How does nutrition impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

The same as with people. It's no different. The same as with your dog or any animal. One of those old dead Greek guys 2000 years ago said food is medicine. And that's absolutely true. Food is medicine. Think about the one thing we do every day that impacts the quality of our lives: nutrition, food, nourishment, whatever you want to call it. What goes into your body will affect what comes out of your body. Cats are no different. Dogs are no different. People are no different. No animals are any different. So understanding the importance of nutrition for pets is equally as important as understanding nutrition for your own needs.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What are the nutritional requirements for a cat?

Essentially, there are several different elements they need. This is true for people, dogs, for all of us. Protein is the number one requirement for cats. Fat, carbohydrates, water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. That's the scope of everything in an appropriate cat diet.

Will my cat's nutritional requirements change throughout its life from kitten to adult to senior?

They do just like they can for us to some degree. Primarily, kittens need more protein. We want to make sure that they have plenty of vitamins and minerals because they're building muscle, and everything is in growth mode for the first several months of their life. Then we get into the adult stage, which can go on for several years. Then we get into the senior stage, which is a moving target, but it can be 12 or 14 years of age. We see a lot of cats that live to be 17, 18, and 19 years of age, which is typically longer than dogs. There are certain nutritional needs for those cats that a younger cat would not need. The other consideration regarding nutritional needs is that there could be health conditions that can also dictate what they need. If your cat has kidney problems or liver issues, we certainly need to address those depending on the health concerns we have.

What are some signs and symptoms of poor cat nutrition?

Quite a few different things. With most household cats, the big problem that we see is obesity. That's probably the number one issue that we see evolve. But we can also see cats that have digestive issues like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, which could be a significant concern in some cats. The quality of their hair coat and the overall quality of their lives are an indication. How thrifty they appear to be will all be dictated by nutrition alone.

What are some common food allergies in cats, and how can I tell if my cat is suffering from them?

Typically, 80% of food allergies in cats come from beef, fish, or dairy. Unfortunately, there is no reliable test for dogs or cats for food allergies. I want to be clear that there are tests for food allergies out there, but to date, there is no reliable test for food allergies. There are tests out there, but I hate to see people waste their money. We've been doing clinical trials or what we call food elimination trials for decades for dogs and cats, and when we suspect a food allergy, we're trying to get them onto an appropriate diet and get them away from the proteins that are causing the food allergies. But again, beef, fish, and dairy are the big three for cats.

When it comes to cat food, what and how much should I be feeding them?

When it comes to cat food, you've got different choices. You've got dry food, dry kibble, which is convenient because you just open up the cabinet, reach in there, grab the box, pour some into the bowl, and poof, you're done for the day. That sounds quick and easy, and it pretty much is. Canned food is a little bit messier and a little bit more time-consuming. Some people are a little bit repulsed by the aroma of canned food. Then there's also a raw diet as well. I do caution people about using a raw diet. If you're going to make a blend of your own, do your research. Don't just go out and buy some chicken breast, some ground beef, ground turkey, or some tilapia or something and think that making your own blend is going to be sufficient.

I'm going to give you a little bit more context around all this. Think about it in the wild. Your cat is not too far removed from the big cats, such as cheetahs, lions, and bobcats. What do they eat? They're eating wild animals. They're eating rabbits or gazelles. They're getting their nourishment from another animal. But when they eat that animal, they're not just eating a leg today or eating the chicken breast. No, they're eating the whole carcass. They're eating the intestines, the heart, the liver, the spleen, the lungs, and the organ meats. If you're giving just the muscle or the meat from like a chicken or turkey or whatever, you're undernourishing your pet because they're missing so many micronutrients if we're giving just the meat. So please keep that in mind. I don't mind if somebody wants to make a raw diet. There's a website called that some veterinary nutritionist created, which gives more details on pet nutrition, but they also have some resources to help somebody if they want to try to create a raw diet for their pet. The nutrients, supplements, vitamins, and minerals needed to go into a diet to make it a whole and complete diet.

Getting back to dry food and wet food. Unfortunately, there's a problem with dry food. It's great, it's easy, and it's pretty cheap, but unfortunately, it's too high in carbohydrates and too low in protein. We made this discovery about five or seven years ago. We now know it's best to feed cats some canned food with a higher protein, not to mention the water content. Cats are not big water drinkers, not like dogs are. So we should make sure they're getting an adequate amount of water and protein. The best way to do this could be by doing a raw diet, but for most people, that's not convenient. Please make sure that you incorporate some wet food into their diet. That's going to make for a healthier cat.

