While dogs are eager and always willing to please, cats are much more elusive to their overlords — err, owners. So much, in fact, that many owners turn to the most tried-and-true method of getting a cat (or a human!) to like them: They ply them with food. Yes, it turns out that the way to a cat’s heart is also through its stomach, but what’s the healthiest cat food for your feline friend?
Pet nutrition 101 says you want to feed your pet a healthy diet in the same vein you want to put the best ingredients into your own body. Yes, it’s important to feed your cat the healthiest cat food possible. Sadly, just as a large number of Americans leave a lot to be desired with the foods they eat, so too do pet owners often ignore the best nutrition for their pets.
What Happens When Your Cat Is Too Fat
Unfortunately, all those loving calories mean that cats are packing on some extra pounds. And while a fat cat might be adorable for YouTube videos and Internet cat memes, being overweight can cause major health issues for our feline friends. In that regard, cats aren’t so different than humans.
Overweight cats, for instance, are two times more likely than cats at a healthy weight to get feline diabetes. In obese cats, that risk increases eightfold. (1) Overweight cats are also at a higher risk of developing hepatic lipidosis, more commonly known as fatty liver disease. (2) With this condition, excess fat accumulates in the liver, and the liver isn’t able to process it. Fatty liver can lead to various other health complications and death.
Arthritis and a lack of energy are also linked back to being overweight. And, of course, there’s the quality of life issue. A cat who can’t move around freely leads a compromised life.
Why Cats Gain Too Much Weight
So why do cats have a weight control problem? After all, don’t most animals know when to stop eating? The reasons that cats gain weight might surprise you — unless you’ve ever struggled with those pounds on the scale. That’s because, again, felines are so similar to their humans.
Cats are not good at self-regulating. Their wild ancestors, after all, weren’t given bowls of food to eat; they were out hunting for it. If their food is left out for cats to graze on, they will. Think about it: How good is your self-control if a bag of chips is left out all day? Cats also eat out of boredom, just like us. If they’re not being stimulated or entertained enough, they will eat because there’s nothing better to do.
And if you think overweight cats aren’t so common, think again. Just as human obesity rates have been on the rise, so have feline rates. In fact, about 50 percent of cats who visit the vet are overweight, if not obese. (3)
But for many feline owners, the thought of putting their cats on a diet is scary. It’ not because the cat might not be well-fed or the diet process will be difficult, but for another reason, one that’s easily understood for those who know cats’ temperamental behaviors. They’re frightened their cats will no longer love them.
Owners who get cuddles and nuzzles from slipping their cats some extra treats fear their cats will become withdrawn, angry or anxiety-ridden. (4) It’s not an unfounded fear. After all, cats are being given antidepressants these days for things like anxiety or perpetual misbehaving.
Luckily, a new study has proved that putting your cat on a diet doesn’t mean putting an end to its affection. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that overweight cats who were put on an eight-week diet didn’t withhold their love. (5) In fact, they demonstrated more affection than when they were overweight.
Healthiest Cat Food: The Best Ways to Feed Your Cat Right
So if your cat will actually love you more when it’s slimmer, what’s the best way to keep your feline companion healthy and happy and avoid the weight gain game in the first place? I’m glad you asked!
First, a gentle reminder: Cats don’t feed themselves. Humans do. That means you are in control of what and how much your cat eats. And with great power comes great responsibility.
While the amount of calories cats need varies by breed and age, a general rule of thumb is that for each pound your cat weighs, you should feed it between 24 to 35 calories. If your cat is eating a lot more than that, it’s time to cut back. And don’t forget, “a few extra pounds” means something different for cats than for humans. Two extra pounds on a cat is similar to 28 extra pounds on a 140-pound woman. (6)
Cats are carnivores and do best on a high-protein, low-carb diet. The healthiest cat food and diet thrives on high-quality meats. Because cats are carnivores and not omnivores like dogs, their digestive systems are not built to break down the cellulose in plants. (7) Because of that, wet food is usually best for cats. Dry cat food is filled with carbohydrate fillers, usually from plants, that isn’t easy for cats to break down, so it’s not the healthiest cat food.
Additionally, dry cat food contains a lot less water than wet food — 10 percent to 78 percent, while foods cats consume in the wild contain about 70 percent water. That means cats who are on a strictly dry food diet run the risk of becoming dehydrated. If you’re a fan of kibble, ensure your cat has a fresh source of water constantly, particularly during warm weather.
But if you’re thinking of tossing all the dry food and switching exclusively to wet food, be sure to read the ingredients list. Poor-quality wet food might not provide any more nutrients than dry food. Be sure that the first ingredient is protein. A good option for many people is to combine dry and wet food to keep costs manageable and ensure your cat is getting the nutrients it needs.
If you’re concerned about how much to feed your cat, it’s worth visiting your vet. That’s because, even if you’re serving your cat the manufacturer’s suggested serving, which is aimed at “average cats,” it might be too much for your cat.
So while a fat cat might be cute, feeding your cat the right way with the healthiest cat food will ensure it lives the long, healthy life it deserves.
Healthiest Cat Food Takeaways
- Overweight cats, for instance, are two times more likely than cats at a healthy weight to get feline diabetes. In obese cats, that risk increases eightfold. Overweight cats are also at a higher risk of developing hepatic lipidosis, more commonly known as fatty liver disease.
- Cats are not good at self-regulating, and they eat out of boredom just like humans.
- Just as human obesity rates have been on the rise, so have feline rates. In fact, about 50 percent of cats who visit the vet are overweight, if not obese.
- While the amount of calories cats need varies by breed and age, a general rule of thumb is that for each pound your cat weighs, you should feed it between 24 to 35 calories.
- Cats are carnivores and do best on a high-protein, low-carb diet. They can’t digest plants well, which is why wet food is typically better than dry food for them.
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