can build up food odour over time which can put a cat off its food.
- Always keep food and water bowls well away from litter as cats don’t like to eat where they use the toilet.
- Remember your cat will need two separate feeding areas and water and food bowls should be kept apart. You can read more about how to set up the perfect home for your cat online.
Feeding your senior cat
Now that your cat is getting older, their diet will need changing to meet their more mature needs. Although you might notice their activity levels start to slow down, it’s been found that although a geriatric cat’s energy requirements don’t reduce by much as they get older. However, senior cats can be less able to break down fat and protein in their food and often have a less sense of taste and smell which can mean they struggle to get enough nutrients from their food. Senior cat foods tend to be more easily digestible and contain a balance of nutrients that are suited to cat as they age which can help to compensate for the changes older cats experience.
Another problem is that older cats can start to struggle with dental problems which can affect their ability to eat their usual diet. If you notice any changes in your cats eating behaviour such as growling when eating, not chewing and swallowing foods whole, eating to one side of the mouth, dropping food or leaving their food, or any weight loss - it’s best to contact your vet for advice.
When you change your cat’s food you need to do this carefully, gradually reducing the old food and introducing the new. You can read more about safely changing your cat’s food here.
If you are worried that your cat’s not taking enough water on board, then changing to a wet food is a good way of getting more water into them. This will help keep things flowing, protecting your cat’s older kidneys. Geriatric diets can come either as a dry or wet food, so you may want to offer both if that’s what your cat prefers. Food for older cats is usually smaller in size, has less fat and contains less salt and phosphorus (this helps your cat’s kidneys too!).
Keep an eye on the amount of food and water your older cat has each day. Eating less or losing weight can be a symptom of older age problems such as organ disease (e.g. kidney disease) or diabetes. If you’re worried that your cat is drinking more, take a look at our advice.
Treats for cats
Cats don’t actually need treats to know you love them: playing and spending time with you are what they enjoy most of all.
If you are training your cat however, food rewards are quite successful! So small pieces of chicken breast or a flake of tuna or two are great to use. They’re low in fat, super tasty and far better for them than other treats that they may be dreaming about!
Too many treats or leftover scraps can disrupt dinner times so bear these few pointers in mind:
- If you give treats as mentioned above, count this towards your cat’s daily allowance of food to stop any weight problems.
- Cats soon catch on! Regular cat treats can cause your cat to beg while you’re eating if they think it’s their food, too.
- Cats that are used to getting scraps might find their normal food less appealing and be put off eating it.
It’s a myth that cats need a nice saucer of milk. Cows’ milk contains lactose, a sugar that cats find hard to digest and can give them an upset tummy. Cream and dairy products are also high in fat so could contribute to your cat piling on the pounds.
Vegetarian diets for cats
It can be difficult if you are vegetarian or vegan to feed your cat something with meat in. However, it’s important to always put your cat’s welfare first. Cats need meat for certain nutrients they can’t get anywhere else. We would always recommend feeding your cat a complete, commercial diet. Speak to your vet if you are unsure of what to feed them.
While there are some vegetarian and vegan cat food available, always do your research and speak to your vet to make sure your cat is getting all the nutrients they need from their diet to make sure they stay healthy.