We adore our cat’s personalities and characters, but many of us don’t understand how to feed our feline friends best.
There is a wide selection of cat food available, and deciding which of these can provide our cat with the right nutrition is a challenge even for those with a strong understanding.
Factors such as breed, age, activity levels, and sensitivities or allergies are essential considerations when selecting a cat food. Here is everything you need to know about cat food.
Types of Cat Food
Dry Cat Food
Dry cat food, also known as Kibble, is the most popular form of cat food. Its core advantage is that Kibble has a much longer storage life than wet food and also tends to be cheaper to produce, especially at scale.
However, dry cat food isn’t perfect and can have negative effects. In some cats, dry food can cause chronic dehydration.
This lack of moisture can have serious health consequences for cats, and so we do not recommend a cat’s diet consists entirely of dry cat food.
At the very least, you should feed your cat a mix of wet food and dry food to ensure they take on sufficient moisture. In addition to a lack of moisture, dry cat food tends to contain higher quantities of unnecessary carbohydrates and plant-based ingredients.
Despite this, some high-quality dry cat foods have impressive nutrition that is high in animal-based protein and fat.
For more information about dry cat food and a list of the cat food brands that produce dry cat food that we’ve reviewed, check out our Dry Cat Food section.
Wet Cat Food
Wet cat food is also extremely popular and is most commonly stored within a can. However, some wet cat food can be found in different storage containers such as plastic pots, tubes, and cartons.
As we mentioned earlier, wet cat food contains a much higher percentage of moisture than dry cat food, with most recipes containing 70-80% moisture.
Also, wet cat food tends to provide a better balance of nutrients for your cat’s diet than dry food, which can prevent the need for supplementary feed.
Furthermore, the main reason that wet cat food nutrition is often superior is that wet food tends to contain plant-based or processed ingredients.
Despite this trend, some wet cat foods do contain lower-quality ingredients, so always check the packaging of a formula to see its ingredient list.
For more information about wet cat food and a list of all of the wet cat food brands we’ve reviewed, check out our Wet Cat Food section.
Kitten foods can come in several different forms, including dry cat food and wet cat food. Kitten food tends to contain different ratios of nutrients, like protein and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals.
This difference in the nutritional profile is needed because kittens have different dietary needs from adult cats.
The most obvious different requirement is that Kittens are growing far more than adult cats and so require protein to fuel this growth.
As a consequence of this, Protein and Fat proportions tend to be higher in kitten food, usually be a few percent. Lastly, some kitten food has a different consistency to make it easier to digest; for example, Kibble may be in a smaller size or different shape.
For more information about kitten food and a list of all of the kitten food brands we’ve reviewed to date, check out our Kitten Food section.
Senior Cat Food
Senior cat food has many similarities to kitten food and can come in various types, such as dry cat food or wet cat food.
In another parallel, senior cats also require different ratios of nutrients and vitamins, just as kittens do. Preventing health issues such as joint or kidney problems is also an essential consideration in senior cat food.
However, that being said, senior cat food tends not to be hugely different from traditional adult food, but it can have some minor benefits.
For more information about senior cat food and a list of the brands we’ve reviewed, check out our Senior Cat Food section.
Cat nutrition is very different from human or dog nutrition; this is because humans and dogs are omnivores, while cats are strict carnivores.
Therefore for your cat to be healthy, its diet needs to consist primarily of meat and fish ingredients. In addition, plant-based ingredients such as vegetables or grains should be limited.
To aid your understanding, here is an explanation of the primary three macro-nutrients and what role they play in a cat’s diet.
Protein for Cats
Protein is the most critical part of a cat’s diet and should be at the core of every cat food recipe. It is vital for cats’ growth, repair, and maintenance throughout its life.
Cats’ immune systems also need sufficient protein to be effective.
Additional protein that cats consume beyond the needs of their bodies and immune system is not wasted.
This idea is a common misconception for both humans and pets. This lack of waste is as protein can be burned immediately as calories or converted into fat for storage.
Carbohydrates for Cats
Carbohydrates are not necessary for a cat’s diet and, in high quantities, can have serious adverse effects on a cat.
