Please help me feed my cat.
May 30, 2011 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Please help me feed my cat.

Background: I've had Mama for 4 years and she's approx 12 years old. She is my first cat. Since I've had her, she's been getting the dry food that the shelter was feeding her and no wet food. I vaguely remember them telling me she wouldn't eat wet food, so I never tried. She's mostly indoors, but will spend time in the backyard if it's sunny.

A few weeks ago, a friend gave most of a case of Friskies chicken & gravy canned food- apparently her cat didn't care for that flavor. I tried it on Mama using idb's GF's method and she loves it. Her kibble has always been available to her during this transition period, but I think she might be ready to go to canned only. Her kibble has barely been touched during the last week.

1. How much do I feed her? She weighs 11-12 pounds.
2. How often do I feed her? With the dry stuff, I just dump some in a bowl and refill when empty. It seems like the rules are different with wet food.
3. What do I feed her? I can't afford the really expensive premium stuff, but a quick google tells me that Friskies is the low end (nutrition-wise) of the scale for canned cat food. Is there a good middle ground? Something around $45 a month or so? Should I get the "senior" formula?

I did search previous AskMe questions, but I'm having a hard time finding answers to 1 & 2, and the answers to 3 seem really expensive.
posted by dogmom to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Why go to wet-only instead of a combination of wet and dry? We leave dry food out for our cats all the time and then in the evenings they have their dinner which is wet food. It seems like it could be quite traumatic for a cat to go from being able to eat anytime she likes to being dependent on food being put out at certain times a day.

Our two cats split one pouch of wet food which isn't much but if we give them more we find they leave it or else drag it around the house (yuck). If you go this route give your cat a small tin or half a large tin and see how she gets on.
posted by hazyjane at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. One can
2. Once a day
3. Fancy Feast
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2011

This is in conjunction—not in lieu of—hard food.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:23 AM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: 1) About 8 oz per day, if she is too lean, 10 oz

2) Twice a day

3) Even low-end canned food is better than dry food. You can probably afford Natural Balance, which is very good-quality food and is not expensive.

4) No senior formula needed
posted by biscotti at 7:24 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: 1. 8 oz a day is a good amount.

2. Twice a day, and--trust me on this--when you feed her in the morning, do not feed her the second you get up! That will make her want to be fed that time every day, weekends, etc. and make it harder if you have someone watch your cat for you while you are gone on vacation. Instead, feed her as late in the morning as works for your schedule, and then at night before you go to bed. This will also keep her from waking you up for food!

3. I used to feed mine Fancy Feast and they loved it, but it was really expensive in the long run. I now feed Wellness to my cats. It comes in large cans, so I also bought a couple plastic universal lids to cover up the remainder. Another Mefite turned me onto Pet Food Direct and I get it delivered on a regular schedule--no more trips to the pet store to get the good stuff! Much cheaper. Wellness smells *awful*, but it's good for them and they like it.
posted by misha at 7:32 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. You know, I actually think I feed closer to 6 oz a day than 8 oz, per cat.
posted by misha at 7:33 AM on May 30, 2011

Everyone I know with a cat does the one can a day plus a bowl of dry. Dry is there for them to nibble on as desired. The cat gets the canned food either in the morning or evening. Evening is better since once cats learn breakfast is wet food they can be insistent about waking you up for feeding. So to avoid the bossy morning cat, give the wet food at night.
posted by shoesietart at 7:36 AM on May 30, 2011

Wet food is good, wetter food is better. For both our cats, we split a small tin of wet food in the morning, and double the volume in the bowl with water mixed in. They seem not to care that's it a broth instead of wet chunks, and this increases their water intake a lot, which is always beneficial.
posted by fatbird at 7:38 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So to avoid the bossy morning cat, give the wet food at night.

This is a really good point--cats learn that if you feed them when you wake up, then waking you up means... We've solved this problem by feeding them half an hour after we get up.
posted by fatbird at 7:39 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I didn't read idb's link til after i posted. :-) Tres interesting. I'm going to share it with my cat owning friends.
posted by shoesietart at 7:40 AM on May 30, 2011

That vet comment is very good.

Not to be That Guy, but moving the cat from dry grain-based food is a good thing. There are dry foods that are grain-free and very tasty. (Yes, I have tried them. Heh.)

If you really want to get into it, you can always start cooking for your cat. Then you have become a Crazy Cat Lady. Welcome.

Meanwhile, the advice about not feeding in the morning is KEY.

This is a very good list of cat foods. What happens a lot in cat food land is that a great new cat food company shows up, starts making very good cat food, and then sells the company to Purina or what have you, who begin sourcing the meat cheaper, upping the carbs and ash. And then the good cat food stores stop carrying it. So those are companies that haven't done that yet.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you for sharing that informative picture of kitty!

