Two Brilliant Tips to Help Indoor Cats Get in Touch With Their Wild Side

cats wild side

Story at-a-glance -

  • Welcome to day 6 of our Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute’s (CANWI) Annual Awareness Week
  • Today, Dr. Raditic shares how she cares for her own cats to ensure they get the nutrition they require and the experiences they need to grow and thrive
  • There are two common sense things every cat parent can do to help their kitty enjoy a happy, healthy life

By Dr. Donna Raditic

As a cat mom, I’m picky about what I feed Ms. Stevie and Mr. John-Ray, my two once-feral kittens. As a veterinary nutritionist who studies feline diets, I recommend the following to help cats thrive.

Cats Are True Carnivores

Studies show cats thrive on a high-protein diet with varying levels of fat and a low amount of carbohydrates. They have unique requirements for many essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

For example, if their diet doesn’t contain enough arginine, cats will become violently ill and can have seizures. Diets low in taurine can result in digestion problems, blindness and cardiomyopathy. And as you might guess, the amino acids kitties require are highest in animal proteins and lower in plant proteins.

Knowing that Ms. Stevie and Mr. John-Ray need many important nutrients, especially as they’re growing, I set out to formulate a homemade diet plan and feeding program that meets their nutritional needs, encourages their carnivore behavior and also fits into my work life.

Aim for Small Meals Throughout the Day … Even if You Work Full-Time

It’s not just what we feed our cats that’s important, but how we feed them. Cats are hunters at heart. In the wild, they eat 10 to 20 small “prey- sized” meals throughout the day, averaging about 180 to 200 calories per day. Studies show frequent small meals can help kitties maintain a urine pH that protects against the common cat urinary problems such as crystals, stones and cystitis issues.

So how can a pet parent provide all this and still hold down a full-time job? My homemade diet has the consistency of canned food with about 75 percent water, so it can’t sit out at room temperature all day. I solved this problem by offering my cats their homemade diet first thing in the morning and when I return home.

I also placed some of the homemade food into an automatic feeder that has cold packs so I’m able to provide them two additional small homemade meals while I’m gone during the day. This means each day my beloved kitties get four small servings of my homemade diet.

Of course, this setup doesn’t mimic a wild cat’s 10 to 20 meals or their desire to hunt food, so I had to resort to adding some dry food to their daily intake. I place three to four pieces of kibble in another automatic feeder that provides five more timed servings and then a few pieces into numerous puzzles that require my cats to spin, roll, poke and paw at them to get the food out.

I also put a few pieces in indoor hunting feeder mice and hide them around the house, which provides them with a new hunting experience every day.

By using my homemade diet to provide the majority of the calories my cats eat each day, plus a small amount of a high-protein/very low-carbohydrate dry food in feeding toys, I can go to work knowing I’m providing them with an optimal diet while also satisfying their need to stalk and hunt. 

Bring the Wild Indoors

Indoor cats need stimulation and need encouragement to move, hunt and play. Think like your feline friend. To you and me, our homes are walls and floors, but cats live in a three-dimensional world. They’re looking up, down and all around for potential hunting, resting and quiet (safe) feeding places.

Consider adding furniture, stands and sturdy shelves to transform your home into a stimulating 3D world in which your cat can search, stalk, hunt, play, rest and eat. I recently placed a large bookshelf next to a big window for my cats. There are empty shelves for them to climb around on, and I put a small bathroom rug on the top of the unit so they have a comfy high perch from which to watch the world go by.

I also purchased two large floor-to-ceiling cat trees. Ms. Stevie, a green-eyed silver lady, is bold and loves to be in the limelight, center stage, while Mr. John-Ray is quite the athlete, but a bit shy. So, for Mr. John-Ray I added a canvas tent and a few tunnels, so he can slink from room to room or hang out in his quieter/safe places.

Takeaway Message: When We Nurture Their Carnivorous Nature, Our Cats Live Vibrantly Healthy, Active Lives

The veterinary profession is still learning about feline nutrition, but I’ve found that a homemade diet plus a small amount of high-protein, low-carbohydrate kibble helps ensure my kittens are getting the nutrition they require and the hunting experiences they need to grow and thrive.

If you’d like to feed your own cats a homemade diet, I recommend working veterinary nutritionist to formulate the best diet for your cat. And be sure to check out some pictures of my kittens and their nutrition plan at our CANWI Facebook page.