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Old 10-14-2008, 10:44 PM
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Thumbs up Cats 101 : Getting Your First Cat - Part 3 Food and Water - Essentials for Life

Lesson 3: Food and Water - Essentials for Life
By Franny Syufy, About.com

The diet a cat gets early in life will set the pace for his lifelong health and well-being. Your knowledge of cat food ingredients will help ensure not only longevity, but the quality of life you want for your new family member.

Although this class is presented in one day, the content is something you should review for weeks and months ahead, until you feel secure in your knowledge.

Cat Food: Your Most Important Choice for Good Health

Choosing a Starting Food

Cats get along better in the first two weeks if they are fed the same foods they were given in their previous setting. Once you're assured the new diet doesn't cause tummy upsets, you can proceed with a final diet plan.

If you can talk to the care giver in the cat's last home, it's probably best to give your new pet whatever food she's accustomed to. If you acquire a cat from a breeder, more often than not, their contract will either strongly suggest or require you to feed a certain kind of food. For cats and kittens with unknown backgrounds, here are some guidelines:

* Kittens -
These babies need more fats and proteins than grown cats, so look for foods with "Complete and Balanced Nutrition" on the label as well as the AAFCO animal feeding tested statement "for all life stages". There are also foods specifically formulated for kittens. These can be identified by the words "highly digestible, nutrient-dense and uniquely designed to meet kittens' nutritional requirements. Kittens from eight weeks upward can handle dried food quite well, although canned food is really better for them.

* Adult Cats
Canned foods are better for cats, but your cat may be used to dry food only. Grown cats thrive on dry food, and any of the premium brands are acceptable. You should also supplement with canned food, because eventually you should try to move your cat over to canned only.

Start off Right with a Premium Food
Please don't practice "false economy" by buying cheap grocery store foods. Cats have an innate ability to know when they have consumed the nutrients they need for growth and development. It has been found that they will eat lesser amounts of premium foods, which are packed with high-quality nutrients, which will effectively even out your costs.

Learn How to Knowledgeably Choose Cat Foods
Cats are not vegetarians. They are meat eaters, more specifically obligate carnivores, which means they must eat meat to survive. Their systems are simply not built to process large quantities of carbohydrates. Cheap commercial foods usually are packed with carbohydrate fillers and provide a low-quality protein source. Read this article throughout, then go on to read Understanding Cat Food Labels. You'll then be an expert in selecting quality cat food, and can move on to the A-Z Food Ingredients. list to help make your selections easier.

Don't Forget Canned Food
Although dry food is often considered a "staple" diet, particularly when working adults are away from home a large part of the day, cats should eat canned food regularly. Ideally, a cat's diet should be canned food, supplemented with dry. If you work, you can offer canned food in the morning and again at night, and leave dry food down for free-feeding.

Kittens Have Special Needs
Kittens need a more densely-packed diet for the development of strong bones and teeth and healthy, supple muscles and organs. Although adult food won't harm a kitten, it does not contain the growth nutrients he needs. Please don't practice false economy (there's that phrase again) by feeding your kitten adult food.

Food and Water Dishes

Although plastic bowls may seem economical and practical, some cats will develop allergic reactions to the plastic, causing itchy bumps on the chin. Plastic also scratches easily, and the scratches harbor harmful bacteria. Choose instead sturdy ceramic (with lead-free glaze) or stainless steel food and water dishes.

Make sure the bowls are tip-proof, with a broad, solid bottom.

What's in Your Cat's Water?
Although domestic cats descended from the desert, they need water for survival. A dry food diet calls for extra water, so be sure your cat is supplied with clean, fresh water at all times in convenient locations. Change the water every day, particularly if your municipal source contains excessive minerals. In that case, I suggest using bottled drinking water for both you and your cats.
If you are a "working parent," I strongly urge you to look into an automatic watering system for your cat. My cats have two of them, and they love their fresh, clean, filtered water. We used bottled water because our municipal water tastes "yucky," and on warm days I frequently float a few ice cubes in the water for added interest.
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