Help me feed my kitty
May 1, 2011 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I understand that the best cat diet is exclusively wet food. Kittens are supposed to eat small portions every few hours. I am asleep all night and at work for 8 hours during the day. Can I leave wet food out for free feeding or will it go bad? What if she won't eat left-out food?

I adopted Shoggoth, a 9-week-old kitten, a few days ago. I want to do the right thing and only feed her wet food. (I was convinced by a post to metafilter by a vet a while ago, but I can't find the link right now). But she isn't really a fan of food that has been in the bowl for more than about half an hour - I guess it smells different? She'll eat it if she's really hungry, though. Can I leave wet food out for free-feeding during the day? And if I can't/shouldn't, will it matter if she goes 8 hours between feeds?

I'm a bit worried about doing this right, because it doesn't seem to me that she is eating very much right now. She manages about 85g of wet food a day (one pouch). Sometimes a little more; sometimes less. The packet says she should be eating 1-2 pouches plus 1/4 cup of dry food per day. There are certainly some flavours she prefers and will eat more on those days.

As a related question: is Whiskas (wet kitten food) really as bad as people say? In references to it on the web, I see people classing it with products that have high carbohydrate content or grain content, but the ingredients list on my packet only lists meats, meat by-products and vitamins/minerals. The first ingredient is meat. The fat and protein content seems pretty low, but I think that's because they are including water content when calculating percentages, and it's hardly different at all from the content of the top brands like Science Diet etc. (Whiskas kitten food = 9% protein, 8% fat; Science Diet = 12% protein, 5.5% fat). Science Diet lists grains and by-products and soy and so on in the ingredients, which Whiskas doesn't. Could it be that the Australian formulation of these brands is different from the North American one?

I understand that some pictures might be of assistance in answering this question.
posted by lollusc to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm sure she'll be fine. I've left out wet (kitten) food for my 2 adopted ones and they turned out fine. Cat's will figure these things out. She's not going to starve w/ perfectly good food in her dish.
posted by pyro979 at 8:10 PM on May 1, 2011

Yes, Whiskas food is as bad as people say. For cat food you want a high protein content, like really high. Anything you buy at a normal grocery store is not quality pet food. Go to a local pet store and talk to the sales person, they will give you a good recommendation. By local, I mean something that isn't Petsmart/Petco.

For the record, Science Diet food is also not great. It has this reputation that I just don't understand. It is on par with grocery store foods in my opinion, maybe a half-step up, but they (at least used to) pay vets to recommend their food and they will only sell to pet stores so they maintain this aura of excellence.

And yes, what pyro said. Cats aren't stupid. She won't starve herself, she'll eat when she's hungry but she probably prefers the fresh stuff and right now she can give you pouty eyes and get it from you :) This is why we went to an electric feeder for our cat, he doesn't even realize we are involved in the feeding process at all. He meows at the feeder if his bowl is empty instead of walking all over my face in the morning like he did when we first got him.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:24 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Magnetsphere, I did ask my vet and the SPCA and both recommended Science Diet. I also went to the biggest pet supplies store in our city and compared all the brands they had (I only mention Science Diet specifically because it's the one I found with the highest protein content out of all the ones I compared). What I am saying is that the difference between Whiskas and the others certainly doesn't seem to be protein/fat content. I will believe that there is a difference, but that doesn't seem to be it, unless their labelling is misleading in some way.

By the way, when I have seen protein contents listed that are 40+%, that seems to be % of total calories, or percent of dry content or something. Once it's calculated as percentage of total weight, including water weight (which is how it is listed on the packets themselves), it really does look like 12% is the top of the range.
posted by lollusc at 8:39 PM on May 1, 2011

I just looked at some of the cans lying around here, and Precise canned is 10% protein and Wellness (a grain-free) is also 10%. This as opposed to the dry foods which are 36% (Wellness) 32% (Felidae) and 42% (Taste of the Wild). So I think the canned food may be thrown off by the water content.
posted by The otter lady at 8:56 PM on May 1, 2011

