Feeding your British Shorthair properly is an important part of caring for your pet. While this breed is not typically picky about food, you as an owner should be; poor diet can cause any number of health problems and generally has a negative impact on your cat’s well-being. If you want your British Shorthair to thrive and enjoy life, a good diet is essential.
What do British Shorthairs eat? The ideal diet for a British Shorthair should centre around animal protein, preferably from animals as close as possible to a cat’s natural prey. Vegetable ingredients are largely unnecessary. Wet food is preferable to dry. Grains should be avoided, as should dairy. Water should be provided liberally rather than milk.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what makes a really healthy diet for your British Shorthair. We’ll discuss raw versus processed foods, the advantages of home-made versus store-bought cat food and how to choose a really good brand of food for your British Shorthair. We’ll also look at the issue of hydration and how to ensure that your cat takes in enough fluid to stay healthy.
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Feline nutrition and the British Shorthair: some general points
“What do British Shorthairs eat?” Ask a British Shorthair owner this question and the answer will often be an exasperated sigh, followed by the assertion that they’ll eat anything they can get their paws on. This breed is famous — or perhaps notorious — for their hearty appetites and tendency to omnivory of the broadest sort, often extending well beyond anything remotely resembling cat food. Dog food, cheese, bread, ramen noodles and plastic bags are all items I have seen consumed by unsupervised British Shorthairs.
A better question would be “What should British Shorthairs eat?” The answer to this question is rather more helpful and much simpler: meat.
In general, it’s important for a cat’s diet to focus largely on meat, to the exclusion of any other food types. Like all cats, British Shorthairs are obligate carnivores: they have evolved to live off other animals and will not do very well on any other diet. You should feed your British Shorthair cat a diet of high-quality cat food, wet for preference, with ingredients consisting chiefly or wholly of meat.
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The British Shorthair and diet: considerations
The British Shorthair is a splendidly chunky cat with a cobby body-type and lots of muscle. They do get quite heavy in the normal run of things, especially the boys. It’s not at all unusual for a male British Shorthair to top eight or nine kilos. People — even some vets, who really ought to know better — sometimes assume that British Shorthairs are obese when they’re simply a large breed with a naturally stout configuration. You can check the correct weight of your British Shorthair in this article.
That said, there’s such a thing as a cat who is too heavy. The British Shorthair is a nice, laid-back kitty with an even temper and a stolid disposition, which makes them very easy to have around; unfortunately, it also makes them rather prone to put on weight. This is especially true of British Shorthairs who are getting older. In order to ensure a long and healthy life for your beloved BSH cat, you need to keep a careful eye on her food intake. It’s very, very easy for this breed to become dangerously obese if they’re allowed to free feed and not given sufficient exercise.
For this reason, it’s recommended that you use portion-controlled feeding and make sure that your cat is eating a healthy diet, high in protein and low in empty calories. I would recommend a Cat Mate C50 Feeder (check price on Amazon) – it’s easy to operate and not expensive.
This will keep your cat in tip-top condition and looking her best, without the heartache of preventable illnesses. As for the wet food, my personal preference is to use a nice brand that comes in pouches; my BSH kitties get one pouch for breakfast and another for supper, with a little kibble from the forage toys I keep around the house. Some people may feel they need to feed their cats more often; this is fine if the cat is on the big side or very active.
Selecting a good brand of food for your British Shorthair
Raw or cooked, store-bought or home-made, every cat deserves really good quality food. Processed store-bought food is absolutely fine for the vast majority of cats and you should have no anxiety about feeding it to them, provided you select a quality brand. A wise cat owner will avoid letting their pet eat cheaper foods. These are acceptable if you really can’t afford anything else and your cat is very lively and active.
In most cases, though, the relatively minimal extra outlay for a really good brand is well worth it in terms of keeping your pet healthy. Look at it this way: vet bills are a lot more expensive than good cat food. Choose a quality brand that’s high in protein, lower in fat and very low in vegetable ingredients. I strongly favour rabbit and poultry as the main meat sources for my cats’ food. Although duck and chicken aren’t quite the same as the small birds that cats would eat in the wild, and rabbit is not precisely the same as vole, they are similar enough to make a reasonable substitute.
With pet foods, especially foods for your British Shorthair cat, it’s important to read the small print. Pay careful attention to the ingredients listed on the back of the package or can and don’t rely overmuch on the short description splashed across the front. Phrases such as “Real chicken flavour!” might sound good but the conceal a multitude of nutritional sins. “Chicken flavoured what?” should be your question.
When you check the ingredients, sure enough, you’ll find chicken relegated to near the bottom while cheaper, less healthy constituents make up the majority of the recipe. You want a rabbit, not “rabbit flavour”. I like Fancy Feast as their foods are grain-free.
