What can I feed my adult cat?

Because of what we know about the cat’s natural life-stage feeding habits, you should not vary the profile of the food you feed your adult cat as it matures. Given a diet that is high enough in protein and fat to be health-promoting, the kitten and adult cat will consume enough canned food or raw/cooked meat to meet its needs at every life stage and will stop eating when this level has been reached. We do not see this self-limiting food consumption with dry food for reasons that are discussed in chapter 20, on obesity in cats.

Look for canned food that has high protein, ideally above 40 percent on a dry matter basis (see appendix I for how to read a pet food label), moderate amounts of fat, ideally 25 to 35 percent dry matter, and low carbohydrate, ideally below 10 percent dry matter. One dry food on the market has only 7 percent carbohydrate, according to the manufacturer. Chemical analysis of this food shows that its carbohydrate level is actually about 13 percent. Although I had hoped that this product would be a satisfactory dry food option for my patients and my own cats, it has proved very disappointing in the tests I have conducted. This food can promote obesity in spayed and neutered adult cats, just like its much higher carbohydrate dry food rivals do, and it cannot be used by diabetics. Feeding this food to a diabetic in remission causes a lapse out of remission. This food uses potato as its starch component for extrusion; apparently potato, with its very high simple sugar content and high glycemic index (corresponding rise in blood sugar), still causes the adverse effects in the cat that higher levels of less sugary carbohydrate ingredients do. Other “no cereal” dry foods containing novel starches like tapioca are in development. These foods will also fall far short of ideal foods for cats.

Recently, at least one company has started marketing a dehydrated powdered cat food. Along with some meat protein, this food contains an extraordinary amount of vegetables, fruits, and even honey! As a result, the carbohydrate content on a dry-matter basis exceeds 30 percent. This food is nothing more than powdered kibble, containing as much processed carbohydrate as the kibbled dry cat foods we have criticized in this and earlier chapters. The company attempts to obscure this fact by insisting that consumers consider only the carbohydrate content after water is added to the powder. On a wet-matter basis, the carbohydrate content is greater than 7 percent. Pet owners should not be misled by this, however. On a wet basis, dry kibbled cat foods also have 7 to 10 percent carbs. This is a dangerous level of processed carbohydrate for felines. Good quality canned cat foods have about 2 percent or less carbohydrate. So, no matter how you compare this food with other types, such a high-carbohydrate powdered food is a poor choice for feeding any cat. Avoid it.

For now, dry cat foods are not appropriate for the adult cat at any age. Rather, I recommend canned cat foods that have energy nutrient profiles as close to the cat’s natural prey as possible. Certainly, you should avoid carbohydrate levels above 10 percent dry matter. Many manufacturers’ kitten life-stage products will satisfy this requirement, although not all will, as we see in the example above. Kitten life-stage foods that have 15 percent carbohydrate or more are not appropriate for kittens or adult cats. Some canned lines do not have life-stage positioning but are one-size-fits-all products. The most popular small-cap “gourmet” cat food product is in this category. These foods are usually meat-based and low in carbohydrate.

The ingredients in canned food can be very instructive about how much carbohydrate is in the can. If you see such ingredients as cornmeal, corn grits, corn flour, rice flour, potato, sweet potato, carrots, apples, berries, or the like, you can be reasonably certain the food is too high in carbohydrate to be good food for your adult cat. To avoid the ingredients in commercial foods that are unnatural for the cat’s diet, many owners are turning to raw-meat diets. I personally feed raw meat to my cats, but it is not essential to do so to provide a very healthful diet for your kitten or cat. I recommend to all of my client’s canned foods that meet the low-carbohydrate requirement, with good results.