Cats are obligate or true carnivores, meaning that they need a source of animal protein to survive. In the wild, cats eat the carcases of the prey animals they hunt, which consist of raw meat, bones and organs. They also consume a small amount of the vegetable matter contained in the gut of their prey.
Basic cat feeding guide
The following information is general advice, but as each cat is an individual, seek veterinary advice, particularly if your cat has any special dietary needs or has a reaction to a standard diet.
The basis of your cat’s diet should be a high quality balanced premium commercial cat food that is appropriate for their life stage and health status. By reading the label, you can check that it complies with the Australian Standard for the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food AS 5812:2017 . Wet food helps to ensure adequate water intake and dry food is good for oral health. A balance of wet and dry food is preferable, as feeding only dry food may lead to obesity . Never feed puppy or dog food to your cat as it will be deficient in taurine, an essential protein that cats can only obtain through food.
You can also offer some natural foods to provide variety. Natural foods include fresh human-grade raw meat (e.g. pieces of raw lamb or raw chicken) and raw meaty bones. You should check with your vet first that raw meaty bones are suitable for your particular cat (e.g. some cats with misshapen jaws or dental disease or older cats may have difficulty chewing on raw bones). Raw food offered to cats should always be fresh.
We recommend you choose only human-grade raw meat and raw meaty bones because some raw meat products marketed as pet food (pet meat/pet mince/pet rolls and bone products) contain preservatives to keep them looking fresh, but these can be detrimental to the cat’s health. There have been many pet food safety incidents linked to sulphite preservative-induced thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency, which can be fatal. You should avoid sausages, sausage meat and cooked manufactured meats as they can also contain sulphite preservatives. Provide some moist foods in the diet regularly as this can help maintain a healthy urinary tract. Examples include wet can food and fresh raw lamb meat.
The amount of food required will depend on your cat’s size, age and level of activity, but you should take care not to overfeed or underfeed. Your vet will be able to weigh your cat, assess your cat’s body condition score and provide advice.
Adult cats tend to prefer eating several smaller meals throughout the day/night, which is how they hunt if they live in the wild. They should ideally be offered food at least 4 to 5 times per day because eating smaller frequent meals has been associated with greater urinary tract health and is consistent with their natural feeding pattern. Providing opportunities for cats to exert effort and search for their food (such as using puzzle feeders and varying the location of feeding) may also prevent obesity .
Some cats can be ‘fussy eaters’, which can develop when they are fed the same food (such as raw chicken) over a long period. They can be tempted to eat by slightly warming their food, offering foods that are tasty (due to high levels of protein or fat) or have a strong odour, and by offering variety, including new and different foods.
Please ensure clean fresh drinking water is available at all times but do not provide milk as this can cause gastrointestinal upsets.
Raw meaty bones provide several important health benefits such as keeping teeth and gums healthy. Suitable raw meaty bones include raw chicken (necks, wings, or drumsticks) and raw lamb shanks. They must always be given raw (uncooked). Never feed your cat cooked bones as these can splinter, causing potentially fatal internal damage or blockage.
Too many raw bones may lead to constipation. Generally, 1 to 2 raw bones may be offered per week with a few days in between each serving. The bone must be large enough so that the cat cannot fit the whole bone into their mouth or swallow the bone whole. Avoid large marrow bones (these have very thick outer rims), large knuckle bones or bones sawn lengthwise as cats may crack their teeth on these.
Always supervise cats when they eat raw bones.
Fish, such as tinned sardines in springwater, tinned tuna and tinned salmon (take care with any fish bones) can be offered as a treat occasionally but please avoid feeding fish constantly because this is not a complete diet. Cooked meat such as boiled chicken may also be offered occasionally, but please ensure there are no cooked bones, onions/onion sauces or other toxic substances present (see below).
Cats may also be offered a small amount of finely-cut vegetable matter. It is important to remember that cats are ‘obligate carnivores’, which means they require meat in their diet, so their nutritional needs cannot be met by a vegetarian diet.
Provide cats with access to grass (avoid chemically treated grass and toxic plants). Cats will occasionally eat grass, which may be a source of vegetable matter and micronutrients. Be aware that large amounts of certain types of ‘cat grass’ can cause high levels of vitamin D, which may lead to symptoms of poisoning such as vomiting, weakness, loss of appetite, increased drinking and urination, bloody faeces, weight loss, constipation, internal bleeding, seizures or abdominal pain.
Do not ever feed the following substances as they are toxic to cats (note this is not a complete list): alcohol, onions, onion powder, garlic, chocolate, coffee or caffeine products, mouldy or spoiled foods or compost, avocado, bread dough, yeast dough, grapes, raisins, sultanas (including in Christmas cakes etc), currants, nuts (including macadamia nuts), fruit stones or ‘pits’ (e.g. mango seeds, apricot stones, avocado stones), fruit seeds, corncobs, tomatoes, mushrooms, cooked bones, small pieces of raw bone, fatty trimmings/fatty foods, salt and roughly-cut vegetables.
Also ensure your pet cat doesn’t have access to string wrappings around rolled roasts or absorbent pads found under meat when wrapped on trays.