How to Care for a Healthy Cat: FEED A VARIED DIET

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care


Once you have evaluated the commercial foods available as to their suitability as basic parts of your cat’s diet, the next step is to actually formulate a diet for your cat. Complete foods that have undergone feeding trials should be adequate alone, but because expert nutritionists have not fully established the nutritional requirements of cats, it is probably best not to assume that any single commercial product will be adequate to fulfill all your cat’s needs and best not to rely solely on cat food companies’ honesty and expertise in evaluating feeding trials. Another reason not to use a single commercial food as the only means of feeding your cat is that cats develop narrow food preferences easily.


If you provide only one or a few kinds of food or always indulge your cat’s food preferences he or she will often refuse to consume other nutritious foods and will tend to be reluctant to try new foods. This can easily lead to nutritional disease, since it has been scientifically proven that cats given free choice of foods will not always select a diet that fulfills their nutritional requirements. Contrary to what advertisements would lead us to believe, cats are not naturally finicky eaters and palatability is not an indication of the nutritional adequacy of a food. Avoid producing nutritional inadequacies, imbalances, and “picky eaters” by feeding a varied diet from the time your cat is very young. A nutritionally complete and adequately varied diet should resemble the following:

  1. Feed Daily: Complete and balanced commercial dry cat food. If needed, add cooking oil (e.g., corn oil) poultry fat, or lard. Use no more than 1 tablespoonful per 8 ounce (240 ml) cupful dry food. Feed once daily about ½ cup (53 g) per adult cat or allow free access. Complete and balanced canned foods—offer about one 6-ounce (180 g) can per 5 pounds body weight. Canned foods containing less than 5% fat as fed need fat added. Vary flavors frequently to avoid the development of food preferences and possible accompanying deficiencies
  2. Feed Twice a Week: Cooked beef liver—no more than 1 ounce (30 g) per adult cat. Excessive liver feeding can produce vitamin A excess, diarrhea, and dark-colored stools. Organ meats (spleen, heart, kidney) can be substituted for liver, but fail to provide the high level of vitamins and minerals that liver does. Cooking meat products properly helps prevent parasite transmission without completely destroying important vitamins.
  3. Feed Occasionally (Limit to less than 20% of the diet’s calories): Cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk, cooked vegetables, cooked eggs, soups, cooked cereals, baby foods, brewer’s yeast, cooked clams or fish. (Some raw fish contains thiaminase, an enzyme that destroys thiamine, and if fed to comprise more than 10% of the diet may cause thiamine deficiency.) Cats may also have other “people foods” such as fruits, uncooked vegetables, sweets, and condiments as treats if they do not cause digestive upsets; just remember that such foods do not contribute significantly to a cat’s nutrition. Onions contain compounds (disulphides) that cause oxidative damage to cat red blood cells and may induce anema. Avoid feeding them. Chocolate (cocoa) may also cause poisoning.


If you feed your cat a varied diet with good quality complete rations at its base, vitamin-mineral supplements are probably not necessary on a daily basis. In fact, oversupplementation can lead to nutritional diseases every bit as serious as those resulting from nutritional deficiencies. There are, however, times when vitamin-mineral supplements that provide vitamins and minerals in proper amounts and proportions to meet known or estimated daily requirements can be beneficial to a cat’s diet. Just remember to rely on balanced supplements available through your veterinarian or pet stores and to follow your veterinarian’s or the package’s instructions carefully. Avoid routine use of unbalanced dietary supplements such as bone meal, wheat germ, or cod liver oil. Not only can such products be expensive, on a cost-per-unit nutrient basis, but unbalanced products may easily result in oversupplementation. Cod liver oil, for example, is a substance that is frequently misused as a dietary supplement for cats.

One-half teaspoonful of NF (National Formulary) cod liver oil contains about 156 IU of vitamin D. A mere teaspoonful of cod liver oil daily could result in vitamin D excess for a cat, accompanied by bone and soft tissue abnormalities, since the cat’s requirement for this vitamin is low. No more than 50 to 100 international units are recommended as a daily allowance.

Balanced vitamin-mineral preparations are probably best used to supplement the diet of sick, pregnant or lactating, or older cats. They are also recommended for any cat (growing or adult) who is not fed a varied diet similar to the sample one provided here.