Best answer: Re: just the Whiskas question - I haven't bought that food in particular and so can't comment, but my own vet's concern about certain mass-market pet foods (Meow Mix was his #1 offender, fwiw) is the use of preservatives, particularly BHA/BHT and ethoxyquin. My cat had some urinary issues at a very young age that seem brought on by these preservatives - once I made sure nothing in his diet had these (I feed him Iams now), the problem went entirely away.
posted by AthenaPolias at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: AthenaPolias, thank you. I will check the options available here for those preservatives. Do they list them on the packet?
posted by lollusc at 9:14 PM on May 1, 2011

I give my 8 cats (all formerly feral) high quality dry food (organic, high protein). I try to switch brands often. It does not seem to upset their digestion. My cats all seem to live forever (oldest I have now is 17, I have had cats live to 23) and they are really healthy. The only problem any of them had was about 4 years ago one fell off the roof and broke her hip. Other than that, they are never sick. A few days a week I will give them each 1/3 of a can of food. It is usually something organic and sustainable, but they really love tuna.
posted by fifilaru at 10:13 PM on May 1, 2011

Hey - now I can copy and paste and slightly expand my comment from the other day :-).

If you want a really high-protein food without any of the alarming ingredients that're allowed in animal food but not in food for humans, it's perfectly fine to feed cats tinned tuna meant for humans. Just make sure that's not ALL you feed them, because human-tuna lacks the amino acids that obligate carnivores like cats get from guts and gizzards in nature. Tuna-for-humans is often hilariously cheaper per gram than fancy cat food in tiny tins, even before you start looking at the special non-supermarket brands.

(Get tuna in "springwater", preferably. Cats really love tuna in brine, which isn't all THAT salty and so is also fine for occasional feeding. I've never tried tuna in vegetable oil; that's probably begging for even more digestive trouble. Many cats also adore just the fishy water from tuna-in-springwater; don't waste it down the kitchen drain!)

In theory, one big meal of human-tuna or any other taurine-free food can be Very Bad for a cat; this is the source of the rule of thumb that says you shouldn't worry if your dog eats cat food, but you should make sure your cat doesn't eat dog food. In practice, I've never seen the slightest trouble from giving cats a meal of tuna-for-humans flanked by any kind of dry food.
posted by dansdata at 10:25 PM on May 1, 2011

Cats will, in fact, starve themselves. If your kitten will only eat fresh wet food, then just put out fresh food when you are home and leave dry food out for free feeding all the time. You can put out half a packet/can/whatever at a time, and put the rest in the fridge immediately.
posted by jeather at 11:55 PM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are different varieties of Whiskas. I buy their "Purrfectly" variety, because it contains no meat by-products.

It's 9% protein (and she likes it quite a bit more than the higher-end stuff).

What should I be giving her instead? Complication: she'll eat fish but only reluctantly and if she has no alternative. Human salmon and sardines smell interesting but are apparently not worth eating.
posted by orthogonality at 12:09 AM on May 2, 2011

Fancy Feast is better, if you need a supermarket option, provided you get flavors where meat/protein is the number one ingredient.

Every vet I've ever had has stressed it is a bad idea to regularly feed cats human-intended tuna, for the very reasons mentioned upthread promoting it (?). As a treat once in a while, sure. Daily, uhhh no. Will lead to malnutrition.
posted by ifjuly at 5:42 AM on May 2, 2011

Give her dry food as well. There is nothing wrong or harmful in a good quality dry food. It also gives her a chance to eat when you are gone. EVO or Nutro Natural Choice is a good quality food. Kittens should have access to food all the time since you can basically not overfeed a kitten and it needs all the food it can eat.
posted by Ferrari328 at 6:45 AM on May 2, 2011

Our vet told us to stay away from only wet food because it is bad on their teeth. We feed them Wellness dry food and it seems to work pretty well. We add some Friskies wet to mix it in for their "meals", but dry food is out all the time.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:47 AM on May 2, 2011

Best answer: The "wet food is bad for teeth" idea is way, way outdated now (but not all vets are required to stay current with this stuff).

You can try freezing a meal of canned food and leaving it out (with a fresh, unfrozen portion for kitty to eat right away) when you are out, that will keep it fresh and kitty can eat it when it's thawed.

