(BPT) - Because cats become so ingrained in people's lives, it's often easy to forget they are animals with specific needs that could be outside of what owners may think is best. According to research from Mintel, cat owners consider taste as the most important factor when buying food for their cats, but science shows that taste is more than just flavor. Great taste is a result of the right nutrient balance, satisfying texture, savory aroma, specific kibble size, adapted kibble shape and desirable flavors.
The food that cats eat and how cats eat it can have a big impact on the cat's overall health. Royal Canin, a leading global pet nutrition company specializing in breed-specific nutrition, has been collaborating with veterinarians and nutritional experts to develop diets that are highly palatable and provide complete and balanced nutrition for cats.
'It's sometimes easy to underestimate the impact that feeding habits can have on a cat's health,' said Dr. Catherine Lenox, veterinary nutritionist and Royal Canin scientific affairs manager. 'Everything from the type of food, frequency of eating and the container it is given in can impact the cat's feeding behavior and health in some way.'
Cat feeding best practices
Taste can vary for each cat, but there are several common feeding preferences that cat owners should be aware of that can enhance their cat's overall health and well-being:
* Smaller, more frequent meals are preferred: Many cats prefer eating multiple small meals per day, with a shortened duration of each meal.
* Environment can impact consumption: Many factors can influence a cat's appetite, including breed, habits, activity level and instincts. Additionally, indoor cats can sometimes overeat due to a lack of opportunity to hunt and boredom. Increasing activity and environmental modifications can help indoor cats lead more enriched lives.
* There's more to food than flavor: Cats have around 475 taste buds, which is significantly less than dogs (1,700) or humans (9,000). While flavor can have an influence on cats' preferences, the aroma, texture, kibble size and shape are as important as the flavor in defining taste palatability for a cat. Over time, cats will prefer a food that meets a specific nutrient balance versus one that has flavors that cat owners think might be appealing.
Application of best practices
Feeding a cat multiple small meals per day may seem challenging, especially with the busy, fast-paced life many people live today. Dr. Lenox has some great tips for cat owners to apply these best practices to their lives:
* Use a small bowl: Small bowls can control intake of food and encourage frequent feeding. Puzzle feeders and other unique feeding solutions also offer ways for the cat to space out their meals and can enrich their environment. However, if there are multiple cats, each cat should be offered their own food bowl.
* Combine meal feeding and controlled grazing: According to The Encyclopedia of Feline Clinical Nutrition from 2008 edited by Pibot, et al, meal feeding is when owners provide set times for small meals of wet food and controlled amounts of dry food are provided at all times. This allows the cat to eat multiple small meals in a 24-hour period. Combining these two feeding methods creates a social reinforcement of food intake and can lead to the ideal number of meals.
* Keep a consistent schedule: It is helpful for cats to expect meals at the same times every day. Once a schedule is established, it's easier to feed the cat and will be better for their health.
Putting it all together
'According to the Cat Fanciers' Association, there are more than 44 distinctive breeds of cats, and Royal Canin works hard to ensure that each breed receives balanced nutrition,' said Dr. Lenox. 'You can see this dedication highlighted through its food offerings and sponsorship of cat-specific events like the Cat Fanciers' Association's International Cat Show, one of the largest cat shows in the country.'
Again, every cat is different, so consult a veterinarian before deciding the best feeding routine for the family pet. However, these suggestions should be a good place to start to keep cats healthy.