Cats

Cat Feeding Tips

posted: 05/15/12
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Cat Feeding Tips
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When it comes to feeding your cat, there's a lot to consider. Here are some general tips to help you determine what's best for your kitty.

Canned or Dry Food?

Choosing between canned or dry food is largely a matter of convenience and preference. While you may find yourself holding your breath as you scoop out canned food, most cats love this mucky stuff, and the high nutrient content in the better brands means your cat can eat smaller quantities to meet his dietary needs. But any portion left in the can isn't very tasty if served straight out of the fridge. First heat it up a bit, but only to body temperature. Dry food is easier to serve and won't spoil if left out for the day. It's also considerably cheaper.

Water

An ample supply of clean water is also key to your cat's well-being. To make the watering hole appealing to fastidious feline tastes, keep the bowl clean and change the water at least twice a day. While cats eating canned food consume a fair amount of water in their diets, cats eating only dry food will need to drink more.

Mealtime

While leaving out dry food so your cat can eat whenever he's hungry may be convenient, "free feeding" leads some cats to overeat, often out of boredom. The alternative is scheduled feeding: Two or three meals a day at set intervals is a good pattern. Feed your cat in the same place every time mdash; a quiet spot that's out of traffic routes and well away from the litter box, or your cat may refuse to eat there. Leave the food out for a set period of time (15 to 30 minutes), then remove the bowls.

Mealtime becomes more complicated when you have more than one cat, since their appetites and eating behavior will probably vary; they may even eat different foods. Use separate food and water bowls for each cat, set well apart, always placed in the same locations. Feed the slowest eater first and the fastest eater last. If one of your cats gulps down his share and immediately bulldozes his way into the neighboring bowl, discourage him, removing him from the room if necessary. Or, if you have a cat that doesn't eat his entire portion in one go, cover his bowl with a plate, then uncover it later for him to finish (refrigerate the leftovers if the food is canned).

Treats

An occasional healthy treat in addition to regular meals won't cause any harm and can, in fact, be a useful training tool. But the key words here are "occasional" and "healthy." Limit between-meal extras or you'll eventually have an overweight cat on your hands. Avoid foods intended for humans; they don't contribute to a complete and balanced cat diet. Fish, for example, is not only high in unsaturated fat (which cats have trouble metabolizing), but in sufficient quantities will sap the body of vitamin E and lead to steatitis (a painful skin condition). Pet-supply stores offer a variety of healthful treats; ask your vet which ones would be good for your cat.

Be careful about milk. Many adult cats are lactose-intolerant, so diarrhea may result. If you really want to give liquid treats, you can try milk in very small amounts, but stop the practice if it causes an intestinal upset.

Weight Problems

In most cases, if you feed your cat high quality food in quantities suggested by your veterinarian, and if he gets sufficient exercise, he will maintain an ideal weight. But if your cat becomes overweight or is underweight, it's time to take action. You can judge your cat's correct weight by his ribs: If they are clearly visible, he's too thin; if they are difficult to detect by touch, he's overweight. Take a look at your cat from above: If his sides bulge out, he's overweight; if they are concave, he's too thin.

Obesity, the most common food-related problem, is easy to correct. First, talk to your vet about the weight-loss program that's right for your cat. In many cases, this will involve switching to a high-fiber, low-fat diet and scheduled feedings. Introduce any new diet slowly -- suddenly placing an overweight cat on a strict diet can cause fat to accumulate in the liver, leading to liver failure. Along with a change of food, it's also a good idea to encourage a sedentary cat to become more active through play.

The vet should see a scrawny cat that doesn't gain weight. If there is no health problem, ask for a good food to bulk up your bag of bones. It's not a big deal if your cat skips a meal every now and then, but a finicky cat that repeatedly turns up his nose at his food is another story. If he's holding out because a new food is being introduced, make the change even more gradual. Some cats simply don't like a variety of foods and may not eat again until they get their favorite dish. It will become more dangerous to hold out, in the hope that your cat will come around to the new diet, than to feed the same food daily. Don't let your cat go without food any longer than 24 hours before you take him to the vet; disinterest in food may be the first sign of a serious illness.

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