Cats are obligate carnivores which mean they must have meat in their diet in order to survive. Their primary ancestors lived on a diet of small rodents. They require a high protein diet with a variety of different nutrients such as taurine, arginine, calcium, niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and thiamine (vitamin B1), to name a few. Many of these nutrients are found in animals only, making a vegetarian diet impossible for cats.
Dietary requirements will change during the different life stages. A newborn kitten will require milk for the first three weeks of age, before slowly beginning to eat solid food, around six to ten weeks of age they will begin to wean.
A pregnant and lactating mother will have higher nutritional requirements and your veterinarian may recommend feeding her a kitten diet.
Young adult cats require a maintenance diet.
Senior cats also have unique dietary requirements and should be fed a diet specifically for older cats and/or a special prescription diet to address any underlying medical conditions such as diabetes.
What kind of cat food?
There are two choices when feeding your cat, a commercially prepared diet (dry food, semi-dry food, canned food), or homemade. Many pet owners will feed a combination of the above. I personally prefer a combination of commercially prepared food AND some raw food, including uncooked bones to help keep the teeth in good condition. Feline nutrition is such a complex science which I feel I do not understand enough for me to attempt a raw diet with my own cats. But many well-researched people have moved to a raw/homemade diet with much success.
I prefer to feed my own cats high-quality brands of commercial cat food which. Of course brands available in the supermarket must meet the nutritional requirements of cats, however, the cheaper products often contain more fillers. These come in the form of carbohydrates, usually corn. Cats will need to eat more food to meet their energy requirements, therefore cheaper brands don't always save you money.
Special and prescription diets for cats:
Furthermore, your cat may be required to go on a special "prescription diet" (only available from your veterinarian) to address an underlying medical condition (such as diabetes, urinary crystals, kidney disease, weight reduction, oral health, sensitive skin), there are even breed specific diets available now, varieties to help control hairballs and of course foods to cover each life stage such as kitten, adult, senior etc.
When should you feed your cat?
This depends. Many pet owners prefer to leave dry food out for their cat all day for their cat to graze on. Others prefer to put food down at set times. Kittens and pregnant/lactating cats require more frequent meals than adults. I put moist food out for my cats at breakfast and dinner time and leave a bowl of dry food for them to nibble on.
In the warmer months raw/canned food can quickly go off, so any uneaten food is removed after 30-45 minutes.
What not to feed your cat:
The list of what you should not feed your cat is too long to add to this article, but some big ones include;
Don't forget to provide your cat with 24/7 access to fresh drinking water.
Can cats have cows milk?
Generally speaking no, cats shouldn't drink milk. Most cats are lactose (which are sugars in milk) intolerant and drinking milk may result in an upset tummy and cause diarrhea. If you want to give your cat milk, there are special "cat milk" available from your supermarket or pet store.
When deciding what to feed your cat, it is always advisable to speak to your veterinarian who can provide you with information on the best products to meet your cat's nutritional requirements.