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Ten Common Mistakes When Feeding Cats

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Here are 10 common mistakes some cat parents make when it comes to feeding cats:

1. Feeding Dog Food to Your Cat

It may come as a surprise as to why someone would feed dog food to a cat but it happens more often than you’d think. Many times, it just becomes easier in a multipet household to let the pets eat from whatever bowl they want. Unfortunately, this can have serious health complications. Dog food doesn’t have enough protein for cats. Dog food is also not supplemented with taurine and that’s something cats require in their diet. C food has more protein and more fat than dog food. If your dog eats it on a regular basis it can result in kidney problems as well as obesity.

2. Feeding too Much Tuna to Your Cat

Tuna as a treat now and then is harmless but as a steady diet can lead to malnutrition. Tuna doesn’t have adequate amounts of vitamin E and this may lead to a condition called steatitis (also known as yellow fat disease). Tuna has a very strong taste and smell so many cats can become addicted to it. Veterinarians refer to them as “tuna junkies.” The problem can be serious because these tuna junkies may refuse to eat anything else. The other problem with a steady diet of tuna is that there’s a risk of mercury poisoning. If you incorporate tuna into your cat’s diet, do it in a controlled way.


3. Feeding Raw Fish

Raw fish contains an enzyme called thiaminase which destroys thiamine (one of the B vitamins). A thiamine deficiency may lead to appetite loss, seizure and also death. Although cooking destroys the enzyme, a steady diet of fish doesn’t provide adequate amounts of necessary vitamins and minerals. Fish is not a typical diet for cats and unless they’re exposed to it through their human companions or if it’s their only food source, they would prefer meat sources. There is also the risk of parasites when feeding raw fish.

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4. Offering Milk to Your Cat

Once weaned, most cats become lactose intolerant. Although some cats don’t have a problem with the occasional milk treat, offering milk on a regular basis often leads to diarrhea. Milk is not to be a replacement for water and if offered instead, it can lead to dehydration.

5. Allowing Your Cat to Eat Tablescraps

Tablescraps aren’t a balanced diet for cats and most are too fatty and spicy. A diet that contains more than 10% tablescraps can lead to deficiencies. In addition to the nutritional concerns, feeding tablescraps can also lead to behavior problems such as begging and food-stealing. Food with bones can lead to choking. Some bones, such as chicken, can splinter and cause injury to the esophagus.

cat eating

Photo: Fotolia

6. Over-Supplementation

If you’re feeding a well-balanced, good quality diet you shouldn’t have to supplement your cat’s food. Unless your veterinarian advises otherwise, don’t add extra supplements to the food because you can increase them to toxic levels. If you’re doing a homemade diet for your cat, make sure you are following a veterinarian-approved recipe so you can add appropriate supplements if needed.

7. Feeding Your Cat a Vegetarian Diet

Cats are obligate carnivores and must get their vitamin A from meat sources. A diet lacking proper amounts of meat will lead to serious deficiencies and possibly death. If you are a vegetarian, you must not include your cat in that way of life or he will suffer. There is no compromising on this. Cats need meat. Period.

8. Allowing Your Cat to Become Obese

Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the pet world. We are simply killing our cats with food. We feed too much and don’t provide enough opportunities for activity. Many cats don’t have anything to do other than waddle from the sofa to the food bowl.

cartoon cat dreaming of sausage

Photo: Fotolia

Feeding guidelines on food packaging are very general and may not apply to YOUR particular cat. Consult your veterinarian about how much food your kitty should receive on a daily basis. Obesity can also be caused by offering too many treats or by giving your cat the wrong type of food.

If you’re concerned about your cat’s weight, talk to your veterinarian. Cats can’t go on rapid weightloss plans because it’s dangerous to their health. Weight reduction must be done gradually — and trust me, your cat will appreciate it if the food supply isn’t suddenly reduced. When you put your cat on a weight reduction plan, increase the amount of exercise he gets. Very often, just an increase in doing daily play sessions can have a big effect on obesity.

9. Inappropriate Stage of Life Feeding

Pet food labels include information regarding stage of life. Kitten food, for example, contains more protein and fat than adult cat food and is appropriate for the first year of life. Some foods are labeled for senior cats, young cats, inactive cats, etc. There are also therapeutic diets for specific health concerns. Feed the appropriate food for your cat’s stage of life. If you have any questions, consult with your veterinarian. If you’re feeding raw food or doing a homemade diet, seek advice from your veterinarian or veterinary nutrition expert in order to ensure your cat is being given a safe and appropriate diet.

10. Feeding too Many Treats to Your Cat

Treats aren’t a replacement for a well-balanced diet. Treats are highly palatable but they don’t contain the necessary nutrients a cat needs for a healthy daily diet. If you feed treats too often then kitty won’t have enough of an appetite for his regular food. Treats are powerful tools for use in training and behavior modification. Use them wisely though. When I give treats I break them into small pieces so one treat goes a long way.

If you have an overweight cat, keep in mind that you can use his regular food for training purposes so you don’t have to increase calorie intake through the use of treats. Just separate a portion of his normal daily amount for training purposes.

closeup of a cat's face

Photo: Unsplash

 Need More Information?

For more specifics on nutrition, understanding cat food labels or how to deal with mealtime behavior problems, refer to Pam’s  book Think Like a Cat.


Note: the information in this article isn’t meant as a medical diagnosis and isn’t a replacement for veterinary care. If you have questions about your cat’s nutrition or health, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can also guide you on the appropriate food to feed as well as the amount.  

Pam's books are referred to as the cat bibles by behavior experts, veterinarians and cat parents worldwide

We’re sorry but Pam is unable to respond to comments. If you have questions about cat behavior you can find many answers in the best-selling books by Pam Johnson-Bennett as well as in the articles on our site. If your cat is displaying a change in behavior, contact your veterinarian because there may be an underlying medical cause. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.



One Response to Ten Common Mistakes When Feeding Cats

  1. AND REMEMBER – CATS NEED PROTEIN! so stop feeding them the grain based food, switch to a grain free (esp wheat and corn free) MEAT _BASED cat food without food coloring.

    Your cats will be slimmer, healthier, and happier. And be less susceptible to diseases like diabetes and cancer.

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