Your cat’s dietary requirements vary from yours in several respects, the basic difference being that a cat is a carnivore (a meat-eating animal) and human is an omnivore (he eats all sorts of things).
What do cats eat besides cat food?
A cat’s teeth are different from ours: they are sharp, adapted to tearing flesh. A cat does not masticate on smooth molars as we do: his food gets quickly lacerated into shape and then disappears with indecent haste.
He does chew his food more than a dog does, but does not grind it as we do. The tongue, with its spoon action, plays an important part in feeding, but the slack lips do not.
Herbivorous animals (those eating leaves and grass) have long intestines to aid difficult digestion; those of carnivores are short, those of a cat exceptionally so. The cat is more of a true carnivore than a dog: a dog can happily be fed on a diet which is half cereal, but a cat needs meat and very little else.
One of the peculiarities of the feline diet is the high demand for specific types of protein and the lack of any genuine requirement for carbohydrates and roughage. The amount of food needed by some cats is far greater, body-weight for body-weight, than that needed by some dogs.
Another peculiarity is that the cat can cope with a very high quantity of fat in his diet and apparently thrive on it. Unless a cat leads a very sedentary life and is overweight, a natural amount of fat in his diet will do him good.
Under the unnatural conditions arising from his long and often lethargic history of cohabitation with man, the cat has learned to adapt his diet to some extent.
He will usually no longer live solely on meat and water though, while he likes some variety, the extra foods he is prepared to consider are far less catholic than those accepted by a dog. There are many stories of depraved felines hung up on titillating extras such as chocolate ice cream, but such tastes are not normal.
In addition to natural cat foods such as red meats, fowl, rabbit and offal, most cats like fish (a traditional but not really a primary food for cats), milk (not natural for adult cats, but good if it agrees with them) and any other foods of animal origin, such as egg and cheese.
A diet consisting of meat alone may be lacking in certain dietary elements. However, we have known a series of strappingly healthy elderly cats who would not deign to touch anything but meat, offal, fish, and milk.
They will frequently learn to accept a small vegetable or cereal addition to their diet, and if you can get him to accept pollution up to 25 percent of vegetable and cooked cereal matter in his food, so much the better for you, though fat cats should not get too much carbohydrate, and no cat can cope with a lot of roughage.
Can cats eat dog food?
Cats have unique nutritional requirements that cannot be satisfied by the feeding of foods formulated for dogs or by the sharing of food prepared for humans.
The main difference between cat food and dog food is the very high level of protein necessary in the cat’s diet. Adult cats require a minimum of 21 percent protein and kittens need 35 percent.
This is at least twice the level required for dogs. Cats seem to break down protein as a source of energy, whereas other animals utilize carbohydrates for this purpose.
How do you get a cat to eat new food?
If introduced to new foods at an early enough age a cat can, however, prove remarkably omnivorous. Most adult cats will drink cow’s milk because they are introduced to it as kittens; many caught young will also enjoy vegetables and cereals or other “unnatural” foods.
However, it is important to remember the cat’s exceptionally high demand for protein, which he prefers to be mainly of animal origin: most cats will express little interest in a low-protein diet. On the other hand, some good quality animal fat in an otherwise unpalatable diet may increase its acceptability.
Once a young cat is settled into a good, varied routine that suits him, be firm, and try to keep the upper hand. Never offer any food which isn’t anything but absolutely fresh (cats are justifiably revolted by meat which is even slightly off), but if a finicky cat refuses a meal which you know is wholesome, don’t relent and give him something else.
Leave the food out for half an hour: sometimes a cat, seeing that nothing better is going to appear, will make do with what is there. If he does not, remove the offending food and let him wait till the next meal.
However, such methods should not be pushed beyond a certain point as frequently even hunger will not force a cat to eat the food he has set his heart against.