COVID-19 Update: AAHA staff is currently working remotely and will support our members virtually. All orders are currently shipping as normal.
Click here for more information.

Nutrition and weight management

Click to access the 2010 AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.

Diet basics

Energy and nutrient needs vary with life stage, sterilization status and activity, and so general feeding recommendations provide only a starting point. Individual intakes must then be adjusted to maintain the desired weight and body condition score.

Satisfactory diets for cats contain all the required nutrients in proper balance, are palatable and digestible, and are free of spoilage and contaminants. The specific source of nutrients in feline diets is irrelevant when these criteria are satisfied.26 Both canned and dry food have been found to support health during all life stages.27 The presence of a label guarantee that the food was tested using feeding trials provides the current best initial evidence that a diet is satisfactory.

The panel examined published peer-reviewed evidencebased studies in healthy, client-owned cats for any significant health effect of: feeding canned versus dry food (including contribution to dental health); providing a variety of foods versus a consistent diet; feeding high protein, low carbohydrate versus lower calorie and high fiber diets; feeding raw diets; providing dietary supplements, or access to grass or plants. Based on the available data, specific recommendations in favor of any of these practices cannot be made.

Despite the concern surrounding the effects of carbohydrate in dry foods, current evidence suggests that housing and activity (which may be a marker of welfare)28 are more significant predictors of health.29–32 Evidence does not support the carbohydrate content of foods as being harmful or an independent risk factor for diseases such as obesity or diabetes.29,33

Factors to Consider

Factors to Consider When Changing the Diet

  • Provide amounts of the new diet equivalent to previous energy (versus volume) intake, adjusting the initial amount as needed to maintain moderate body condition.
  • Consider offering the new diet as a choice in the presence of the usual diet to enhance acceptability, and make diet changes gradually to minimize the risk of gastrointestinal upset in cats with a history of this response to dietary change.
  • Warm the food to body temperature; adding fish/clam juice may increase palatability for cats with a depressed appetite.

With regard to home-made foods, the veterinarian should discuss and share evidence about nutritional balance, risks associated with preparation and feeding of foods raw, and advantages of using food formulated for cats, referring clients to additional resources if required (Table 3).

Feeding regimens

A variety of feeding styles can maintain good health in client-owned cats, including free choice or provision of meals. In addition to monitoring intake, considerations include:

  • Providing water via bowls, dripping faucets and/or fountains, to promote adequate intake. When increased water intake is desirable, feeding of canned foods may help achieve this.
  • Locating food in a quiet area, especially for nervous or fearful cats (eg, away from other animals or household items that may make noises intermittently).34
  • Offering dry foods in foraging devices (eg, food balls or puzzles),35 and in multiple small meals in several widely dispersed bowls to slow intake and increase mental and physical activity.

Weight management

Click to access the 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. 

Obesity may occur at any age, but is most commonly encountered in middle age.32,36 The risk of obesity may be reduced by environmental enrichment, increasing opportunities for activity, and individualizing food intake. The energy density of cat foods varies widely, based on the moisture and fat content of the diet. This information should be helpful
in determining a guideline of how much to feed. (Fig 2).

Feline body weight assessment
Figure 2 — Regular assessment of weight and body condition score is important in cats of all ages–and this needs to be stressed to owners. Expressing any changes in weight as a percentage, or in terms of an equivalent weight loss/gain in humans, can be helpful. Courtesy of Deb Givin.

Tips and items for discussion with clients include:

  • Slowly (<10% increments and decrements) adjust calorie intake to life stage and conditions (eg, sterilization, indoor housing).
  • Provide environmental enrichment to increase activity.35
  • Switch to a diet with lower energy density (reduced fat, increased air, fiber and/or moisture).
  • Change the feeding strategy.
  • Switch to meal feeding, with portion control.
  • Introduce foraging devices (see above).
  • Introduce barriers to food access (eg, baby gates, elevated feeding stations).