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    Cat Feeding Guide

    Authored by Jemma Petts

    Whether they are indoor pets or barnyard cats, cats play an important role in our lives and on our farms. Keeping your feline friend at a healthy weight is important for your cat’s overall health and well-being.

    All cats need enough high-quality nutritious cat food to maintain their energy levels and keep them healthy. Having a basic understanding of what and how much to feed your cat or kitten can help ensure a long, happy, and healthy life for your feline friend.

    How much wet cat food to feed

    An “obligate carnivore” or omnivore diet is a meat-based diet that allows a cat to maximize its nutritional needs and avoid nutritional deficiencies. All cats are obligate carnivores. This means that a cat must fulfill its nutritional needs from eating meat. It is recommended that you feed your cat an obligate carnivore diet that meets the following nutritional requirements: protein, fat, carbohydrates, and magnesium.

    Now let’s take a look at what should be included in a cat’s diet so it can stay at a healthy weight.

    Evaluating your cat’s weight

    Before changing what or how you feed your cat, it is important to determine the body weight of your cat. While cats come in all sizes, generally a healthy weight for an adult cat should be anywhere from six to ten pounds.

    Being obese or being underweight carries increased health risks for your cat. In the past few years, there has been a growing concern over obesity, particularly in animals. When it comes to obesity in cats, the biggest mistake you can make is continuing to overfeed an already overweight feline. Obesity in cats can lead to a number of health conditions, including diabetes and hepatic lipidosis (or fatty liver). But if you’ve got a fat cat, don’t worry. Starting a weight loss program is easier than you might think! If a pet is overweight, you will need to lower its caloric intake.

    Ideally, your overweight cat should lose a pound or two every month and should diet for only about six months. Weight loss takes time, so be patient. To determine how much to feed your overweight cat, simply multiply its current weight by the number of calories desired to achieve the appropriate amount of weight loss. Cat treats should be kept to a minimum. They can be fed occasionally as a pleasant surprise.

    Other nutritional needs of an obese cat

    To lose weight, obese cats require foods that contain liquid and moisture. These types of foods keep the cat feeling full. They also contain nutrients. Wet foods ensure that the cat is not absorbing more nutrients than it would on a dry diet.

    Kittens, on the other hand, should be kept at a healthy weight. They generally have more energy than an older cat and require a high-calorie diet.

    Canned cat food

    There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a cat food. Available products include canned, soft, dry, raw, powdered, moistening, and semi-moistening formulas. The pros and cons of each food option will depend on your pet’s current state of health, its metabolism, and how your pet is eating.

    The basic nutritional needs of your cat should be met before purchasing any wet food. Read the labels and make sure the food you choose includes all the necessary nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, sodium, vitamins, meat, water, and minerals.

    The type of canned diet you feed your feline should be appropriate for the cat’s age and health. If the cat is overweight, adult cat food with raw food can be fed as a treat. This combination helps with weight loss by increasing the amount of food in the cat’s diet.

    A wet cat food should be fed according to the feeding guidelines set forth by the Independent Animal Products Association. Canned food should not be fed all at once. If you are trying to change from feeding dry cat food to canned cat food, it may take several weeks for your cat to adjust—especially if it has been fed only dry food its entire life.

    If your cat is overweight or has a condition like diabetes, when changing over to wet cat food from dry food, try mixing the dry cat food into the canned food to make it easier for your cat to swallow.

    Transitioning cats that are used to a dry food only diet to canned food can more easily be achieved through the soft-wet formula. This will more likely make a faster return to regular eating, making the canned diet less wasteful and more affordable.

    One short-term solution to feeding an overweight, elderly, or sick cat is to feed your cat baby food. While baby food can be easy for your cat to digest, you must proceed with caution. Human food does not provide a cat with all the nutrients it needs. Read the ingredients, and transition your cat back to cat food as soon as possible.

    Large-breed cats can sometimes have trouble switching to a canned diet due to possible digestive upset or constipation.

    How much dry cat food to feed a cat

    To ensure your cat’s best health, it is important to know how many servings to give your cat each day. It also helps to look at feeding amounts per meal to avoid overfeeding your cat. When calculating the amount of food per meal, start by dividing the calories per serving by the number of calories in a cat’s diet. Then divide this number by ninety to get the calories per meal for that day.

    Wet food has fewer calories and more volume than dry food. Feeding wet food may cause a gradual reduction in food intake due to its higher moisture content.

    Most cats only need 150–250 calories per day. Roughly, this means that your adult cat should be getting about 100 calories of dry food at each feeding (assuming you feed once in the morning and once at night).

