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So, this comes out of me being a bit of a terrible cat parent. I forgot to pick up more wet cat food, and we are now out. Due to various constraints, it will likely be Friday afternoon before I can easily go get more.

Now, I'd really hate to deprive my cat of his morning breakfast for that long, because I know it is good for him and he loves it.

Is there anything I can prepare at home that would be similar to what he gets, assuming just an average can of wet can food?

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Do you feed wet and dry or just wet? There's lots of things you can use, but require supplimentation of taurine (among other things) if they are the sole nutrition. –  Zaralynda May 28 at 20:21
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@Zaralynda He also gets dry food, so this is not the only thing he will eat. –  Ashley Nunn May 28 at 20:51

4 Answers 4

There are really two concerns here.

  • the replacement meal should not harm the cat
  • the replacement meal should be palatable so that the cat will eat it

Safety

The danger in meal replacements is the loss of taurine that is added to commercial cat food that cats need to survive. According to VCA Animal Hospitals:

Taurine is exclusively found in animal-based proteins. It is critical for normal vision, normal digestion, normal heart muscle function, to maintain normal pregnancy and fetal development, and to maintain a healthy immune system. Most mammals are able to manufacture enough taurine from other amino acids to meet their needs. However, cats have a limited ability to manufacture taurine; therefore taurine is classified as an essential nutrient in the cat. Fortunately for the cat, taurine is readily obtained from the diet, as long as the diet contains animal-based proteins. Unfortunately, it is not stored in large quantities in the body and so must be consumed on a regular basis.

Clinical signs of taurine deficiency are slow to develop. It can take between five months and two years before symptoms become apparent, depending on the cat's life stage.

If taurine levels are deficient, the retinal cells of the eyes will eventually degenerate, impairing the vision. This condition is referred to as feline central retinal degeneration (CRD). Deficiency of taurine will also lead to a weakening of the muscle cells in the heart, causing a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. Taurine is a component of bile salts, and its deficiency may cause digestive disturbances.

(VCA owns/runs many of the emergency and specialist veterinarian hospitals in my area. I've been to 2 of their facilities and found them extremely competent).

For a few days a reduced supplement concentration (you're still feeding dry, just one meal is supplement-free) should be fine. If you were doing shift work or something and couldn't get to a pet store for longer than that, I would suggest looking into Amazon or other delivery options in your area.

After considering the safety from missing Taurine, I would also consider the potential dangers of the candidate materials. The most important ingredient is a meat source.

In the US, boiled chicken (no spices) and rice is often recommended by veterinarians for cats who have stomach upset. I would consider that safe.

Many people will give their cats cans of tuna, but that may not safe depending on your level of risk tolerance.

Beef (perhaps as of hamburger) is also common in US households, but if your cat does not already eat beef foods I would not recommend it (I've seen anaphylaxis in cats unaccustomed to beef before).

Palatability

I suspect that this will be the real problem in suddenly changing your cat's food. I have never been able to get a cat to eat chicken and rice (even when they're feeling good, as an experiment to see if they didn't eat it before because they felt bad, or because they didn't like it).

There are pages and pages of strategies written on the web for how to switch your cat to raw/homemade food just because most cats (especially dry food fed cats) don't recognize it as food initially.

You can prepare the most healthy replacement, but if he doesn't think it's food, he won't eat it.

What I suspect the best strategy will be to think about any time he's shown interest in something that you've eaten (climbed in your lap, licked a dirty bowl, etc) and if that's something that's reasonable, make something like that.

For example, I had a cat who once showed interest in chicken wings. Boiled chicken with just a TINY dab of BBQ sauce (for smell/interest) might have worked on him. I had another cat who wanted string cheese. That's not a reasonable food.

If your cat has never shown interest in human food (or only inappropriate foods), just give him dry food for a few days and get to the store as quickly as you can.

If this is a recurrent problem, many pet food suppliers let you set up delivery subscriptions for pet foods so you won't forget (I do this! I recommend it!).