We have ours on a wet-only diet except when we're out of town and the cat sitter is over. He's a dry food junky, and will sometimes try to climb into the cabinets to find it, but generally he's been really happy on wet-only and has slimmed down a bit from a hefty 18 pounds to a slimmer 15.

Initially, we fed him expensive, all-natural types but they're hard to find in our area and he has a penchant for getting picky about them after a few weeks. Now we feed him one small can of iams three times a day, for a total of 9 oz. a day. Sometimes he gets a little more or less, depending on how hungry he seems and how his weight is going. I've actually found that doing stuff like switching flavors can cause weight changes--all brands vary fairly significantly by the number of calories included.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2011

My regime that seems to work well and keep everybody happy (myself included) is a very good quality, protein-rich dry food (Orijen) available all the time, and a can of Fancy Feast (per cat, I have 3) in the morning. FF is the best of the (crap) supermarket brands, but the convenience of being able to pick it up at the supermarket or walmart trumps the lack of nutritional benefits (I know, I'm a horrible kitty-parent.) The Orijen I can buy in a huge bag once a month at a real pet food store, so it's not a big deal. But buying a months worth of quality canned cat food, for three cats, would break both my bank account and my back... the stuff gets heavy!

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out even in the end - one of mine eats most of the FF and another prefers the dry, and I can see the difference of their choice of food in their coat (they're pretty much identical otherwise.) But as long as everyone's happy and healthy, it's all good to me.
posted by cgg at 9:06 AM on May 30, 2011

There's no one answer on how much to feed your cat; it's based on the type of food. Most cans of cat food say "Feed 1 can per X lbs" or something like that.

For reference, we give our cats only wet food. They get some flavors of Fancy Feast (check the ingredients - some have bone meal, processed parts or whatever at the top of the list), but it's mostly Wellness. Actually, Wellness can be pretty affordable if you buy the big 12 ounce cans of it (versus the smaller cans) and just get a top and use it repeatedly.

If it's helpful, we shop at Petco. They usually have the 24-can cases of Fancy Feast, and if you have a Petco members card you usually save $2 per case. Plus if you spend enough each quarter, they send you a 15% off coupon or something like that.
posted by gchucky at 10:01 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, cats are obligate carnivores. Dry food is bad, it causes crystals to form in their urine and they will start peeing places other than the catbox because the sand will hurt them when they scratch to bury their wastes.
Cats who never get dry food live longer in better health. Their coats are better.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:33 AM on May 30, 2011

You could try a mix of dry food and wet, leaving dry food out all day and giving her a wet dinner at night. I tried that with mine and she basically won't touch the dry food unless she's really really desperate (and she loved the dry food I buy before I switched to wet food). The brand I use is Nature's Balance, and she likes it a lot (I get Turkey & Giblets because I read somewhere that organ meat is good for cats). As to quantity, my cat weighs 9 pounds and eats about 9 ounces daily (I called my vet because it seemed like too much -- a can and a half daily -- but the vet said that it was about right).
posted by JenMarie at 10:36 AM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: This influential site about cat feeding says wet-only is the way to go, and that it's better to feed cheapo wet food than even fancy dry food. She gives a long explanation of her reasoning. I don't know how solid everything there is, but the reasoning about water content has been borne out for us.

We had been feeding canned Wellness twice a day, and a handful of dry Purina in the middle of the day. My reasoning was that I wanted to keep the cat used to having dry food because then we could leave him alone for overnight trips without getting a cat-sitter. Recently he has had some problems (possibly FLUTD) that made the vet advise us to switch to all-canned to increase his water intake.

How much to feed -- a vet tech suggested taking the feeding recommendation on the can and reducing it by some factor (maybe feed 15% less than the recommendation - I can't remember the factor she suggested); you could ask your vet if they have a calorie recommendation or a standard number of ounces they suggest. The vet also said that the single most important thing to keep your cat healthy is to keep its weight to a low healthy weight; eg it means less strain on the joints and heart and lungs etc. Note that this doesn't mean starving the cat, since cats can get fatty liver disease if they're not taking in enough food every day, it just means portion control. Another benefit of feeding meals instead of free-access feeding is that you will know if your cat stops eating, which is a medical emergency (since they can get fatal fatty liver disease if they skip meals for a couple of days).
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:41 AM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone- lots of good info here.

Petsmart had the canned Nutro on sale, and since they have a variety of flavors, we bought a bunch of the little 3 oz cans. I think I'll try a can in the morning and a can at night with a measured amount of dry to supplement. I can monitor how much of the dry she eats and if it seems like she's still hungry, I'll up it to 3 cans a day and no dry. She's never been overweight (according to the vet), so I don't need her to lose weight- this has all been about keeping her healthy.

