Your Animal’s Diet Matters!
As one of the fundamental conditions needed to sustain life, nutrition drives every aspect of our biological functioning, either fortifying or weakening body and mind. A good diet will fend off illness and disease, ensure that we have enough energy to live a productive life, and toughen our bodies against injury. A poor diet leaves us vulnerable to every kind of physical harm, and can exacerbate, or even cause, mental health disorders, leading to increased levels of depression and anxiety. In other words, food matters. A lot. As humans we have access to a wealth of information on good nutrition, as well as a market saturated with healthy food offerings. Our understanding continues to grow steadily, with new diets and nutritional strategies entering our cultural consciousness on what feels like a daily basis.
What we sometimes overlook, however, is that proper nutrition is just as important for our pets. Without realizing it, we might subscribe to the idea that our pets will function just as well no matter what they eat—that as long as they’re fed, and protected from allergens and poisons, they’ll be healthy. This simply isn’t true. Animals are complex organisms just as we are. Their age, sex, genetic makeup and evolutionary habits dictate the specific combination of nutrients that are optimal for their health. A pet might be exceptionally well-fed, and cared for in every aspect, and yet be lacking vital sources of nutrition, simply because the owner doesn’t know what they should be providing.
Luckily, we’re increasingly recalibrating our knowledge of human nutrition to meet the specific needs of our pets, acknowledging that every organism has different requirements, and that what works for us might not work for our furry friends. Gone are the days when pets were expected to eat whatever surplus scraps their owners had left after a meal. Now, pet parents are eager to feed their beloved animals well, and to give to significant consideration to their nutritional intake. For this reason, pet health food is a growing market with both big brands and smaller companies diversifying their offerings to appeal to a variety of species, ages and body types. Of course, dogs and cats remain the most catered to demographics in the pet food market, which gives us even more reason to understand their diet; when faced with an abundance of options, we need at least a minimum amount of knowledge to ensure that we make the right choice.
Throughout a continuing series of posts, we’ll be digging into all the available information, and exploring various aspect of your pet’s dietary needs. In this article specifically, we consider the unique nutritional requirements of cats, and cover some of the ways in which you can ensure your favorite feline stays fit and happy. Many of the following tips, however, could apply to any animal you care for. Look out for more posts about pet nutrition, including information specific to our canine companions.
Understanding Your Cat's Dietary Needs
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means their bodies are designed to thrive on a diet primarily consisting of animal-based proteins. Cats cannot be vegetarian, and need fatty acids, vitamins and minerals found only in natural tissue. Their nutritional requirements differ significantly from humans and even other pets. Consult your veterinarian to understand the specific dietary needs of your cat based on its breed, age, weight, and any medical conditions they might have. Remember, one of the most dominant myths in the pet care world is that cats love cow's milk. Neither kittens nor adult cats require significant amounts of milk or cream. These dairy products have no useful place within a cat’s nutritional system and often cause digestion problems.
High-Quality Protein is Key
Protein is the foundation of your cat's diet. Look for cat foods with meat or fish listed as the primary ingredient. These proteins provide essential amino acids that support muscle maintenance, organ function, and overall energy levels. Unlike humans, who enjoy variety in what they eat, pets in general can find it difficult digesting foods they aren’t accustomed to. Sticking with a single kind of protein can help avoid gastrointestinal problems.
Balance the Nutrients
A balanced diet includes not only protein but also fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Too much or too little of any nutrient can lead to health issues. Consult with your vet to determine the optimal nutrient ratio for your cat's age and activity level. These days, you may come across “prescription foods”, dishes that are specifically tailored to help treat a specific condition. While, these foods can only be purchased through a veterinarian, they rarely contain any actual medicine and are not prescriptions in the usual sense of the word. There is some debate over prescription pet food, as it is often considerably more expensive than normal pet food, and its overall benefits have been contested by a number of studies. Make sure you’re working with a veterinarian you trust, and always check the label before you shell out cash for a product that may well be no better than what you usually buy from your local pet store.
Cats often have a low thirst drive, which can lead to dehydration, especially if they're on a dry kibble diet. Always provide fresh water and consider incorporating wet cat food into their diet. The moisture content helps maintain their hydration levels. This becomes especially important when you live in a hot climate, or during unexpected heat waves. It also pays to learn the signs of dehydration in your cat, so that you can catch the problem early on and hydrate accordingly.
Obesity is a growing concern among cats, leading to various health problems like diabetes and joint issues. Follow feeding guidelines on the cat food packaging and adjust portions based on your cat's activity level and weight. Regularly monitor their weight and consult the vet if necessary. Generally, an adult domestic cat eats little and often, anywhere from 12 – 24 small meals over the course of a 24-hour period, which they spread relatively evenly across both daylight and night time hours. If your cat is free to roam and visit other houses, consider politely asking you neighbors to refrain from giving out treats.
Avoid Toxic Foods
Some human foods are toxic to cats and should be strictly avoided. These include chocolate, grapes, onions, garlic, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners. Make sure to keep these substances out of your cat's reach. A less obvious danger can come from the kinds of trendy “raw diets” that have popped up over the past few years. As with prescription food, there is some debate over the safety and effectiveness of such diets, but whatever your final opinion, you should be careful any time you provide raw meat, as the risk for bacterial infection is considerably higher. Make sure any raw products you provide for your pet have been safely stored in a freezer.