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I have used human tuna fish cans when I have forgotten cat food for a day or so. Boiled chicken is also good.

True cat food has additives that a cat needs for health, so you don't want to make this a permanent change but a few days won't hurt.

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As a reminder: There are many cats who have lived long and happy lives on dry food. Missing a few days of his wet food treat may disappoint him, but nothing worse than that.

My kids are currently getting as much dry food as they want, and about 1.5 oz (half a small can) of wet food roughly every other day, with some deliberate randomization of which days and at what time so they understand it as a treat and don't pester me for it. Even as a treat, and with this small amount, they often don't finish it. (They're most interested in the "with gravy" versions, and will try to get all the gravy before they consider whether they'd rather eat the chunks or go back to their dry food.)

It's worth knowing what else is safe for them to eat for a few days, but I really don't think you're being "a bad parent" if they have to settle briefly for dried. Stop beating yourself up about it; it's no worse than telling a picky human kid that you're out of green beans and they're going to have to settle for other veggies for a day or two.

(It's sometimes surprising what cats will nibble on. One of mine used to like broccoli; certainly not a complete diet, but cats will eat some veggies so it isn't totally surprising. Another decided that graham crackers and cheerios were interesting; I guess the texture isn't that different from kitty kibble. Then there's the one who insists on eating bits of fluff and string if allowed to do so (bootlaces seem to be thick enough not to provoke that reaction), the one who insisted on licking plastic bags (we accused him of having a "long-chain hydrocarbon deficiency"), and the amazing self-propelled automatic paper punch ("I'm not kidding, the cat DID eat my homework -- or at least shredded it.") Weird little critters. It's one of the things we love about them.)

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I don't quite agree. Dry food fed cats tend to be dehydrated because they evolved to get water with their prey and don't make up the difference at the water bowl. I have a cat who will develop urinary problems if fed solely dry food for a few days, because her urine is no longer diluted enough. That said, it's probably okay for a few days if the cat is not likely to eat any home cooked moist food. –  Zaralynda May 29 at 12:47

Below is my list of emergency meals for cats made from people-food in order of preference:

  1. Boiled chicken and rice is great for a meal or two.

  2. Scrambled or hard-boiled eggs with no seasoning, cooking oil or sprays.

  3. Other cooked meats like fish, turkey, lean beef or pork.

  4. Low-fat deli meats.

  5. Canned tuna will work in an emergency as well, but the mercury present in tuna is best avoided.

..and lastly it should be mentioned cats will eat some veggies. While a cat can't live on vegetables, in an emergency situation feeding a cat some veggies is better than letting it starve. Peas, carrots, spinach, cabbage, kale, squash, sweet potatoes, corn, broccoli and asparagus are all cat-digestible. One of my cats will go to great lengths to steal and eat some spinach or broccoli.

Just to make it clear, even the best of the above, chicken and rice, is not a balanced meal for long-term feeding. Cats also require the B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, taurine, fiber, omega 3's, calcium (bone meal), phosphorus, other minerals, and a bit of the vegetables mentioned above.

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Just because they will eat some veggies, doesn't mean they absorb any nutrition from them. Cats lack many of the enzymes required to convert plant material into forms that they can use. See more information –  Zaralynda May 29 at 17:18
    
Yeah, none of this is going to be his solo food. He still gets his dry food, so I am not super worried if it isn't perfect. :) –  Ashley Nunn May 29 at 17:19
    
It is hard to say to what extent a small amount of vegetables benefit a cat. Wild/feral cats do get some vegetables though - they eat the contents of their prey's stomach. Wild cats eat a lot of insects as well because they are easy to catch and high in protein. Insects are often full of partially digested plant material. This is why some veterinarians recommend adding a tablespoon or two of the digestible vegetables to home-made cat foods. –  Beo May 29 at 17:46
    
@Beo when a cat eats prey, the veggies in its stomach have already been partially digested by the enzymes in the prey's stomach. Cats cannot digest veggies because they lack those enzymes. –  Zaralynda Jun 16 at 16:54

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