I had been opening a can first thing in the morning, letting her eat half and pulling the other half out of the fridge at night. So far, she hasn't taken to waking me up too early, but at night, she sits in front of the fridge mrowing until someone gets her dinner out. I'll probably push back the morning feeding a bit to prevent any early morning wake up calls.
posted by dogmom at 11:48 AM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: Just looking this up for myself, but figured I would add it here too:

I am seeing guidelines of about 20-30 calories per day per pound of body weight for an average active adult cat (not pregnant or nursing, no other special medical things).

You can often find the calories per cup (or per can) by going on the manufacturer's website. Foods vary a lot, even different flavors of the same brand can vary a lot, so it's worth looking up if possible.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:33 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not a vet (just a random person who happens to share a home with four wonderful kitties) but the majority of reading/research I've done re. feeding with regard feline biology and whatnot indicates that two things are key:

(1) Cats evolved to get the majority of their water WITH their food, not in addition to it (their ancestors being desert animals and all). Thus, you're already doing a good thing by switching your kitty to wet food from dry (or at least adding it in conjunction with some dry). This is especially beneficial as cats get older, given their risk of kidney trouble goes up, and dehydration therefore more dangerous.

Urinary crystal blockages (which have been mentioned in this thread already) are much more of a risk for male cats due to their longer urethras (urethrae?). But females can get them too, and while surgery generally isn't required in their case, it's no fun having or treating the condition. Feeding a wet diet is probably THE best way to prevent urine crystals because it leads to more dilute urine (the desert animal thing again -- cats have a tendency to concentrate their wee).

Getting to the point, though, the good news here is that no matter *what* wet food you feed, you still get the extra-water benefit. Don't have a paper handy I can link to but I think someone somewhere studied this and concluded that cats fed a primarily wet diet ended up consuming more net liquids than cats fed only dry food and provided with drinking water.

And on this note, I second what others have said re. adding even more water to the wet. I started doing this for my 9 year old (soon to be 10) Siamese girl Nikki (who I adopted from my parents when they moved out of state last year; the other three residents are ex-feral moggies just under two years old). Nikki had a problem where if I gave her "undiluted" wet food she would wolf it down in a manner that tended to lead to immediate postprandial regurgitation. Adding water made eating a bit more of a delicate task, and thus slowed her down enough to avoid the pukage. But I digress. Bottom line is that none of my guys mind water in their canned stuff, and hey, extra hydration is a good thing.

(2) The obligate-carnivore thing. Of course some cats seem to have iron stomachs and spend their whole lives eating Bob's Discount Corn Crunchies with no perceivable ill effects. However, there have been at least a few studies done indicating cats' bodies can better "use" animal protein than any form of vegetable protein. (I don't recall the particulars of this, but I think it related to liver enzymes and glycolysis or something in that realm).

This means you want to get in the habit of reading labels. You want the first 2 - 3 ingredients at the very least to include only animal ingredients (water is okay too). Some people freak out about "byproducts" but personally considering cats will eat their dead relatives so long as they're sufficiently fresh, I don't worry too much here. I would be a lot more concerned about corn or wheat or soy being used as a protein source than I would about "meat byproducts" in cat food.

Anyway, in this household we've got three (the younger set; they're littermates) eating a mainly raw diet; the canned stuff they get along with this is generally Fancy Feast (they enjoy it watered down slightly and poured like gravy over their chunks of chicken heart and quail...did I mention they're spoiled as heck? :P). The aforementioned older ladycat, however, won't touch raw anything (she literally gags when she sniffs it!) so she gets a bit of dry food every day along with one can (half in the AM, half in the PM) of Fancy Feast.

But I digress again. The thing I want to get across here is that even *within the same brand*, ingredients and ratios of ingredients can vary considerably. My cats only get the "classic" (pate-style) flavors because AFIAK those are actually completely grain-free and utilize only animal-sourced proteins. All the "chunks in gravy" and "sliced" and "elegant florentine medley" types have wheat gluten and corn starch and other randomly species-inappropriate ingredients. They're still better than dry from a hydration standpoint but you can do better for the same price.
posted by aecorwin at 9:20 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and re. feeding amounts, that varies, but to give you an 9 year old kitty weighs about eight pounds (which according to the vet is ideal for her small-average frame). And the total amount of food she gets on a daily basis is 3 oz. canned plus about 1/3 cup dry. Which doesn't LOOK like a lot but as she's maintained her weight for over a year on this regimen seems to be enough. IMO weight and activity levels are a much better gauge of how much you are (or should be) feeding your cat than looking at "how hungry they seem". Most cats are opportunistic eaters and will therefore do everything in their power to convince you they're starving even when they've had quite enough. :P
posted by aecorwin at 9:27 PM on May 30, 2011

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