Cat Feeding Behavior And Tips
Hydration and Cat Feeding Behaviors
Cats in their most natural state are desert animals, and like most desert animals, they tend to get most of their water through the food people feed them. Prey is high in moisture (up to 70%), and as a rule of thumb, the average cat needs 1 oz of water per pound of body weight daily. However, a recent study found that more than one third of pet cats are chronically dehydrated, and this is no surprise when one of the most common foods for domestic cats and kittens is dry food. The combination of nibbling dry food, then water (and repeat) does not make the cat feel like they are full and hydrated, so they continue to eat and drink.
Switching to a fresh diet that is high in water content is beneficial to your cat, and meals should only contain what moisture comes naturally from the foods used, not broths or excess water. This kind of diet can help to:
- Regulate body temperature;
- Transport nutrients into the body and waste out of the body;
- Help joint and intestinal function;
- Keep the skin healthy;
- Balance electrolytes;
- Help with inflammation; and
- Promote kidney and bladder health.
Picking the Food (and Serving It Right)
Beyond the high protein and low carbohydrate content that obligate carnivores need, you want to be sure you are picking the most fitting cat food for yours, whether that is a personal call or the recommendation of your veterinarian. The competition is fierce in the pet food world, and because you love your cat, words like "pure" and "natural" and "grain-free" probably catch your eye, because we all want to do well by our furbabies. Then there are the options of wet, dry, refrigerated, and also recipes that say that they are uniquely designed for indoor cats, senior cats, or weight management. You might have even grabbed the packages and read those ingredients lists to see if the labels are misleading or not.
Dry Vs. Wet Vs. Fresh
If your cat or kitten has been eating dry food all of her life, different cat foods can be downright scary. If you want to know how fresh measures against the other options, though, the proof is in the package:
Dry food is usually high in calories and fillers like grains and fibers, and overfeeding can lead to weight gain. Obesity in cats can put stress on their bones and joints and can cause their organs to work harder which can compromise their health as they get older.
This option is 3 to 4 times less dense in calories than dry food. Two cans a day is enough to sustain the average cat, offering hydration, but preservatives and other additives can be an issue.
As mentioned before, cats get most of their water through the food that people are feeding them, and cat food recipes that provide the recommended amount of moisture and nutrition in cat food are ideal. Unnatural preservatives should not be present because being fresh, who needs them? (See more on this below.)
Cats are also incredibly sensitive to odor and texture. The stronger the odor of the food, the more likely the cat connects with the food. Wet and fresh cat foods tend to have a more powerful smell than dry food, and the texture is closer to what they would catch and eat in nature. Transitioning them to either of these may take time, in part, if your cat is unaccustomed to those textures.
Artificial Vs. Natural Preservatives
We've been using food preservatives for centuries, so while we need not aim to cut them out of our lives entirely, it's important to know how nature can differ from the manufactured:
Vinegar, citric acid, and vitamin E can all extend the shelf life of a product without being harmful if you consume them.
The problem with synthetic preservatives is that the long-term effects are not fully known. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are common preservatives that appear in pet foods. The consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, cites BHA as an additive to “avoid” and puts BHT in its “caution” column. The World Health Organization also lists BHA as a potential carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) in animals.
Fresh meals cut the potential for risk; there is not much need to add potentially harmful preservatives when your cat is going to be eating it right away.
Snacking Vs. Meal Time
Picking the right food is not all that goes into changing our cats' eating habits. One reason that so many cats are overweight is that many cat parents feel that they should have constant access to food whenever they feel hungry. If it meets their protein needs, then it should be fine -- that is the reasoning, anyway. You may feel tempted to trust your cat to regulate herself because wild cats do this on their own.
However, wild cats eat often because they feast on small prey that they are actively hunting. Your little girl may occasionally tear around the house like her tail is on fire and slay a catnip mouse that crosses her the wrong way, but her idea of hunting is probably watching birds and cars from a sunny windowsill.
For the modern house cat, we tend to provide overly large servings to primarily sedentary felines with a low activity level. It is okay if the food dish is not always full. (Additionally, being hungry can actually help when you start to transition from your old food to a new one.)
Going Fresh - A Lifestyle Worth Having
A fresh food diet is about as close as you can get to replicating a plentiful wild diet for your cat before you are catching birds and other small animals for her yourself. The differences are marked, with a fresh diet ideally offering:
One new thing that you might see in a lot of pet stores is “grain-free” food. The problem with cats eating grains is that this type of fiber is hard for a cat to digest (which accounts for those loose and stinky poops). A fresh diet should not use grains, instead of using vegetables like spinach and cantaloupe, which add easy-to-digest fiber. The nutrients absorb easily, the moisture helps it to pass easily, and there is less clean up.
Easier portion control:
With recipes often coming together in per-meal portions and often alongside a recommended feeding schedule, you feed your cat exactly what she needs; no more, no less. On average, most cats need 150-200 calories per day and eat twice a day.
No artificial additives:
Fresh food does not sit for weeks on the shelf or in the refrigerator before going to your cat's bowl. Furthermore, look for diets that only use natural preservatives that are safe for your pet’s health.
Bearing in mind the quality of your cat food, what goes into it, and how you serve it, all that is left is to begin. With peace of mind and scientific backing, a fresh diet cares for your cat physically as much as you do emotionally.