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Feeding Your Adult Cat: What You Need to Know

Get expert tips for keeping your cat healthy, happy, and well fed.
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Canned vs. dry cat food: Which one is better? continued...

“There are a lot of people who believe that cats only need to eat canned food and will be unhealthy if they eat dry food,” says Larsen, noting that most cats can do fine on either.

The bottom line? “More research is needed to determine whether wet food is better,” Bough says.

But the high moisture content in wet food can be beneficial to cats with urinary tract problems, diabetes, or kidney disease. It can help compensate for cats’ low thirst drive, which may be partly due to their evolution as desert animals. More study is needed to confirm whether feeding wet food can help prevent some of these problems from developing in the first place.

Higher protein levels more often found in wet food may be of benefit to strict carnivores like cats, who depend on consuming animals to meet their nutritional needs and require up to three times the protein of omnivores.

“But you can have a high-protein diet that’s still deficient in essential amino acids,” says Larsen, citing taurine as an example. “And the same is true for fats and essential fatty acids. So you need to make sure the subparts are covered.”

When and how much food should I feed my adult cat?

Mimicking a trend of many of their owners, one in five cats in industrialized countries today is obese.

Many factors seem to contribute to this widespread problem, including inactivity, overfeeding rich foods, and neutering (castrated cats are up to four times more likely to be obese).

But you can take steps to help manage weight problems, including playing with your cat and controlling food intake around the time of neutering.

As for feeding times and amounts, here are a few things to keep in mind.

“There are equations you can use to predict the energy needs of a cat,” Larsen says. But many things -- including climate, activity, and the cat's metabolism -- affect that.

You can simply evaluate your own cat by looking at his or her silhouette and touching the belly from the top and sides, she says. If you can’t feel ribs, you may need to adjust how much you’re feeding your cat. If you want more guidance, you can find body condition scoring systems online.

Bough agrees that it’s difficult to evaluate the exact amount of food a cat needs. “You can start by weighing your cat and looking at the product packaging,” she says, “But watch your cat and work with your vet to determine how much your cat should weigh.”

There are several types of feeding methods owners commonly use, which may vary depending on the needs of their adult cats and their schedules:

  • Portion-control feeding involves measuring the food and offering it as a meal. It can be used for weight control and for animals that tend to overeat if allowed to feed at will.
  • Free-choice feeding means food - typically dry food, which is less likely to spoil - is available around the clock. Nursing cats are commonly fed free choice. But you can see why this method can turn into a problem for a cat that doesn’t know when to stop.
  • Timed feeding involves making food available for a certain amount of time, then picking it up after, say, 30 minutes.
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