A Suitable Diet for a Cat
I fancy her legs but not the food...Photo by Nimir-Ra
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, British people are under a legal duty of care to provide a suitable diet for their cat companion. Other obligations towards their cat are as follows:
to provide a suitable environment
to facilitate the expression of normal behaviour patterns
to meet the need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
to protect him/her from pain, suffering and disease.
What is a suitable diet for a cat in the 21st century?
In general terms, excluding for a minute a detailed discussion about the constituents of the diet, a suitable diet today would include:
A fresh supply of drinking water. It can be easy to forget this, surprisingly. In general, cats are not great drinkers because of their wild cat heritage; getting a lot of water from prey. However, dry cat food does not substitute prey and ensuring he drinks enough water is essential when on a full-time diet of dry cat food (not recommended). The type of bowl used and its position may encourage drinking. Adding water to food (e.g. boiled fish) can also help. See also cat water bowls.
A balanced meat based diet is essential as cats are decidedly carnivorous, unlike dogs. Cats can't be vegetarians although some plant matter is normal as it substitutes the contents of the stomach of prey.
A diet that is commensurate with his/her age, lifestyle, activity levels and general health. Older cats require a different balance to their diet compared to younger cats and kittens. Ill cats with a loss of appetite require highly palatable food. Inactive cats naturally need a diet that is in tune with their lack of activity.
Ensuring that food is available several times per day as cats eat more frequently than humans.
Placing the food and water away from the litter tray. The water can, and possibly should, be away from the food.
Avoiding providing cow's milk - the type of milk humans usually drink - as often cats are lactose intolerant.
Watching for changes in eating habits as this gives clues as to her/his health in conjunction with toilet habits and stool consistency.
What kind of food should be provided?
This is a discussion point because the manufacturers of commercially available cat food are not solely interested in providing the best cat food. Profit for the company and convenience for the cat caretaker leads to a compromise in quality.
I think it fair to say that a full-time dry cat food diet is unsuitable and some vets believe it leads to UTIs and other medical conditions (hypoglycemia, dehydration, diabetes - symptoms). See: Urinary tract cat food.
A high quality wet food together with good dry food for grazing at night and some cooked human treats (infrequently) is probably the best balance other than a perfectly produced and stored homemade raw food diet, which requires skill, patience and time. Many people, however, vouch for a raw food diet for improving a cat's health and resolving some health issues. If a cat is an outdoor cat, he will probably find and attack the best supplement to his diet money can't buy: the mouse.