A nutritional assessment is also an important part of each check for your cat. Although this may seem very basic, cats have many unique nutritional requirements being obligate carnivores (they must have ingredients from meat or fish in their diet), they have unusually high protein requirements, and their needs will change during different life stages. Feeding a high quality cat food specifically designed for the life stage of your cat can have enormous benefits.
Both dry cat foods and wet foods (eg, tins, pouches) are appropriate diets for cats, and many owners choose to feed a mixture of both. Some cats prefer the texture of wet foods, and these can help increase overall water intake, which can be important in some situations. Wet foods have to be fed as ‘meals’ because they can rapidly spoil and become unappetising if left down for long periods.
Dry foods have the advantage that they can safely be left out for some time, and they provide more texture to help keep the teeth clean. Additionally, small amounts of dry food can be hidden in different places or put into feeding puzzles or feeding balls to encourage more exploration and activity for cats. Cats are designed to consume many small meals a day rather than one or two large meals, so this is a better option if it can be done. Fresh drinking water should also be provided at all times, preferably away from food bowls and litter trays.
Although your vet will discuss your cat’s nutritional needs during checks, the following general principles apply to different life stages.
Kitten (birth to 6 months) and Junior (7months to 2 years) cats
Kittens and, to a lesser extent Junior cats, are in a period of active and rapid growth. They have increased requirements for protein and a number of other nutrients as a result, and this is best achieved by feeding a complete food designed specifically to support cats in this phase of life. When feeding a high quality commercial food, there is no need to add any supplements (eg, minerals or vitamins), and indeed this can be detrimental, as the food will have all these present in the correct amounts and balance. Additional benefits may also be found in some high quality kitten foods.
After neutering, there is an increased tendency for cats to put on weight (they are generally less active and are also not so good at regulating their food intake). Careful and regular monitoring of weight and body condition score after neutering is therefore important, and if cats develop a tendency to put on weight, feeding a lower calorie diet can be beneficial. Care should always be taken to feed the correct amount of food (preferably weighed rather than measured by volume) and if any treats are fed, these should ideally be taken out of the daily food allowance.
Adult (3 to 6 years) cats
Cats become physically mature (stop growing) in the latter stages of the Junior phase. At this time, and as they enter the Adult phase, feeding of a good quality complete adult cat food is recommended.
Mature (7 to 10 years), Senior (11 to 14) and Super Senior (15 years and over) cats
The nutritional needs of Mature, Senior and Super Senior cats can be very variable. The risk of cats being overweight or obese reaches a peak in the Mature and early Senior years. Again, regular checks with accurate weighing and body condition scoring are important to try to avoid this. However, as cats reach the later Senior years and enter the Super Senior stage of life, losing weight becomes more of a problem, perhaps in part through poorer digestion.
Feeding high quality foods is essential and amounts should be adjusted to try to maintain optimal body condition. Although weight loss sometimes occurs simply as a result of old age in cats, it can commonly be caused by a wide range of illnesses as well, so any unexplained weight loss should be thoroughly investigated by your vet.