Cats in their natural environments consume less than 5% carbohydrates, yet some cat foods contain up to 50% carbohydrates.
This colossal imbalance is driven entirely by cost as plant-based ingredients are significantly cheaper than their animal-based alternatives.
It is also essential to understand that high carbohydrate diets can cause dehydration and liver or kidney problems in cats. This risk is the most critical reason for cat owners to ensure that their cat is not over-consuming carbohydrates.
Fats for Cats
Fats provide a highly concentrated form of energy for a cat and are naturally present in meat and fish ingredients. They are packed with more than double the calories per gram than proteins or carbohydrates.
Dietary fats are also crucial for the maintenance and development of your cat’s cells, muscles, and tissues.
The proportion of fat in a cat food recipe is tightly correlated with the proportion of protein. However, this is not always the case, especially for those recipes that rely heavily on plant-based protein.
Cat Food Labeling
Cat food labeling has seen significant advancement over the previous decades, much like food for human consumption.
All reputable brands now have a guaranteed nutritional analysis displayed on their product packaging. You can use this Guaranteed Analysis to examine its nutritional values.
Here are some of the nutritional values you should be looking out for within this analysis.
- Protein (Min)
- Fat (Min)
- Fiber (Max)
- Moisture (Max)
- Taurine (Min)
It is essential to pay close attention to whether a nutritional value is listed as a minimum or a maximum.
For values such as Protein and Fat, that are listed as minimums, it is likely that the actual proportion of these nutrients present is marginally higher.
On the flip side, for those nutrients listed as maximum’s, such as fiber or moisture, it is likely that the recipe has a marginally smaller proportion of these nutrients.
Some cat food brands choose to include additional nutritional information on the packaging of their products, including some of the following:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids
The Omega Fatty Acids are a type of fat that can provide a number of health benefits. While these benefits have not been conclusively proved, especially in cats, they have widespread backing.
Examples include the improved condition of a cat’s fur and coat, a reduction in heart issues, and enhanced cognitive function.
Ash is a misunderstood component of cat food and is best described as the inorganic components of pet food. Ash is nothing to be afraid of and is a natural part of a cat’s diet.
For those wanting to understand better how to read a pet food label, you should check out WSAVA’s Interpreting Food Labels, North America graphic, or the Purina’s How To Read Cat Food Labels.
Cat Food Ingredients
Cat food labeling should contain an exact breakdown of its ingredients in descending order (the ingredients in the highest quantities are listed first and those with the lowest quantities listed last).
This listing will allow you to gather details such as what meats, fish, vegetables, or grains the recipe contains. You should pay particular attention to this and be on the lookout for any ingredients that are considered to be low-quality or detrimental to a cat’s health.
- Named meat or fish ingredients such as Chicken, Beef, Tuna, Salmon, Pork, Turkey, Lamb, etc
- Named meat or fish meal such as Chicken Meal, Salmon Meal, Lamb Meal, etc
- Named Organ Meat or Giblets such as Kidneys, Heart, Liver, etc
What you may have picked up from the above, is that the most critical factor in determining the quality of meat and fish ingredients is whether they are named and specified.
This naming ensures that the manufacturer is held accountable, and there is no mystery or variety in what is included.
Second, while many consumers are put off or scared of meat and fish meals, they are, in fact, high-quality and nutritious ingredients.
Meat Meals are meat ingredients that have had their moisture removed. Given that most meats are up to 80% moisture, this leaves an ingredient that is far denser in nutrition like protein and fat.
Lastly, we can not emphasize enough the benefits of organ meat like Kidney, Heart, and Liver. These organ meats are a natural part of a cat’s diet and include many micronutrients that traditional meat cuts lack. Also, they can significantly enhance the flavor and taste of cat food, much to your feline friends’ liking.
- Unidentified Meats
- Unidentified Meat By-products
- Corn, Wheat, Soy
- Garlic or Onion
- Artificial Colors, Sweeteners or Preservatives
Above are just some of the ingredients that cat owners should look to avoid if they wish for their cat to remain happy and healthy.
