From kittenhood to the senior years, nutritional requirements for cats vary as their rates of growth and activity levels alter. By adjusting a cat’s diet to suit its age and lifestyle, you can keep your pet at a healthy weight.
Good feeding habits
Establishing a regular feeding routine helps you control the amount of food your cat eats and allows you to notice any changes in his appetite. Good hygiene is just as important as the food that is provided. Make a few simple rules and stick to them: ■ Feed at regular times, if possible. ■ Restrict treats to a minimum.
■ Never offer titbits from your own meals.
■ Offer new flavors and textures occasionally to prevent boredom with food.
■ If you need to make changes to your cat’s diet, introduce them gradually.
■ Throw away leftovers in the bowl before food goes stale or attracts flies.
■ Keep food and water bowls scrupulously clean.
Maintaining an ideal weight
By checking your cat’s weight and girth regularly, you will soon recognize if he is getting fat or becoming too thin (see box, opposite). If you have any concerns, take your cat to the vet to be weighed. It is hard to refuse a cat who appears to be ready for a second helping, but overfeeding soon leads to obesity. Being overweight is just as unhealthy for cats as it is for humans. Appetite is not necessarily linked to a highenergy lifestyle; many inactive cats are capable of packing away enormous meals. Indoor cats have the highest risk of obesity— some types are naturally sedentary and need to be encouraged to climb down from the sofa now and then. Outdoor cats are more likely to burn up the energy they get from food.
Packaged foods give some guidelines on how much to feed, but the amounts suggested are only approximate. If your pet is becoming rotund, even though you are careful with portion sizes, suspect that he is cadging meals elsewhere.
A conversation with the neighbors may solve the mystery.Weight loss without a change in 29 diet should never be ignored, as it can be an early warning sign of illness. Very elderly cats do tend to become thinner with age, but you should ensure that there are no underlying problems such as loose teeth. Have your cat checked by the vet if he is refusing food or has difficulty chewing.
Dietary changes throughout life
Cats have different nutritional needs at different times of life in terms of both type and quantity of food. Kittens need a highprotein diet to sustain their rapid development.
There are many commercial brands of food specially formulated for them. In their first few months, kittens should be fed smaller amounts at more frequent intervals than adult cats; four to six tiny meals a day would be the average for a kitten that has just started on solids. Later, you can increase the portions and reduce the number of meals.
Most adult cats in good health do well on two meals a day. Even the most hyperactive adult should never be fed on high-protein kitten food, which can lead to kidney malfunction.
As a cat ages, his appetite often diminishes and you may need to revert to feeding him little and often again. The commercial cat food market caters for seniors just as it does for kittens. If cats need special diets, such as during pregnancy and when nursing kittens, or to control weight or a medical condition, a vet’s advice is essential. Introduce any new feeding regime in easy stages, because a rapid change can cause digestive upsets.