How to Feed Your Cat – Cat Feeding Guide for Beginners

Cat hunting his natural food
Ever wondered how and what your new cat should eat?

We are continuing our series for beginner cat owners with a section about basic cat care. In this article, we want to teach you how to feed your new cat.

You will learn:

  • What is the best food type for your cat;
  • Why it is not he dry food;
  • What to look for on commercial cat food labels;
  • How often should you feed your cat;
  • How much food you should serve;
  • And more…
While initially it is a cat feeding guide for beginner cat owners, we are sure most of experienced cat owners will be ale to learn something from here, as well.

Let’s start with finding the best food for your new pet.

First, there are several types of food, like dry food, semi moist food, canned food and other. Second, when it comes to the commercial food, there are different manufacturers, and not all makes are nutritionally complete for your cat.

No matter what is good or bad source of nutrients, when you bring a new kitten home, in order not to upset his stomach, it’s best to keep feeding the same food type (and brand, if possible) which was fed in his previous home. So do ask the breeder or the shelter staff for this information.

When your kitten becomes confident in your home (which may take anywhere from few days up to several months, depending on many things), you may start transitioning him to the other type of food. Do mix a lot of his old food with a very small amount of the new type. Next, add a bit less old food and a bit more new one every day, and initially feed the new food only. Normally, this transition should be done over a week or so; however, it may depend on how well you new kitten accepts it.

Which food type should you choose for your cat?

Most cat owners choose dry food; however, it’s the most popular type only because of the ease of usage and it’s low price. However, dry food is not even close the best choice for cats.

Dry food is not the best choice for cats
Dry food is not the best choice for cats

Why? Because it’s too dry. Nature has built cats so they extract water from their food, and drink quite a few additional water. This comes with a weak thirst drive, so, if the cat eats dry food, which contains very little water, he undoubtedly will be dehydrated chronically, which will impact his long term health maintaining abilities.

Canned food is a better choice for cats as it provides enough moisture to meet your pet’s requirements. Also, an average canned food is nutritionally more complete than average dry food; however, you still need to check the label (read below) to make sure you are not changing a premium dry food for a shitty canned one.

Raw homemade diet would be the best choice for cats, as you get to control the ingredients. The worst is, most people are afraid of it. Thus, stating you should prepare your food for your cat, at the time you are just learning about all the aspects of his life may be an overkill for you.

However, we honestly do believe that raw diets are way, Way, WAY… WAY BETTER choice for any cat. Even a raw food from an average recipe is better than dry food.

We might nudge you in reading a book by Kymythy Schultze: Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Health. She explains why raw diet is the best choice for your cat, and will provide several great, nutritionally rich recipes for your cat to start with.

There are also commercial raw diets available. While, they usually are better than processed food, you will still have to check the label to see what’s in it.

What to look for in a good commercial cat food?

If you are choosing a commercial cat food, always take a look at the label! Do not blindly trust pet store staff. Read the label yourself.

The main part for you at this moment is the list of ingredients. They are usually ordered by an amount the food contains them, so, the most important are the first ones listed.

  • Cat food should have meat as the first ingredient, and meat by products or meat meal as the second. Also, best if the meat is named, like “chicken meat”, “rabbit meat” or similar. If it just states “meat”, it’s safer to avoid it.