As we discussed earlier, unidentified meats are to be avoided at all costs. While manufacturers will never admit it, and it is hard to prove, this can include meat not fit for human consumption.
This unnamed meat could be old or sick animals, and there have even been claims that it can consist of sources like roadkill.
Grains, particularly those that are highly processed, should also be avoided. These are highly dense sources of carbohydrates, and as we discussed earlier, cats are obligate carnivores and have no requirement for large portions of carbohydrates.
While the adverse effects of artificial colors, sweeteners, or preservatives have not been proved, they are highly suspected and therefore, should be avoided if possible.
Allergies or Sensitivities
Dietary allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances are becoming increasingly common in pets such as cats. However, the cat food market is adapting to help combat this by providing cat food designed for cats with allergies.
We have several articles that explain in detail how to approach feeding a hypoallergenic cat and what foods are available that do not contain common allergens.
A fantastic example is the below:
Novel Meats are uncommon or unique meat ingredients that are often used in Hypoallergenic cat Food. The logic behind this is that because a cat may not have been exposed to them before, they are less likely to be allergic.
We’ve written a number of articles discussing common Novel Meats.
A regular question asked by cat owners is the source of the ingredients used in cat food recipes.
Many cat owners want to guarantee that the ingredients found in their pet’s favorite food weren’t sourced from overseas, in particular, China or other similar countries.
This is as many consumers do not trust ingredients from these regions of the world and think that they could be harmful or dangerous.
Many cat food brands use this desire for home-produced food to their advantage and proudly state that their meat ingredients or all their ingredients are sourced from the United States or their home country.
For North American cat food products, we would highly recommend ensuring that the bulk of the ingredients used in the recipe you are considering are sourced from countries such as The United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand.
These countries have stringent regulations in place and high safety and quality standards, which will put your mind at ease.
Testing cat food on cats can be a controversial and complicated topic. Many cat owners are strongly against invasive animal testing or large-scale testing on animals in a laboratory setting.
However, despite this strong adversity, it is critical that cat food is properly tested to ensure that it is safe to consume and does not have any adverse effects, especially over the long term.
Because of this requirement, some brands choose to do small-scale trials and testing on the cats of existing customers, employees, or friends. However, critics will argue that this small-scale testing is far from sufficient to ensure that the cat food in question is safe to consume.
Sadly, a large number of pet food brands do not produce any detail on the type of testing they take part in, which is likely a deliberate move to avoid backlash from their customers.
Cat Food Recalls
Recalls are a critical discussion point when discussing cat food. Given the huge number of cat food brands and raw volume of food that is produced and sold every day, there is a stream of lapses in safety and quality.
Some classic examples of reasons why cat food recipes are recalled include the presence of mold, Salmonella contamination, an inappropriate balance of certain nutrients, or the presence of physical contaminants or foreign objects.
Major recalls of pet food regularly feature in mainstream news sites and television news. You can see a recent example of this below where the BBC widely reported a recall from Midwestern Pet Foods.
However, many brands put significant effort into keeping a recall-free record. This is as cat owners look very positively at a flawless recall record and believe that the safety and quality processes in place are expansive and detailed.
Sadly, other pet food brands have had multiple recalls in their recent past. Some will argue that this is proof of poor standards in place at these manufacturing facilities, but others will debate that these brands produce huge volumes of food compared to smaller brands.
It is also worth noting that sometimes brands do voluntary recalls. These voluntary recalls are different from mandatory recalls that are issued by regulators like the FDA.
Many pet owners are supportive of brands that do these voluntary recalls as it shows that they want to be cautious and avoid any risks to their customer’s pets.
Cat Food Expertise
Another important topic in relation to cat food is the use of experts and qualified individuals during the cat food formulation process.
One of the biggest critiques of smaller “boutique” cat food brands is that they often do not employ a full-time nutritionist.
With the recent controversy around the high use of legumes in dog food recipes and an increased rate of Canine Heart Disease, this topic has been thrust into the spotlight, and many smaller brands that previously did not employ nutritionists are now doing so.