You may have heard the phrase, ‘cats are obligate carnivores’ before. But what exactly does that mean?
Obligate carnivores are a class of animals which include lions, tigers, and the domestic cat. The term ‘obligate’ specifies it is a biological necessity for a cat to eat meat in order to receive the nutrients she needs for her survival. This sets cats apart omnivores such as humans, or even dogs.
Still, we never actually find dietary information on cat food that does not include certain percentages of carbohydrates or fat—and we definitely do not see cats going to town on premium rib-eye steaks for dinner.
So, how do we know if our cats are getting the right nutrition? With the help of our favourite duo, Quintella and Rei from @rei_the_rebel_cat, we came up with a few helpful pointers for every cat-owner.
Whether you feed your cat canned food, dry food, or even home-prepared food, ensuring what you feed your cat is high in protein is key to a great feline diet. Canned food contains a higher meat and water content compared to dry food, which usually contains a higher amount of grain.
While high-quality kibble can be a great source of protein for cats, there are still many commercial brands which use carbohydrates as fillers instead of the pricier protein.
This is why it’s important to take a closer look at a product before adding it to your cat’s diet!
When picking a good kibble, opting for grain-free brands with higher protein content is a good idea. Steer away from these carbohydrate fillers such as corn and wheat gluten!
Quintella herself often feeds Rei, her perky 2-year-old Bengal cat, high-quality, freeze-dried meat due to Rei’s low tolerance for carbohydrates.
“Rei really gravitated towards freeze-dried [food] especially when the meat content is really high,” she says. She jokes about how Rei seems to choose her own food.
“Anything above [an] 80%-90% meat content, she actually seeks it out. She’ll jump on the shelf, overturn the container, and try to open it. So I think that’s what made me look [into it] actively. I do want to have food that she likes.”
Cats get important nutrients from protein, such as essential amino acids taurine, arginine and lysine. These amino acids are important to support a feline’s vision, heart and various other bodily functions.
Exactly, how much protein a cat needs depends on her weight and breed. In general, veterinarians recommended that more than 50% of a cat’s calories come from meat, 30% from fat, and less than 10% from carbohydrates.
If canned food retains a higher meat and water content, and less carbohydrates, should cats avoid eating kibble altogether?
The short answer is—yes, however there may not be a need to eliminate dry food in your cat’s diet.
Dry food can be kept out for longer periods of time, which makes it convenient to provide. In terms of nutrition, it is extremely useful to help picky or under-nourished cats consume enough calories.
High protein, grain-free kibble can be perfectly healthy for cats. A mixture of dry and wet food in your cat’s diet is a good idea to support your cat’s health.
Raw diets are essentially what they sound like. Cats are given raw cuts of meat instead of cooked or processed food. The aim is to preserve nutrients that would otherwise be lost during the process. Raw meat and bones are also softer and easier for a cat to digest.
However, raw meat may not totally be safe, due to microorganisms such as E.coli that would have been killed in the cooking process. This can lead to bacterial or even parasitic infections in your pet, especially if the food is left out at room-temperature for too long.
Still, there is a way to retain the nutritional benefits raw diets aim for, in a safe manner!
That is by turning to coveted brands, such as Northwest Naturals, which provides premium raw meat for cats and dogs.
Their feline products include treats and frozen or freeze-dried raw meat, with an array of protein options including chicken, fish, beef, rabbit or turkey.
The team at Northwest Naturals prizes the quality of their meat, which contains no added artificial ingredients, colourants or fillers. Their recipes also include organ meat and bones for optimum nutritional value. Not only that, but it is extremely convenient to pour into a bowl for your cat. You could even use it as a topping on your cat’s regular meals for added nutrition and flavour.
Quintella first turned to Northwest Naturals in a bid to find cat food with a low-carb, high-protein content. She was surprised to see Rei not only enjoying it, but she had also grown bigger and stronger. The dietary issues she was experiencing also resolved themselves.
“Rei is unable to process wet food that has too much filler or starch,” she says.
“…So, that prompted me to keep reviewing her food until we got to Northwest. When she got on Northwest, her stool issues disappeared. It took me a very long time to get to this balance, and I don’t think I’ll trade it right now.”
Quintella also notes how important it is to start young cats off on a good diet from the beginning, as it has long-term impacts on their health in the future.“I was particular about Reis’ nutrition because she was growing,” she says. “Within the first 1-2 years their [cats’] organs are developing…it’s a really important time period, and I feel if you go past that time frame the developments can be irreversible.”
Quintella’s experience with Rei shows us how valuable finding a diet that works for your cat is. Sometimes, deciding what food your cat should be eating takes some trial and error–until you finally hit the jackpot for what keeps your cat the healthiest and happiest.
Cats aren’t wired to drink water, although they do need to stay hydrated! Cats would ordinarily rehydrate through the food they eat, however this may be a problem with commercial cat food which often does not have a high enough moisture content.
Rei herself still enjoys wet food in addition to her freeze-dried meals, so as to keep her well-hydrated.
“We still feed her wet food, since with freeze-dried, even if you rehydrate [it wouldn’t be enough].”
Encourage your cat to drink water, especially if her diet consists of dry kibble. You can do so by upping their intake of wet food, or purchasing a water fountain to keep water fresh and appealing.
Deciding What’s Best for Your Cat
Once we’ve scouted high-protein, low-grain and nutritious food, what comes next? We asked Quintella how she thinks cat-owners should finally settle on the right diet for their pets.
“I think for us our main objective is to get something that is suitable for Rei long-term… something that will support her initial development,” she says, recalling the many types of cat food she had tried with Rei before.
“I had a Tabby that lived for a very long time, and I did make my mistakes then. I’ve seen how, [for] a cat, their initial formative years affect them when they grow much older. Besides, I do hope Rei lives for a very, very long time,” she smiles.
She discusses a few considerations a cat-owner could run through to help them choose among all the available brands. These may include the ease of preparation and your lifestyle.
“A big part of my consideration is ease of prep,” Quintella says. “I wanted something that could last for a reasonable amount of time–as easy as possible–without compromise on safety. We don’t want food that might give her bloody stools, or give her worms…so there has to be a balance.
Consider what you can do on a longer term basis. Consider your lifestyle, what’s sustainable for you and what your cat’s body is like.”
At the end of the day, that may be the most important consideration of all: how it affects your cat.
“Start by looking at the anatomy of the cat…” Quintella says. “I think it will help you decide what’s best for the cat.”
Ultimately, your cat’s health and happiness is the best indicator of what diet your beloved feline should be on. After all, you may have a cat that absolutely detests wet food, loves a specific brand of crunchy kibble, or constantly meows for a freeze-dried treat.
There may not be a one-size fits all, but as long as we aim for the best-quality meals we can provide for our cats, cat-owners may already be doing an amazing job.
“Just ensure that the nutritional content is good and something you’re comfortable with,” Quintella says.
After that, it may just be up to our cats to decide what they like.
“Like I said, Rei chose her own food,” she laughs. “And she seems to know what’s good.”
If you would like to keep up to date with Quintella and Rei, you can find them on Instagram at @rei_the_rebel_cat.