    Provide kittens and adult cats with wet cat food

    Although some veterinarians prefer that you feed wet food only, wet and dry food can complement each other and can be combined. For example, if mixed, the two foods will allow a sick feline to recover easily from surgery and gain body weight. The wet food also supplies the body with the enzymes necessary to break down fats for energy in small amounts.

    How much food to feed a kitten

    The nutritional needs of kittens vary widely from those of an adult or senior cat.

    In general, kittens should gain about half an ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week. Frequency of feeding is essential for a kitten’s digestion. Protein in a kitten’s diet is derived from the protein in its mother’s milk and oil. As the kitten grows, more solid food is needed to provide these nutrients.

    During the first four weeks of a kitten’s life, wet food should be supplemented with a kitten milk replacer and then kitten dry food. You can introduce a kitten to solid food by mixing warm canned kitten food and prepared kitten formula into a thin gruel. Gradually reduce the amount of formula mixed with canned food until the kitten is eating just the food.

    During the second four weeks, the kitten formula should be introduced gradually. Dry kitten food can be prepared using mother’s milk or water. It is important to never feed a kitten cow’s milk or milk from the supermarket, as these products will cause gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea) in kittens. They can also impair the kitten’s growth and result in long-term health problems.

    Feeding schedule for kittens

    Depending on the kitten’s age, a kitten should be fed about three to four times daily. For weaned kittens eating solid food, the food should be placed in a quiet room so the kitten can avoid household noises and disturbances.

    Kittens aged two to four weeks can be fed four meals a day. Kittens less than two weeks old should be fed every two hours. Around two months old, you can begin feeding the kitten a solid pet food. The nutritional needs of a kitten change as it grows. Most young and growing kittens need about 200 calories a day.

    Always check with your veterinarian first, but you can feed your kitten fresh, raw meat (meat, organs), or raw bones. Following your veterinarian’s instructions, fresh, raw meat and bones can be gradually introduced into a kitten’s diet.

    Make sure that the food you give your kitten is always fresh. And be sure that your kitten has access to plenty of fresh water.

    How much food to feed an older cat

    In their natural evolutionary setting, cats rely almost exclusively on eating prey, not plants. As obligate carnivores, cats need a high amount of quality animal protein in their diets—regardless of age. Feline nutrition is different than it used to be.

    The feline diet is highly dependent on each cat’s individual immune system. Thus, before deciding how much to feed, each individual cat must have a personal health profile. The ideal feline diet should be individualized to meet the cat's specific life stage (i.e., kitten, adult, senior) and health status. A good-quality diet is necessary for all cats. Good nutrition shows in the health of a cat’s skin and fur. A cat whose diet is inadequate to meet its dietary needs will have a dull, dry coat and will often shed excessively.

    How much you feed your cat changes depending on your cat’s age, energy level, and overall health. For example, a kitten with a sensitive stomach needs fewer calories a day than a kitten without a sensitive stomach.

    The nutritional needs of adult cats and kittens are different. As cats age and slow down, they absorb and metabolize nutrients differently than do younger cats. The older a cat gets, the less food it needs to meet its energy and nutritional requirements. Thus, elderly cats need less fat and fewer calories than younger cats. Kittens, on the other hand, need to be fed frequently and should be fed an amount that comprises 7 to 10 percent of their body weight in order to meet their nutritional needs.

    According to some research, both the protein and caloric intake for older cats (those aged eleven to twelve years) should be progressively increased by around 10 to 60 percent in order to allow the older cat to maintain muscle mass and prevent muscle loss associated with aging.

    Wet, as opposed to dry, food is preferred as more nutritious for most adult cats. Senior cat food should contain more raw meat and bones than adult cat food. It should also have a small mixture of raw meat and a small amount of bones.

    Senior cats should be fed once a day. For a healthy or overweight adult cat, you should decrease the amount of food you are feeding as the cat gets older. A healthy weight for many adult cats is less than 66 percent of the cat’s body weight.

    An older cat can be fed white meat and canned food in addition to dry cat food. However, it is important to always check with your veterinarian to be sure you are buying the best-quality food that meets your cat’s individual needs.

    Keeping cats happy and healthy for a lifetime

    Your cat’s quality of life begins with you and what you feed it. Understanding the basics of cat nutrition is important when it comes to maintaining your furry friend’s health. Whether you have indoor cats or barn cats, one cat or many, feeding your cat the right food at every stage of its life will help to ensure that your cat lives a long and healthy life for years to come.

    At Tractor Supply, we want to make caring for your cat easier. That's why we carry everything you need, from healthy food and playtime essentials to the neighborly advice that helps keep your cat healthy. Subscribe to our autoship program and receive regular deliveries of food, flea & tick preventatives, supplements and more, all while saving you time and money.