Canned crap food is still better than dry crap food in general since it will still be higher in protein, lower in carbs and lower in preservatives. But ideally you should look at the ingredients, you want identified meat ("chicken", "shrimp"), not grain, and not by-products in the first five ingredients.
posted by biscotti at 7:44 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Several lengthy ask posts convinced me to switch to high quality meaty dry food. You won't find these brands in supermarkets; even the big pet stores mostly carry the supermarket stuff (iams, science diet, purina).

"Feed" stores - the places that cater to farmers - stock Wellness, Evo, and a dozen or so other varieties of quality brands, and it's not terribly more expensive than the supermarket stuff.
posted by unmake at 9:14 AM on May 2, 2011

There are so many different opinions on food, I would advise to ask your vet if possible.

After reading a bunch of stuff on the internet I was convinced that wet-only was the way to go.

Then I had a contact who worked with the American Veterinary Medical Association and asked him to just ask in a conference call with the vets there what they recommend. The answer was unanimously for good quality dry food. My personal vet also suggests high quality dry food, but with some wet mixed in if you want.

All the vets suggested feeding times instead of free feeding, because while like people, all cats may not have self restraint to stop eating. I know I don't!
posted by robot-hugs at 12:21 PM on May 2, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, there really are a lot of different opinions out there.

I checked the Whiskas packet again, and it specifically says "no preservatives added", so that's one good thing. The full ingredients list was: "Sheep and/or chicken, beef, gelling agent, vitamins, plant extracts, taurine." That looks pretty good to me. The plant extracts maybe not so much, but since it's after vitamins, there can't be much of them.

Unfortunately she seems to have gone on strike against the Whiskas stuff after tasting tuna yesterday. She went nuts for the tuna and ate enormous amounts. I will only feed her it once a week or so as a treat, though, for the reasons other people specify above. But now she doesn't seem to want anything else at all. I tried giving her a little bit of dry food to see what would happen, and she sniffed it and licked it, and left it alone. Maybe it's too hard for her at the moment?

The idea of freezing food is a great one. Thanks!
posted by lollusc at 5:40 PM on May 2, 2011

If you need to temporarily whet her appetite for other food, a trick I learned when I was weaning mine off dry to wet a few months back is to get jars of meat-only baby food (make SURE there is no onion or garlic powder in the food, check the ingredients, it should only be meat), warm them VERY gently, and put a bit over the food I wanted my stubborn cat to eat. You shouldn't do this indefinitely of course, but it helped convince him the new food was edible. Along with gently heating said food--only to slightly warmer than room temperature, we're talking less than 30 seconds in the microwave, and always touched first to make sure it wasn't too hot (if it's too hot mix more cold food with it and let it stand a bit).
posted by ifjuly at 6:52 PM on May 2, 2011

I tried giving her a little bit of dry food to see what would happen, and she sniffed it and licked it, and left it alone. Maybe it's too hard for her at the moment?

My cat is free-fed dry food and gets wet food in the morning and at night. She would not eat any dry food for the first week or 2 after we got her, but I wasn't comfortable with having her be dependant on wet food, because it's easier to leave her alone for a day or 2 when I leave than hiring a pet sitter. I transitioned her to dry food through liberal applications of cat milk. I use Whiskas Cat Milk- I know Cat Sip is less processed, but I can get 3 cartons of the Whiskas for the same price as one carton of Cat Sip. First, I made a mush with the cat milk and the dry food. I started giving her wet food in the morning, then putting the cat food mush out later in the day. As I put less and less cat milk in the mush and it became more of a dry food with a bit of cat milk mixed in, I served it closer to her normal meal time, and decreased the amount of wet food she got. I was eventually able to get to the point where she ate just dry food during the day. (And FWIW, my 9 week old kitten has been devouring Royal Canin Babycat food- she can't get enough of it! So I don't think it's a matter of age)

Also, I want to reiterate that just because the SPCA and your vet recommend Science Diet doesn't necessarily mean it's a "good" food- as far as I know, they still pay off vets and rescue groups in exchange for pushing their food.

And I wouldn't try freezing cat food unless you know the kitten will eat cold food- neither my cat nor my kitten will eat food or drink cat milk/water colder than room temperature, so if I tried giving them frozen cat food, I would be home before it would be warm enough for them to eat it.
posted by kro at 3:52 PM on May 3, 2011

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