As your cat ages, choosing the right food becomes even more important. Your British Shorthair will spend at least half her life as a senior kitty — probably more, as this breed lives a long time — and her caloric needs will decrease. While you could just feed her a little less, you may want to look at high-protein foods. British Shorthairs who have developed weight problems as a result of overfeeding can achieve significant weight loss through the use of high-protein foods. Purina makes food specifically for senior cats.
Feeding your British Shorthair kitten
Nutrition during kittenhood is very much a hot-button issue among cat lovers. Do kittens need specific nutrition? Can they eat the same food as mature cats? Cat food manufacturers are very clear on this point, offering a vast array of different products for every stage of kittenhood. To hear the pet food industry tell it, if you’re not changing your kitten’s food every other week you might as well be sending her out to clean chimneys on a bowl of gruel.
My personal opinion is that kitten formula foods are essentially a gimmick and that kittens will be perfectly fine on the same food as mature cats. Once they’re weaned, they can digest solid food perfectly well and should not need any particular supplementation. As long as you provide a good-quality premium cat food, your new three-month-old kitten should be able to eat exactly the same chow as your strapping one-year-old adult cat. The only difference is that a kitten needs to be fed more frequently — their tiny bodies just burn through nutrients. Since they only have little stomachs to hold all the food they’ll need, it follows that they will need to refuel more often. It’s completely reasonable to feed your kitten five times a day while she’s small. I like to spoon out a small dollop of wet food — about a tablespoon — and then mash it with a fork to make it easier for the kitten to eat. If she asks for more, give her a bit more.
Don’t leave food out in the dish, though; it may become rancid, especially in hot weather, and a kitten’s still-developing immune system won’t cope as well with bacteria as an adult cat’s. Feed little and often and wash her dish each time. As she grows you can reduce the frequency of her meals little by little so that by the time she is a year old she is eating twice a day. Once your British Shorthair reaches a year old, the serious growing has all but finished (although this breed may take from three to five years to reach their full adult size, everything slows down a lot after the first year) and extra food will just make her prone to weight issues.
All that said, if you want to give your kitten a special kitten formula, it won’t do any harm. There’s nothing really wrong with any of the kitten foods on the market, it’s just that they don’t really contain anything that adult foods don’t. Some may have additional fat to provide ready energy for your busy little bundle, which is fine as long as you can get her to stop eating it once she’s grown up. It’s unclear whether there are any special benefits from these foods but they certainly won’t hurt your cat. Fancy Feast makes a kitten food with a nice soft texture.
Grains and vegetable ingredients in your cat’s food
Many cat foods make a virtue out of their vegetable ingredients. These are marketed as supplying additional nutrients and fibre for your cat. In my opinion, this is hucksterism on the part of the food manufacturers, who wish to bulk up their products with cheaper ingredients. There’s nothing terribly wrong with foods containing modest amounts of low-calorie vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots or courgettes (zucchini). They won’t hurt your British Shorthair and may assist in providing extra fluid.
What many foods contain, however, are grains. Wheat, barley, rice and other grains are routinely added to cat foods as a cheap way to bulk up the product while saving money. Manufacturers actually have the gall to brag about this, touting the presence of “whole grains” in their foods as if these were a positive contribution to your pet’s diet. In point of fact, grains, whole or otherwise, have no business anywhere in your cat’s diet. Grains are not good or wholesome for cats. The feline digestive system is not the same as humans and your cat will not benefit in the least from munching on what amounts to a bowl of muesli, despite what the advertisers may tell you.
Grain foods contribute remarkably little nutrition as your pet cannot digest them. What they do deliver in abundance are empty calories — absolutely the last thing your British Shorthair will ever need. Additional calories are fine for a growing kitten, who will simply burn everything off through growth and activity. For a mature cat, however, the additional food energy contributed by grain-based ingredients will simply contribute to weight gain.
Grain-based foods may have another unwanted side-effect: intestinal disturbances. Because your cat can’t properly digest grains, such foods tend to irritate the delicate feline gut. This means more visits to the litter-box, more foul-smelling stool, and even diarrhoea. The presence of poorly digested starch in the animal’s gut can create bloating and gas. It may even contribute to infections of the GI tract. I have seen reports that cats can even develop a feline version of gluten intolerance. The irritation and disruption of the cat’s digestive system also make it harder for the cat to absorb nutrients from the more wholesome parts of her diet, leading to a general decline in health. If you want your British Shorthair cat to stay happy and healthy, you should avoid grains as much as possible. Check my recommended grain free wet food – ideal for BSH.
