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Meow-Worthy Meals

By Jill Keith

Meow-Worthy Meals

Good nutrition is as important to your cat as it is to you, but your cat's nutritional needs are quite different! Unlike humans, a cat needs a high-fat diet with less fiber. Even if you prefer a vegetarian diet, cats are carnivores. They need animal protein and fat for optimal health. Your cat also benefits from fiber for a healthy digestive tract and carbohydrates for energy.

But with thousands of pet foods available, how do you pick the one that's right for your cat?

Life Stage and Lifestyle
Start by identifying the cat's life stage and lifestyle. Kittens, nursing mothers and mature pets are examples of life stages and each has different nutritional requirements. All cat foods should state which life stage they are recommended for.

Nutritional needs also vary depending on lifestyle. A cat that's primary activity is guarding the couch doesn't need as much energy as one that likes to spend time roaming outside.

Finally, it is important to take into account any special medical conditions that your cat might have, such as food allergies, which may require a special diet recommended by your veterinarian.

Dry or Canned?
Once you've determined your cat's life stage and lifestyle needs, decide whether to feed dry or canned food. Most cats thrive on only dry food. This type of food promotes oral hygiene and health through abrasive action. On the other hand, some cats, especially finicky eaters, prefer the smooth and wet texture of canned food.

Remember that, while dry food can be left in a bowl all day, canned food should be thrown away after 30 minutes if not eaten. Dry food is the best choice for busy people who are not normally home during the day.

Once you know your pet's nutritional needs and your pet's preference, you are ready to go shopping.

Comparing Labels
Because cats need the nutrients found in animal sources like meat, it's best to pick a food in which a primary ingredient (one of the first ones listed) is an animal-based protein source like chicken, lamb, fish, egg or one of their by-products.  These ingredients contain all the essential amino acids which aren't found in a vegetable-based protein source.

Using a combination of carbohydrates in a diet, such as corn meal or barley and grain sorghum ensures efficient absorption and helps maintain energy levels. And beet pulp is an excellent fiber source and promotes a healthy digestive tract.

For a soft, thick coat and healthy skin, your pet needs fatty acids like those found in vitamin-rich fish oils and quality fat sources such as chicken.

Price Comparison
When choosing food, the price on the bag, while important, is usually not the best consideration. Low price may indicate cheap ingredients, or ingredients that change as manufacturer costs fluctuate.

In addition, many lower-priced products have higher daily portions to provide the same amount of nutrition found in a high-quality diet. To get a better idea of cost, it is the cost per feeding, not the total cost, that counts. To figure cost per feeding, divide the total cost by the number of days the product lasts. For example, for a 20-lb. bag of food that costs $18.99 and last 30 days, the cost per feeding is $0.63 per day.  For a 20-lb. bag that costs $15.99 and lasts 20 days, the feeding costs $0.80 per day. So, focusing on the cost per feeding shows you the real price of each meal.

is a freelance writer and editor on subjects ranging from cat care to feline fun.

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Posted on July 23, 2011

S says: This is an absolutely appalling article full of misinformation.  I have spent nearly a decade in the pet nutrition field, as well as being the owner to five cats.  Dry food is NOT an appropriate choice for cats (and it cleans teeth about as well as a box of crackers does for humans), and free feeding is NOT okay either.  Cats are designed to eat wet, meaty, juicy things like mice and birds, and in nature they hunt and eat 2x per day, at dusk and dawn.  Grazing all day contributes to obesity as well as poor immune system health, and dry food is the number one cause behind the huge rise in chronic renal failure (aka kidney disease, the number one medical cause of death in cats), obesity, diabetes, and urinary issues like crystals, all of which can be life threatening.  It is false that any cat will "thrive," as the author states, on dry food.  They will survive, yes, but thrive- no.  The ideal diet for a cat is 100% wet food, ideally raw, although canned is fine too.  No cat should eat less than 50% wet food to help combat the above mentioned illnesses, and they should never be free fed.  If you are looking for a knowledgeable, credentialed person to learn from about cats, Google Lisa Pierson, DVM or Jean Hofve, DVM and read what they have to say about feeding species appropriate diets to our feline friends.  The author of this piece is probably a well-meaning individual, but one who clearly does not understand the biological needs of cats and the role that food plays in both increasing and decreasing health levels.  

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