It can be hard to determine what nutrients you cat needs. There are so many options, and it can be very overwhelming. Each option says you need something different. What is the easiest way to give your cat all of the nutrients it needs?
The simplest way is to make sure that your cat is being fed foods that have an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement of nutritional adequacy on their labels. It could be something like the sentence, “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Yummy Cat Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for adult maintenance, growth and reproduction, or all life stages” or “Yummy Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for adult maintenance, growth and reproduction, or all life stages”.
Essentially, the AAFCO looks for the proper amounts of each nutrient to keep your cat happy and healthy. These nutrients involve lots of protein as cats are carnivores after all. Protein provides energy, maintain muscle, skin, fur, nails, etc. Cats need animal proteins because their bodies need the nutrients it provides. When a cat eats protein, their digestive tract breaks it down into amino acids, which are then reassembled into the type of protein that the cat needs at that time. Animal protein can be expensive, so some cat food manufacturers keep costs low by including only the minimum amount of protein that cats require to survive, not more to help them thrive. A cats crude protein level should be included in the guaranteed analysis section on the label. To bee nutritionally complete and balanced, AAFCO mandates that a cat food for adult maintenance contain a cat food for adult maintenance contain a minimum of 26% crude protein on a dry matter basis. The minimum for growth and reproduction is 30%.
Another important energy source for cats is fat. Fat and the related fatty acids are parts of ingredients like salmon, chicken, liver, or beef. Sometimes, extra fat is added to foods in the forms of beef fat, fish oil, or soybean oil. The AAFCO minimum for fat in all cat foods is 9% on a dry matter basis. Significantly higher levels of fat may be appropriate for cats who are highly active or have trouble maintaining their weight. Diets designed for weight loss will usually contain less fat in comparison to other foods.
Carbohydrates are less important for cats than they are for humans. A diet containing large amounts of carbohydrates is not natural for cats and may promote weight gain and related health problems. Ideally cats should get less than 10% of their calories from carbohydrates.
Vitamins are necessary in a cat’s diet. Sources include animal tissues, vegetables, fruits, vegetable oils, seeds, and grains. However, it is almost impossible to provide all the vitamins a cat needs at the right levels without including a vitamin supplement in the manufacturing process. If a cat is healthy and eating a nutritionally complete diet, additional vitamin supplementation is not necessary and can be dangerous in some cases. Be sure to discuss with your vet if you think your cat needs supplementation. Related, minerals are another important part of your cat’s diet to help your cat’s body function. Some of the minerals that cats need can come from animal and plant-based ingredients (bone meal, for example), but to be nutritionally complete and balanced, cat food manufacturers almost always must add mineral supplements to their formulas. As long as your cat is healthy and eating a good quality food, you shouldn’t have to add any additional supplementation.
The most important nutrient for cats is water. Water is essential for almost every one of your cat’s metabolic functions. Cats will typically let themselves get dehydrated before they seek out water, so water is necessary in their foods. Some ingredients, like whole meats, are rich in water. Water is also added to commercial cat foods as part of the manufacturing process to facilitate mixing. You may see this on the ingredient list as “water sufficient for processing.” Most of the water is subsequently driven out of dry foods to make them more shelf stable. Generally, cats need about 4 to 5 ounces of water per 5 pounds of body weight, but this includes both water from food and water bowls. Cats who eat canned food may only need to drink very little supplemental water.
If you are feeding your cat a good quality food, your cat is getting its essential vitamins and nutrients. To be even more certain, you can look for an AAFCO certification. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact Dr. Olsen at Olsen Veterinary Clinic, 618-656-5868.