Consider Age-Appropriate Diets
Kittens, adult cats, and senior cats have different nutritional requirements. Kittens need more calories and nutrients to support their growth, while senior cats might need diets that support joint health and manage age-related issues. Again, this is a case of doing a little research and consulting your vet. Remember, nobody knows your cat like you.
While treats can be a way to bond with your cat, excessive treats can lead to nutritional imbalances. Choose high-quality cat treats and use them sparingly, preferably as rewards for training or special occasions. Try to resist feeding your pet from your dinner plate. It is difficult to resist pleading kitty-cat eyes, but encouraging random feeding can have a detrimental effect on your portion control strategy.
Monitor for Food Allergies
Some cats may develop food allergies or sensitivities over time. If you notice signs like gastrointestinal upset, skin problems, or excessive scratching, consult your vet to explore potential allergies and adjust their diet accordingly.
Gradual Diet Changes
If you're switching your cat's diet, do it gradually to avoid digestive upset. Mix the new food with the old one over several days until your cat is fully accustomed to the change.
Caring for your cat's diet is a cornerstone of responsible pet ownership. Each cat has unique needs, and so careful research, observation and the professional expertise of your veterinarian should be your primary tools. Don’t assume your cat is like every other. Be attentive to how they react to certain foods, and make sure that they’re getting the right amount of each specific nutrient--protein, carbs, fats, and vitamins. Consider keeping a notebook or planner in which to track the foods you provide, and record any observations you make about your cat's responses to various dishes. Remember to share your nutritional strategy with your cat's other caretakers, so that they can maintain the consistency of your approach. A good diet will not completely protect your beloved pet from sickness and injury, but by making an effort, you ensure you have done everything possible to give your cat the life it deserves.
We love our pets! They're precious companions, maybe even part of the family. It's essential that we ensure their well-being and safety, especially when a crisis strikes. Natural disasters or unexpected emergencies don't politely announce themselves. They can occur at any moment, leaving us with little time to react. This is especially true in California, with the ever-present threats of wildfires, earthquakes and flooding. Assembling and maintaining a well-prepared emergency kit for our pets helps ensures you're ready for anything, and provides peace of mind outside of a disaster scenario. In this blog post, the PAWS/LA team will discuss the essential items and steps required to assemble an effective emergency kit. You can also download a comprehensive and printable emergency kit checklist from the CDC website.
PAWS/LA Pet Alert Emergency Sticker
In case of disaster, it's important than emergency responders are aware that you are a pet owner, and that there may be an animal in your house. Check out our Pet Alert Emergency Sticker. You can display this on your front door or windows to let emergency workers know how many animals they need to account for, as well as their species. This enables them to act fast. In case you're not present, the sticker also includes your contact info. You can order your free sticker by clicking here.
Gather important documents
The first step in creating a pet emergency kit is to gather all the necessary documents related to your pet. These documents may include vaccination records, medical history, identification papers, and contact information for your veterinarian. Make sure to store them in a waterproof bag or folder and keep a digital copy as a backup.
FOOD AND WATER SUPPLIES
When disaster strikes, access to food and clean water may be limited. Ensure you have a sufficient supply of your pet's regular food stored in airtight containers to maintain its freshness. It is recommended to store at least a week's worth of food for your pet. Additionally, pack portable bowls for both food and water, and remember to rotate the food supply periodically to avoid expiration.
Medications and first aid
If your pet requires regular medication, ensure you have a sufficient supply in your emergency kit. Include a first aid supplies specifically designed for pets, which should contain items such as bandages, antiseptic solution, tweezers, and any necessary medications prescribed by your veterinarian. Familiarize yourself with basic pet first aid procedures or enroll in a pet first aid course to be well-prepared in case of an emergency.
Comfort and familiarity
Disasters can be stressful for pets, and having familiar items can provide them with comfort during uncertain times. Pack their favorite blanket, toys, and any other items that bring them comfort. These familiar objects can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of security.
leashes collars and carriers
In an emergency, you may need to evacuate with your pet quickly. Ensure you have a sturdy leash and collar readily available for each pet. Additionally, invest in a secure and properly sized pet carrier that is easily transportable. Practice using the carrier with your pet beforehand to reduce stress during an actual emergency.
Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene is essential for your pet's health. Pack a supply of poop bags, litter, litter trays (for cats), and cleaning supplies such as pet-friendly disinfectants. These items will help you keep your pet's environment clean and reduce the risk of diseases.
up to date identification info
In chaotic situations, it is common for pets to become separated from their owners. Ensure your pet's identification is up to date. A collar with identification tags and a securely fitted microchip with your contact information are vital in helping reunite you with your pet if you get separated.
you can never be too prepared
You can never be too prepared. Although we don't want to live our lives anticipating disaster, taking a little time to create an emergency kit for your pet allows you to relax in the knowledge that you're ready for anything. By being prepared, you can minimize stress and provide comfort to your beloved companion when it matters most. Remember to periodically check and replenish supplies, so your emergency kit remains up to date. Taking these proactive steps will help you face emergencies with confidence, knowing that you have everything you need to protect and care for your beloved animals. And who knows, maybe they'll end up protecting and taking care of you!
Our blog is managed by Ryan Hilary with additional contributions from the PAWS/LA team. Are you a member of our community and have a great idea for a post (or maybe want to write one yourself?). Reach out to Rhilary@pawsla.org.