Regarding quantity, we do see so much obesity in cats, and a big part of the reason is that they're not active, but the high carbohydrate nature of dry cat foods also contributes to that, which reinforces the reason why we want to include some canned food into their diet. The quantity depends on the weight and lifestyle of your cat. If they're very active, they will probably need more calories if they're outside hunting. Those cats are usually in healthier shape because they're more toned and more active due to going around the neighborhood, chasing birds or squirrels, and staying away from other cats trying to stay out of catfights. Those cats are generally healthier, trimmer, and more toned. Indoor cats lay around all day and just hang out. They follow the sun, they're going to sleep where the sun is, they're going to move around a little bit, and that's their level of exercise. So we have to be careful about ensuring we don't overfeed those guys. Just because they're hungry doesn't mean that they should be fed. That's another reason why if you're going to be giving just dry kibble and they're constantly hungry, it's not surprising because they're getting too many carbohydrates. That's just the nature of dry cat foods. So if you start incorporating some wet food into the diet, I think you'll see that those cats, in many cases, will start to lose weight even if you don't do anything else because they are getting more protein, they're feeling fuller, and they don't have that need to keep trying to eat.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Nutrition - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

Can my cat live on a vegetarian diet?

That would be a no. They cannot. Cats have a very high demand for protein. Let's think about the hierarchy of animals in the animal kingdom. The one animal, at least that I know of, that has the highest demand for protein is cats. Big cats, little cats, all cats in between. Dogs also have a higher demand, but not as much of high demand for protein as cats. We're lower on the spectrum. We can have a little bit more of a blended diet. But cats cannot sustain long term on a vegetarian diet because of the lack of protein they'll get.

Is wet food more nutritious than dry cat food?

I hate to use the word nutritious, but I will make this one comment where there's a significant difference between cat canned food, or wet, food and dry food. That involved the protein content as opposed to the carbohydrate content. As I just mentioned a few moments ago, cats have a very high need and demand for protein. Unfortunately, dry cat foods are too high in carbohydrates and too low in protein. We've known this for some years. That's why the recommendation is that at least half of cats' diets should consist of wet food because of the higher protein content. We know that dry kibble can contribute to obesity and cats because they're just getting too many carbohydrates and not enough protein.

Are prescription diets better for my cat?

It depends on your cat's condition. In general, no, because they're targeted for specific medical needs. If you've got an otherwise healthy cat, there would be no reason to put them on a prescription diet. The more common issue we see with commercial diets is with cats with urinary tract issues. In some cases, those cats do need to be on a prescription die to try to prevent the formation of crystals or stones in the bladder, which can lead to a blockage in male cats, which sadly can be life-threatening. We would look out for those things in cats having urinary issues. But in general, no, we don't just uniformly want to say cats need to be on a prescription diet until there's a specific medical need for it.

If my outdoor cat hunts, does that mean he's missing something in his diet?

No, he's a cat. That's what cats do. Watch Animal Planet! Granted, they're going after mice and moles, not gazelles and antelope. But they're not missing something in their diet. They are hunting. It's the same as somebody taking a little fishing line out of the house and they put a little stuffed mouse at the end of it. Cats are also just hunting. That's what they do. Their nature is to hunt. He's not lacking anything. He's just doing what he's supposed to do.

Will human food make my cat overweight?

Maybe. It depends on the food. I'm not going to demonize human food for cats because, let's face it, we eat steaks, venison, chicken, tuna fish, or something like that. If you give that to your cat, I don't have any problem with that at all. But again, we want to make it a protein. If you started trying to give Cheetos and pizza crust to your cat, that would be a no. Don't do that. Human food can be harmful, but it can also be beneficial. You just have to be aware of a cat's nutritional needs.

Will free choice feeding make my cat overweight?

Potentially?. It just depends on the cat. Here is the problem. As we've already mentioned, dry cat foods are too high in carbohydrates, so they don't feel as satiated or as full. In many cases, but not all cases, they don't feel as full. They want to go back to the food bowl, and of course, they'll scream and scream, and we cave in and give them more food. That's not free feeding, but they train us to put more food into the bowl, which means they're getting a higher carbohydrate diet. Guess what? They're probably going to get too heavy over time.

What are some other myths about cat nutrition that you hear as a veterinarian?

That's a really good question. One of the questions that come up quite a bit is about clients who want to feed raw food to their dogs or their cats. I don't have any problem with that whatsoever. The big problem that I have is if somebody goes to Walmart or Sam's Club or the local grocery store and they buy a chicken carcass, and they put it on the floor and let their pets have at it. That's okay from a protein standpoint, but what about all the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, and a few carbohydrates, fiber, and fat they need? They're missing out on so many other nutrients if they get a chicken carcass or catfish that you filet that you bought at the grocery store.

That's the problem. They're missing out on so many nutrients. So I want you to think about going to a website: Balance It. It is a veterinary nutritionist that runs an organized website with a lot of information about trying to feed a raw diet to a cat, or a dog, for that matter.

I don't have any problems with raw diets. You just have to make sure that you're not just feeding meat. With meat, they may be getting a little bit more than just the protein, but that's not going to be suitable long term to meet the nutritional needs of any pet, dog or cat.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.