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The Right Feeding of Cats

[The Adaptability of the Cat]  [The Responsibility of the Owner]  [The Care of Mothers and Their Young]  [When You Buy a Kitten]  [The Right Feeding of Cats]  [More Cat Articles] 

( Originally Published 1936 )

Advocates of right feeding for cats are sometimes confronted by this difficulty, that some cats, like some people, appear to thrive on food that has hardly anyproper nutriment at all. Just as a debutante will put in a strenuous day of social engagements on a breakfast of orange juice and a luncheon of black coffee and cigarettes, so you find apparently healthy cats who eat nothing but liver, or salmon, or bread and milk, or something else that is lacking in the food qualities that an animal of the feline race requires.

But if you follow these peculiar eaters long enough, you generally find that there is a day of reckoning. I once met a woman who had purchased a handsome Persian male cat. She believed that meat gave cats worms, also fits, and she boasted that she had worked out for her pet a perfect ration, consisting of a raw fishcake, a spoonful of baked beans, and a soda cracker, all mixed together into a paste. This was the cat's dinner, and he never had any thing else. He was a year old and seemed in great form. But a year later I saw the woman again and heard that her cat was dead. Some disease had attacked him, and he seemed to have no resistance.

A liver-fed cat may seem all right in fair weather, but it is the beef-fed cat that can resist disease. I have always believed in beef because, long ago, two beloved Persian blues of mine who had started life under a sad handicap (their mother died during an operation when they were born and at first they too were thought to be dead) lived, on a diet of the best round steak twice a day, to the great ages of fourteen and seventeen years.

Nature is the great guide. All feline creatures in a wild state are carnivorous, and you cannot do better than to feed your cat as the big cats in the woods and jungles eat, with the modifications that a confined life calls for. Wild cats run so much that they do not need much roughage in their food, and the little demanded is supplied by the feathers and other stuff they swallow with their game and the grass that they nibble when their stomachs ask for it. Our pets, living in the house, eating trimmed meat, must have more bulk in their diet, so we must mix vegetables with their meat, and provide pots of growing grass for them. It is said that cats require a certain nutritional property that exists in feathers. A good way to supply this is to give your pet an occasional raw chicken head with the feathers left on.

Breeders do differ considerably in their methods of feeding cats. The Champions, mother and daughters, who came to America from England a score of years ago, and whose Persian silvers were famous, were strong for meat and not very much else. In a manual published by Dorothy Bevill Champion, entitled Everybody's Cat Book, she wrote, "Cats should be fed strictly on a meat diet; no oatmeal, no rice, no potatoes, and no milk. Milk is a cause of dysentery, and no milk-fed cat is free from worms."

But an English contemporary of the Champions, also successful as a breeder, gave her cats a varied diet including bread and milk; liver, boiled and raw; soaked dog biscuit; raw meat and breakfast oats stewed together; fish with boiled rice, turnips, carrots, parsnips, beans, and peas; and occasional meals of prepared cats' food.

Fanciers, raising cats on a large scale, are in a position to experiment. But it is safer for individual owners of pet cats to stick to a simple diet, and if you accustom your cat from the beginning to eat sensible things you will have little trouble.

From the age of three months, two meals a daybreakfast in the morning and dinner at night-are enough, with a drink of milk at noon (fresh milk or evaporated milk thinned with water, as the cat prefers). Remember that your cat is like yourself: it likes its meals warm and appetizing, and slightly salted to bring out the flavor. Never leave food standing around when it has finished eating, and do not feed at odd hours.

Fastidious cats dislike chopped beef from the butcher's, and there is always a chance that it is not fresh. Buy good beef and cut it up, with scissors or a sharp knife, into fine pieces or long thin strips. Some cats like it raw, and some like it slightly broiled. For a change give broiled, roasted, or stewed lamb, mutton, chicken, any kind of fish that is not too rich, stewed rabbit, and almost any kind of game, but no pork, no fried food, and no fishbones, chicken bones, or chop bones. A plate of chicken bones may seem a great treat for your cat, but they have a bad way of splintering and getting lodged in the throat or the intestines.

With the meat at dinner mix some non-starchy vegetable-spinach, asparagus, string beans, or carrots. For breakfast the meat may be supplemented by brown bread toast, either crumbled and mixed with the meat, or broken up in milk. Nibbling a slice of hard toast is excellent exercise for a cat's teeth, and usually is enjoyed if the toast is buttered. Cereals are all right if they do not prove too laxative, but only as an accompaniment, not a substitute for meat.

Once a week, but not oftener, give a meal of raw liver. Olive oil, a teaspoonful once a day, is good for some cats, and they will take it readily mixed with flaked sardines. With some cats, however, it does not agree. If there is a tendency to constipation, add a teaspoonful of agar (a tasteless substance sold by druggists) to each meal. Bran can be used instead, but agar is less harsh. Remember that milk is not a substitute for water. Your cat's special belongings should include a water dish, and it must be washed and dried once a day and kept filled with fresh cool water. Most cats are thirsty little creatures.

The amount of food a cat needs must be determined, more or less, by the owner. Individuals differ. Of course there are rules, such as the orange test mentioned near the close of Chapter IV. Dr. Hamilton Kirk, the noted English veterinary, author of a standard book on The Diseases of the Cat, thinks that the daily average for grown cats should be half an ounce of food for each pound of body weight, and that three quarters of this should be meat. But some cats are more active than others and need more food, some are greedy and want too much, some are finicky and must be coaxed to eat. Watch your pet, therefore, and gauge its meals by its condition.

Cats that have acquired a stubborn taste for wrong foods are a problem. Sometimes you can cure them by letting them go hungry for a time, but I have known cats that would starve rather than give in. Diplomacy works better, if you can take the trouble. I once cured a sardine addict by mixing beef with sardines in increasing quantities until, in a few weeks, she was eating beef with only an occasional sardine on the side.

There are many prepared cat foods on the market. but to my mind their sole virtue is that they save owners some trouble. Advertisements tell us that the products contain everything that a cat needs, but nothing out of a can or a box equals good fresh meat and vegetables. At the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals in New York, where about thirty thousand dogs and cats are received annually, only fresh foods are purchased, and this is the case with most breeders I know. One objection to canned foods is that some of them contain horse meat, and nowadays few horses are sent to the slaughterhouse except those that are old and diseased. Dry foods in boxes are safer, but too constipating for the average cat.

Above all, never give any prepared dog food to a cat. The stomachs of the two animals are quite different.