Welfare of cats: the need for a suitable diet

A cat needs a well-balanced diet to stay fit and healthy. Some cats, such as those that are pregnant or nursing have special dietary needs.

Diet

Cats need fresh drinking water at all times. Without water to drink a cat will become dehydrated. Water should never be withheld except on the recommendation of a vet.

Cats need a well-balanced diet to stay fit and healthy, and they all need foodstuffs derived from meat-based products. Individual dietary needs depend on many factors including age, activity and state of health. Some cats have special dietary needs. For example, pregnant and nursing cats, young growing cats, old cats and cats that are ill.

Several small meals per day

Cats generally prefer to eat several small meals each day. How much food a cat needs depends on its age, the type of food, body weight and level of activity.

If a cat eats more food than it needs, it will become overweight and may suffer. If you underfeed your cat, it will lose weight and may become ill. Healthy adult cats should maintain a stable body weight that is neither too thin nor too fat. A vet can advise on the correct weight for your cat.

Many cats will not eat if their food is placed too close to their toilet site or something which frightens them. You can assess your cat’s weight by gently checking if you can feel its ribs if they are hard to find it may be overweight.

If the ribs and backbone are prominent, then your cat may be underweight and ill. If in doubt, ask a vet or pet care specialist whether your cat is within its correct weight range.

Too thin

Here are the signs that your cat is too thin:

  • ribs can be seen on shorthaired cats
  • no fat can be felt (where present the skin pouch underneath the belly is empty that is  skin on skin)
  • tummy looks empty due to lack of fat
  • spine and hip bones can be seen - your cat looks like a size zero model
  • small amount of muscle over the back and hips, upper legs feel "stringy" skull bone very obvious when stroking the head. Cat feels "bony" when stroked

Ideal

Here are the signs that your cat's weight is ideal:

  • well-proportioned - your cat looks sleek
  • waist can be seen behind the ribs
  • belly skin pouch allowed but is not totally filled out with fat
  • ribs can be felt but not seen (with a slight fat covering)

Too heavy

Here are the signs that your cat is too heavy:

  • ribs not easily felt as covered by a lot of fat
  • waist not obvious - you cannot tell if cat has a skin pouch
  • round body shape especially tummy (bear in mind breed differences)
  • has difficulty jumping up on chairs/table and going up stairs

A healthy diet

You should:

  • provide your cat with clean fresh drinking water at all times
  • make sure your cat eats a well balanced diet suitable for its individual needs
  • take advice from your vet or other suitably qualified cat care specialist if you are uncertain of the diet your cat needs
  • read, and be guided by, the feeding instructions relating to any cat foods you buy - adjust how much you feed your cat to make sure it does not become underweight or overweight
  • note that some cat foods may contain additives, colourants or soya which can cause allergies or other ailments
  • be aware that any change in the amount your cat eats or drinks may be a sign of ill health so it would be advisable to consult a vet and to follow any advice given
  • feed your cat every day, preferably splitting the daily ration into several small meals throughout the day, unless advised otherwise by your vet
  • position your cat’s food and water well away from the litter tray, or things that it finds frightening
  • allow your cat to eat its meals without being disturbed
  • any changes to your cat’s diet should be made gradually

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