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The cat food market is overrun with all different kinds of diet foods, ranging from those promising weight loss to special formulas for dry, itchy skin. Instead of having to try them all one-by-one, it's best to determine which will produce real results for your cat before committing to the change.
Do diet cat foods work? The diet type is a huge factor in its effectiveness. For example, weight loss plans have been proven to help cats shed over 11 pounds over six months. On the other hand, grain-free diets' effectiveness is not yet supported by concrete evidence. Any advantages are likely attributed to other ingredients in the formula.
To determine which diet your cat needs, you should start with a foundational knowledge of the general house cat diet and work from there. You can then do further research (and consult with your veterinarian) to determine which of the alternatives discussed here could be suitable for your kitty.
General Cat Diet Plan
Not all cat diets are formulated with a specific goal, such as losing weight or relieving digestive or other health issues. Some are designed with the kitty's day-to-day needs in mind, with the sole priority of maintaining the cat's excellent health.
Regardless of your cat's current physical or medical condition, there are a handful of dietary guidelines you should adhere to for a happy, healthy life. Just like humans, kitties need specific foods to keep their bodies operating as normal, support a healthy immune system, and defend against preventable, diet-related diseases such as pancreatitis, urinary tract diseases (UTIs), and heart disease.
Veterinarian-recommended foods and their associated daily intake levels provide minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients that are vital to your cat's wellbeing. These and other pillars of a general cat diet plan are as follows:
Your cat should eat an average of 200 calories per day. (Of course, this will vary based on their age, weight, activity levels, and more. Ask your vet how much is suitable for daily feeding and pay close attention to the specific calorie counts on each food product you buy.)
Limit treats and snacks to comprise only 5-10% of your cat's total daily calories. You are welcome to offer your kitty the occasional piece of cooked tuna, fish, chicken, liver, or cheese in moderation. Catnip is also a wonderful snack from time to time.
Remember that your cat is an obligate carnivore. This means that you must feed your cat foods that are either mostly or exclusively composed of animal-derived products (e.g., meat, organs, etc.).
Note: Note: As an obligate carnivore, your cat cannot live on vegetarian or vegan diet plans. Sure, if you hand your kitty a piece of celery, it may gnaw on it a bit, maybe even swallow the vegetable. However, having it eat an entirely plant-based meal will essentially starve your kitty of crucial nutrients, inevitably resulting in poor health.
(Optional) Feed a commercial kibble diet.(Optional) Feed a commercial kibble diet. Although many people tend to look down on commercial kibbles compared to natural, raw foods, they are some of the best foods for your cat. The food is specially designed by experts to fulfill all your cat's core nutritional needs with a bonus of tasty flavor.
Note: Dr. Julie A. Churchill, DVM suggests that cat owners pay less attention to the individual ingredients and more to the formula's concentration of nutrients. In particular, you should look for the percentages of proteins and fats. Look for an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the packaging to confirm that these nutrients, in addition to carbs and grains, are balanced.
(Optional) Chat with your veterinarian about the best homemade food for cats. However, if this doesn't float your boat, feel free to chat with your vet about a potential homemade diet plan. Generally, you can follow the guidelines below to form a well-balanced meal:
Crude protein (meat, fish, and other animal-derived products): 10-12.5 g; should make up 40-60% of your cat's daily diet.
Fat (animal fats or plant seed oils): 4-5.5 g; should comprise 30-50% of the daily caloric intake.
Carbohydrates (cooked grains, potatoes, legumes, etc.): Relative toprotein and fat, this should comprise less than 15% of your cat's daily consumption.
This is a general look at how you should be feeding your kitty each day. A cat diet plan modeled after these suggestions works to maintain the best possible health for your pet and does wonders to prevent the onset of certain illnesses and other physical ailments like unhealthy skin and fur.
Now, suppose your fur-baby develops any problems with their health. In that case, there are a few elements of the general diet that you may want to tweak to restore and sustain their wellbeing.
Cat Diet Plan for Weight Loss
One of the most common health problems to plague house cats is obesity. As much as we love our kitties, sometimes we humans can be detrimental to their health. Out of enthusiasm for their pet, some cat owners tend to shower their feline companions with treats. At times, treats are so plentiful that the cat puts on one too many pounds before the owner catches on.
