Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Care for a Cat


Store-Bought Cat Food vs. Homemade Cat Food
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. At least 26 percents of an adult cat's diet should be protein.

The best thing about a home-cooked meal is you're the one who gets to decide what's in it. If you're a steak-and-potatoes type, then you'll broil up a nice lean Porterhouse and a batch of new reds. On the other hand, if you go for a green salad, you can pick your dinner fresh from the garden. Trying to cut down on cholesterol and salt? When you're the cook, you make the call.

Unless you are a nutritionist or dietitian, however, you should let the experts -- the major pet food manufacturers -- prepare the major portion of kitty's diet. Working out the right amounts and balance of foods is a difficult task. Most food can get lumped into one or more of three categories of nutrition: protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Different kinds of animals (including people) need different proportions of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in their diets. (That's another reason why dog food isn't good for cats -- dogs and cats need different percentages of fat and protein to stay healthy.) What's more, those needs change during an animal's life. A kitten has different nutritional needs than an adult cat, and they both have different needs than an old codger cat. Most pet food companies have special formulas for different levels of age and activity, and there's a whole line of prescription diets for cats with various health problems.

We've all seen a cat come running at the sound of a can opener -- there's no doubt that kitty loves getting canned food. But is canned food better for cats than dry food? Not necessarily. Each type of food has its advantages and disadvantages. The most important factor is whether the food meets your cat's nutritional needs. Of course, your budget and your cat's preference also play a role in which type of food you should choose. Store-bought cat food comes in three general forms:

  • Dry cat food is also called "kibble." It's just what it sounds like: crunchy nuggets or kernels of food. Dry pet food can be stored for a long time (in a rodent-proof bin, if you have problems with mice), has no smell, and packages can be kept at room temperature for weeks without spoiling.
  • Canned or "wet" cat food has a fairly long shelf life as long as it's unopened. Once you open the can, though, it doesn't hold up very well. Wet cat food usually has a pungent smell and tends to be a little bit messy to handle. If you feed your cat wet food, any uneaten food should be picked up and discarded after 15 to 20 minutes -- it's a breeding ground for bacteria that can make your cat sick. Unused portions of newly opened cans can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a day or two.
  • Semimoist cat food also consists of individual nuggets but without the crunch of dry food. It's usually packaged in sealed canisters or individual meal-size foil pouches and is highly processed. Some semimoist cat foods are formed into interesting shapes or dyed different colors. Semimoist foods in resealable containers keep well at room temperature.

Each of these types of foods has its strong points and weak points. For instance, dry food is convenient, economical, and can be left out all day. On the other hand, the way some dry foods are formulated seems to encourage the formation of bladder stones. The rich aromas of canned food will tempt even the most finicky eater, but the crunchiness of dry food helps prevent dental plaque. Semimoist combines the convenience of dry food with the tastiness of canned food but may contain the most nonfood fillers and dyes.All brand-name cat food covers the basic nutritional needs of your average cat. But if you're worried about the overall quality of the boxes, bags, and cans of feline food in the pet supplies aisle of your local market, you might want to consider one of the premium-brand foods, usually found only in pet stores or through veterinarians. Feeding your cat store-bought food ensures that she is getting the nutrients she needs. At the same time, a home-cooked supplement to your cat's regular diet is okay if you make sure the foods you select are appropriate for cats. There's nothing wrong with getting the most out of a whole fryer by cooking up the gizzards for the cat, unless they become the major part of Tabby's diet. You see, organ meats (kidney, stomach, and even liver) are all right for your cat in moderation, but they've been linked to health problems if your cat eats too much of them. Likewise, every cat on the planet loves milk and cheese, but most cats have trouble digesting them well.In the next section, we will cover another very important aspect of cat ownership -- grooming.


More to Explore