    Chicken meat is the most common cat food ingredient. And it's not bad.
    Chicken meat should be considered a good ingredient in a cat food. It’s also a very common one.
  • Meat by products, are commonly stated as a thing to avoid. By products are anything, that is not meat, and many of them, are still necessary for cats. For example,  in our home made recipe we add chicken bones, skin, heart and liver, which, undoubtedly, could be labelled as byproducts. On the second hand, if your chosen food lists by products as the primary ingredient, or is preceded by an unidentified meat only, it’s safer to avoid them.
  • Fish in the cat food should be avoided, as it contains too much phosphate and also, as the beef is a common allergen, it’ s not the best choice. Of course, if your cat is not allergic (which you can know by feeding it), you can use it with no problems.
  • Grains and vegetables are not necessary in the cat food. Cats are meat eaters, and their bodies are developed to extract all requirements from animal products, and have inadequate abilities to extract anything from, in example, wheat or corn.
    However, we know it’s almost impossible to find a commercial food which contains no grain, especially when we look at dry foods. It’s another suspicious about commercial cat foods. If the grain is in there, still check if it is listed as further to the end as possible, and if you cat, select a grain free diet.
  • Additives, like vitamins and amino acids and minerals are also important. However, what is necessary depends on initial ingredients and the method of food processing. Most processed commercial cat foods should contain supplemental vitamin B and an amino acid Taurine, but it’s never limited to those. Downside is – even scientists do not know the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and other supplements. So, again, it seems dull to process a food, and then try to guess the amount of vitamins and minerals that were lost in the making. Why not choose not to process food in the first place?
  • You should also check the protein, fat and carbohydrate ratio, however, to make this information useful, you will need to do some calculations, which we will explain in one of our future articles, as well as translation of different ingredients on the cat food in more detail. For now, it’s okay to assure you are choosing a cat food, which consists mainly of meat and meat byproducts.
  • Price of the food, while not always true, appear to have a correlation with the quality of food. It’s because adding quality ingredients cost more than cheap ones. Also, paying a staff that knows something about feline nutrition costs more, as well. You should still check the label, as high price does not assure the quality, however, we guarantee, you are not gonna find a good cat food in a price range below average. Heck, even average price range will be though to explore.

How to feed your cat?

Now, let’s learn about how should you feed your cat, no matter what is the food type you choose.

  • First, you will have to have a tray. We would suggest having a plate, rather than a bowl, as cats often do not like to stick their head in them to get the last pieces, and hate when the edges of the bowl touch their whiskers. You should wash the tray, at least daily.
  • Find a feeding location. Best if it’s on an elevated surface, like on a cat tree, on a window sill or a piece of furniture. Cats feel better and more secure when on an elevation.
  • Check the amount necessary stated on the label. Most commercial cat food have feeding instructions on the label. Remember, those numbers are not written in stone and are depending on many factors. However, they are a very reasonable starting point for further adjustments whether your cat gains or loses its weight.
  • Serve several meals. The digestive system of your pet is constructed to deal several small meals, rather than few large ones. In natural conditions, cats may eat up to 10 small meals per day. You should give approximately three to five meals per day, depending on your abilities to provide them. Divide the daily amount of food necessary by the amount of meals intended. If you are feeding a raw or a canned diet, make sure the cat eats the whole meal in one sitting. If he is not, refrigerate it, and serve a smaller amount next time.
  • Feeding schedule is important in your cat's eyes.
    Feeding schedule is important in your cat’s eyes.

    Try to stick to, at least approximate schedule. Cats have a well built inner clock as their hunting success is dependent on the ability to tell the time when their prey is more active. Having scheduled meals in the household environment will lower your cat’s stress.

  • Do not feed your cat right when you wake up. Wait for an hour, in example, feed before you leave for work. It does not affect your cat’s wellbeing, but will prevent your cat from trying to wake you up in the morning for food.
  • Try to schedule last meal before you go to sleep. And again it’s not for your cat, but for you instead. Cats usually are taking a nap after the meal, and having a habit serving the last meal (it may be smaller than usual) right before you go to sleep yourself, will make sure your cat is less active during the night; thus, you sleep better. It’s most effective if the last meal is preceded by a playing session for 15 or 20 minutes, not forgetting you should still play with your cat during the day, too.
  • Keep fresh water accessible. Even, if you are feeding a diet containing enough water to meet your cat’s needs, you should still need a bowl of fresh water accessible at all times. Do remember to replace the water at least daily. Simple tap water is good enough, in most locations of the world.

Above article covers basic feeding guidelines for cats. Be sure to read our next article which is closely related to cat food – a teeth cleaning. Yes, yes, cats do need this, as well.

This article is a part of series about basic care for your cat.