Vital nutrients for your British Shorthair
There are some nutrients that your British Shorthair absolutely cannot do without. One of these is taurine — yes, the same stuff one finds in those energy drinks. Taurine is an amino acid that plays a vital role in many of your cat’s systems, particularly those relating to cognition and eyesight. It is one of the substances most degraded by processing; unless your cat is on a raw diet (of which later), her food should contain additional synthetic taurine and this should be listed on the packaging as an ingredient.
Cats also need a full range of minerals such as calcium (for strong bones and teeth) and magnesium (for bone health and also for nerves and muscles). Cats need fatty acids, such as the omega 3 and 6 found in oily fish. They also need a full spectrum of vitamins. Check your cat food ingredients carefully to make sure that these are listed — your British Shorthair cat cannot thrive without them. Many distressing health conditions can be traced back to a dearth of some nutrient or other; even behavioural issues may be down to a lack of taurine or minerals like magnesium.
If your British Shorthair is shedding too much, suffers from an unusual number of dental issues despite good tooth-care or is generally out of sorts, some deficiency in her diet may be to blame and you may be tempted to add supplements. That said, the majority of premium cat foods do contain all the vitamins, minerals and amino acids required by your cat. If she has a specific deficiency that needs to be addressed, don’t try to guess this and treat it yourself. It’s fine to add a little fish (not too much) or an egg to your cat’s food once in a while if you think it might help her, but the wrong food supplement can actually make things worse.
Your vet can help you determine an effective supplementation regimen to help your cat. For the most part, a proper diet should deliver everything she needs without additional supplements.
Feeding your cat fruits and vegetables
This is not to say that small amounts of fruit or vegetable material do not have a place in your cat’s diet, albeit a minor one. The nutrients they provide are limited but they do represent a good source of fluid — something many cats actually lack. It’s really very common for a domestic cat to live in a state of low-level dehydration a lot of the time. Later in this article, we will discuss the importance of proper hydration in your British Shorthair’s diet and how you can achieve this; for now, though, we’ll just note that fruits and vegetables can be a useful tool in keeping your cat’s fluid levels topped up.
Not all fruits and vegetables are safe for your pet. In particular, you must never give your cat onions, chives, leeks, garlic or any member of the onion family to eat. Unripe fruits should be avoided. All seeds, skins and pith should be carefully removed before the fruit is given to your cat. Avoid giving citrus fruits — they aren’t toxic per se but the oils from the skin can be irritating to your pet. Apples and some soft fruits (cherries, apricots and peaches to name a few) contain seeds or pits with dangerous levels of cyanide compounds; you can still give these to your cat but the seeds must never be left in.
Tomatoes are fine provided they are very ripe and red, with no trace of green. Your cat may or may not be interested in fruits or vegetables — cats can’t taste sweet things so the primary flavour of most fruits is not detectable to them. Certain textures (soft or crunchy) may be very pleasant to a cat, and they also seem to enjoy certain smells and flavours. My cats seem to enjoy cucumber in particular and I’ve met a few kitties who just loved cantaloupe. Apparently, there’s some constituent to this orange-fleshed melon that appeals to the feline olfactory system. Chilled melon and cucumber are a boon in hot weather, which can really bother the thick-furred British Shorthair.
Raw and home-made foods
It’s perfectly fine to give your cat home-made foods provided you know what you’re doing. My British Shorthair cats have always done very well on premium store-bought foods but if you have a BSH kitty who just isn’t thriving on commercial products it’s okay to make your own. You may also wish to make your own foods if you have a lot of cats to feed — in this case, the additional labour is easily offset by the greatly reduced cost. My only caveat regarding home-made foods is that you do need to educate yourself on feline nutrition before diving in. You must be very careful about food hygiene and you need to be absolutely certain that all the ingredients you use are completely safe for your cat.
Responsible pet food makers provide a good nutritional balance in their recipes, adding extra nutrients that may be missing from their pet foods; if you switch to home-made cat foods you will need to ensure balanced nutrition yourself. That said, the growing number of people who give their cats home-made dishes has ensured a ready supply of reliable recipes that you can use. The whole business is rather labour intensive but if it’s something you want to do, go for it.
Raw food is a slightly different matter. While you certainly can prepare raw food at home (and many people do), food hygiene becomes an even more pressing issue. Recent high-profile outbreaks of food poisoning traced back to badly prepared commercial pet foods have caused many people to shrug their shoulders and assume that the risks from home-made raw food must be similar to those from commercial foods; this is not the case.
With raw feed, you need to be incredibly scrupulous about food safety both for you and your British Shorthair. It only takes a moment’s inattentiveness to cause an outbreak of food poisoning that can seriously harm you and your BSH.
