Cats need proper nutrition to stay healthy: they need calories, they need proper vitamins, they need minerals. Oy, what trouble. Luckily, cat food is made to contain the proper balance of nutrients and calories for a cat's health. It has to; the government says so. The main varieties of cat food are wet and dry and they are produced by numerous companies and in countless flavors. Both types have their benefits.
Wet vs Dry
Can't decide? Here is a breakdown of the important aspects of cat food.
* '''Perishability''': Keep in mind that wet food (usually canned, unless it's semi-wet, which comes in packets) can spoil if left out for more than an hour.
** Dry food lasts significantly longer -- it can hold out an entire day, sitting in its bowl waiting for "free choice" cats (felines who don't eat at set times) to nibble throughout the day.
* '''Brand Preference''': Cats usually will prefer the taste of wet foods, but you can always sample different kinds to see which they like best. Kitties tend to be finicky eaters (big surprise) and will usually stick to a certain brand.
* '''Quality''': Wet or dry, quality always depends on ingredients. For the highest quality cat food, look for the highest protein levels. Food with tons of carbohydrate-filled additives (cornmeal, etc.) are, like light beer, great tasting and less filling...only cats don't need the feline equivalent of a beer belly!
** Keep in mind that any company can label its food as "natural," "holistic," or "premium," but these do not have any legal meaning and would be a pain to try to prove.
* Some wonder about the effects of dry or wet food on their cat's teeth. It is believed that dry food is better for your cat because it scrapes away leftover food that, if left in the teeth or gums, could create inflammation or discomfort. This has been proven false, so don't be afraid of canned food!
* '''Vegetarian/Vegan:''' It's kind of awkward to have a vegetarian or vegan home and then have a member of the household be a meat-eater. Yes, it is controversial, but there isn't a shortage of meat-free foods out there for your kitty which will have the necessary nutrients, like taurine and arachidonic acid. Veggie cat food should meet the AAFCO's (Association of American Feed Control Officials) Cat Food Nutrient Profile, but if that's not the case, mix it in with other non-veg food.
* Giving a cat "human food" may serve as a nice treat, but may disrupt a cat's natural nutrient balance and may even cause intestinal discomfort.
** '''Milk''' should be given to kittens and older cats in moderation since it can cause diarrhea.
** Never give your cat food that may contain '''bones''' because they can choke on them. Bones can also splinter and cause organ damage.
** '''Raw fish and raw liver''' can be a once in awhile treat, but in very small portions.
** '''Raw meats''' should be avoided because they can contain parasites, and if you give your cat cooked meat, be sure that it has been prepared without oils and spices--these are not good for felines.
Feeding Habits by Age
* '''Kittens''' need double the energy of a mature cat, so they require food three to four times a day. They will often snack throughout the day; this is perfectly normal. Kitten food is softer so that little teeth can chew and digest it easily.
* '''At 7 months to a year''' a cat can be weaned onto a more solid diet consisting of dry adult food, which you can moisten with canned or wet food. By this time, the cat should be fed twice a day and on an individual basis.
* '''Adult cats''' don't need as much food as younger felines; they should have a steady diet. One or two meals of wet or moistened food are sufficient. If your cat starts gaining significant amounts of weight, then you should remove the dry bowl during the day.
* '''Maturing cats''' need even less food. You may even want to give them special meals that offer the specific nutrients required by senior felines.
Other Things to Look Out For
* If your cat shows signs of obesity, lower food intake gradually. You can tell when a cat is gaining too much weight when you can no longer feel any of its ribs, when its waist is no longer defined, or when it seem to be growing disproportionately.
* If your cat doesn't get enough moisture in its diet it may develop intestinal, urinary, or excretory issues. If your cat is having problems urinating and you also notice atypical behavior, take it to the vet immediately. These could be signs of FLUTD.
* If your cat shows a lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any other strange behavior (hiding, etc.), consult your veterinarian.