Because of such mishaps, some of the most sought-after cat diets are those formulated for weight loss. Still, as popular as these are, do they really work? Scientific research says, "Yes!"
- Your veterinarian may initially suggest aiming for a weight that isn't quite their ideal weight. This will make the transition much easier for you and your kitty. You should meet at least 80% of a cat's RER (resting energy requirement, which is the amount of energy they need to maintain their body at rest). See the examples below:
An 8-lb cat needs about 180 calories (kcal) per day.
A 10-lb cat should eat 210 kcal per day.
A 12-lb cat can eat up to 230 kcal daily.
Replace your cat's regular kibble with specially formulated weight-loss food (this information should be printed on the label).
Note: Most weight loss cat foods you'll find in stores are designed to eliminate only a small amount of weight. If your kitty needs to lose more than just a few pounds, you should consult with your veterinarian. They'll likely suggest foods like Hills® Prescription Diet Metabolic, which not only helps shed those extra pounds but increases your cat's metabolism as well. This and similar brands are widely accepted as the best diet foods for cats.
If you usually free-feed your kitty, switch to designated meal times throughout the day. Experts suggest offering your cat canned food multiple times each day to quell any reservations of potentially picky kitties.
Give your cat 2-3 weeks to acclimate to the new feeding routine. Lead a gentle transition by providing the new, specialized food in a separate bowl, then slowly progress by mixing it into their normal food in quarters. In the final week, replace their regular food entirely.
Please understand that you should never commit to a weight loss cat diet without checking in with your vet. Mistakes like over- or underfeeding can lead to serious medical consequences like fatty liver syndrome, leaving your cat much worse off than they started.
Grain-Free Cat Diets: Do They Work?
Grain-free diets are among the most common meal plan that cat owners choose for their fur-babies. Although this can help reduce the number of carbs present in their daily meals, veterinarians say that the term "grain-free" is mostly based in marketing rather than real health guidelines.
Further, there isn't much data supporting swapping out your cat's regular diet for a grain-free one. (Studies have not really compared "grain-free" to "grain-containing" regimens.) To address this knowledge gap, scientists compared 77 cat foods: 42 of these contained grain and the remaining 35 were grain-free. They discovered the following:
One of the recipes that was marketed as "grain-free" contained barley, a grain! Don't take these food labels at face value. Always check the ingredients list.
The average grain-free formula had fewer carbs than the alternative. However, some contained higher levels of carbs than grain-containing options.
Both types included animal-derived ingredients. These were mostly chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, and fish. However, grain-free diets contained "exotic meats" more than the opposite, often including venison, bison, and rabbit.
- Grain-free foods commonly included plant-based ingredients like peas, cranberries, potatoes, and carrots. The alternative usually had rice, fax, cranberries, and oats instead.
So, what does all of this mean? Unfortunately, this means that there is not yet any conclusive evidence that grain-free diets are better for cats. Because of the extensive ingredient differences, it's inaccurate to conclude that the absence of grains is responsible for any associated health benefits.
These effects could be attributed to the exotic meats' unique benefits, reduced carbs, or a distinctive mixture of plant-based ingredients. So, if you're considering switching your cat to a grain-free diet, it's best to talk with your veterinarian and determine what precise advantages you're looking for, and decide if you can attain those goals another way.
There are several types of cat diets, all of which stem from the general nutritional requirements of proteins, fats, carbs, minerals, and vitamins that all cats need. If you're thinking of transitioning to a specialized diet for weight loss or removing grains from your cat's daily meal plan, contact your veterinarian first.
Mistakes such as over- or underfeeding may lead to worsened health problems, and false marketing could leave you with no results at all.
About the Author
Jazmin “Sunny” Murphy began writing informal scientific content on nature and animals in 2015. Four years later, she launched her freelance career as a digital content and copywriter. This work merges her academic perspective, rooted in her B.S. Zoology, and professional experience as a veterinary tech, university research assistant, and more with relevant marketing, SEO, and engagement techniques across various industries. Jazmin now covers pet care, pest control, cannabis, outdoor recreation, STEM research and news, and product reviews across several niches.