I know that many vets view the current rise in raw feeding with some concern, due to the risk of bacterial infections and parasitic infestations. There are raw foods on the market, both fresh and frozen. You might want to look into these rather than taking the risk of preparing raw food yourself. For example, Instinct makes frozen raw food for cats.
Feline hydration: is your British Shorthair drinking enough?
Most people provide a dish of water for their cats to drink out of. For some cats this is fine; as long as the water is changed daily, they’ll drink a reasonable amount. Unfortunately, many cats won’t. This may seem hard to believe when you’ve watched your cat trying to drink out of puddles or lick condensation off the window, but your British Shorthair may actually be quite picky about the water she prefers to drink.
Evolution has left your cat with the inclination to seek out running water, preferably a respectful distance from her food dish. This, incidentally, is why you’re always having to shoo her off the counter and away from the kitchen sink — she wants to drink free-flowing water out of the tap. If her only option is a bowl of stale water that’s been sitting out all day, picking up dust, hair and drowned insects, she may hold off on drinking until her thirst overmasters her. This is especially true in cats whose eyesight is failing or who had poor vision to start with: they’re not wildly keen on still water at the best of times and if they can’t see the surface properly it can make them very distressed.
You can help a great deal by changing their water more frequently and giving their water bowl a good scrub whenever you refill it, as well as by providing additional water bowls in strategic locations around the house. Even better, however, is a pet water fountain (Cat Mate – check on Amazon). I prefer the pump-driven models to the gravity-fed ones as the former provides a nice stream of crisp, clear water that will encourage your British Shorthair to drink.
Providing additional water is especially important during the summer months, when your British Shorthair may be prone to overheating and becoming dehydrated more rapidly than usual. As well as the fruit and vegetables we’ve looked at previously, another way to add fluid to your cat’s diet is to mash some water into her wet food. She won’t mind and you can improve her hydration significantly in this way. During the summer months, a little-crushed ice in her food may be very welcome.
It’s especially important to keep your British Shorthair cat’s fluid levels high if she eats dry food. Wet food is preferable and I always recommend it, but I do understand that some cats simply won’t eat anything but dry. These cats need additional water. Cats who don’t drink enough fluid are at risk of renal and urinary tract issues, such as kidney stones and UTIs.
What your British Shorthair really shouldn’t eat
We’ve taken a look at what British Shorthair cats should be eating. Let’s conclude by discussing some of the things they should not. Aside from the aforementioned non-food items, there are many things a British Shorthair might try to eat that she really shouldn’t.
Dog food is a biggie; try to keep her away from the dog’s bowl and let him finish eating so that there’s no leftover food for her to steal. I don’t know why, but some cats are absolutely obsessed with dog food and will do anything to get at it. It’s not good for cats to eat dog food as this is not formulated in a way that suits a cat’s dietary needs. In particular, dog food tends to be heavy on grains, which as we’ve already seen are bad for cats.
Dairy is another category that your cat should be kept away from. Do not give your British Shorthair milk to drink. Unless you’re a breeder or find yourself caring for an orphan kitten, your British Shorthair baby will be fully weaned by the time she comes to you. Once a kitten is weaned off her mother’s milk, she can no longer effectively digest lactose (the sugar found in milk). She may vomit or develop an upset stomach if she consumes milk or dairy products. For some reason, British Shorthair cats seem especially prone to this kind of lactose intolerance. I do know some people who let their cats have hard cheeses; these should have had most of the lactose fermented out but I personally would not let my cats eat them anyway.
Cheese doesn’t really contain anything a cat needs and the additional fat isn’t healthy. I also know some cat owners who give their cats a little yoghurt as a probiotic. Again, plain yoghurt should not have any lactose left — if it really is plain yoghurt. Many commercial brands have whey or cream added to improve the flavour, reintroducing lactose and making them unsuitable for cats. I’m unconvinced that yoghurt has any special benefits for a cat in any case.
“People foods” in general should be kept away from your British Shorthair. Aside from the fruits and vegetables, we looked at above, most foods we eat are unhealthy or downright toxic. Cats can die from some of the things we eat every day, such as foods containing caffeine or alcohol. Bread and other wheat or grain products seem quite tempting for cats but are very bad for them.
The meat products we eat are often loaded with salt or flavourings that cats shouldn’t consume, like the onions or garlic mentioned above. Even if the food itself isn’t terribly unhealthy, it’s still a bad idea to let your British Shorthair snack from your plate. This breed really doesn’t need the additional calories. If you want to give your cat a treat (and who wouldn’t?) reach for a pinch of catnip or break out the toys rather than giving her titbits.