A stray cat shows up at your door -- and you don't own a cat. Still, you can tell by the way it's crying the poor thing is starving. Good news -- even if you don't have cat food in your house, some human foods can be fed in a pinch.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means it is necessary -- i.e., biologically essential -- for them to eat meat. In this, cats are different from other animals, like dogs, who are meat-eating predators but who don't need to always have meat in their diets. In fact, cats need to consume more than twice the amount of protein, pound for pound, than a dog. Bottom line: Cats need protein.
Cats need taurine, an amino acid necessary for normal heart function, vision and reproduction. But unlike some mammals, cats can't make taurine from other amino acids in their bodies, so they need to get it from a meat-based diet, fed at least twice a day. In a pinch, cooked chicken (minus bones), meat, eggs, fish and cheese are acceptable proteins. While some cats actually like milk, it contains lactose, which can cause vomiting or diarrhea.
What NOT to Feed
Cats are great grass eaters, so they're not averse to eating plant-based foods, including vegetables and fruits. But some veggies and fruits are toxic and should never be given to cats: onions, garlic and chives, which can cause anemia; green tomatoes and green or raw potatoes, which can cause gastrointestinal problems; and avocados, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Many veterinarians also recommend not feeding cats raisins or grapes, which can cause acute (sudden) kidney failure.
Dog Food: NO!
If you think all pet food is the same, think again. Although you could feed a cat dog food in a pinch -- and vice-versa -- it really isn't a good idea. While an occasional nibble from the dog's dish won't hurt a starving cat, a steady diet of dog food will not meet all of his nutritional needs, including protein, fatty acids and vitamins. Prepared dog foods typically contain less protein than prepared cat foods.
According to the ASPCA, cats should be fed at least twice a day, spaced about 8 to 12 hours apart. Treats of human food are OK, but shouldn't be overdone. In addition, make sure you provide plenty of fresh water at all times. As mentioned, milk is not a good choice of fluids. Finally, should you decide to keep a stray as a pet, feed him at least some commercial cat food to provide well-balanced, nutritious meals.
Debra Levy has been writing for more than 30 years. She has had fiction and nonfiction published in various literary journals. Levy holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.