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.
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. You can read more about Ash in the Pet Food Association of Canada’s FAQ page.
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 Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s How To Read A Pet Food Label.
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.
Types of Cat Food
Dry Cat Food
Dry cat food also known as kibble is a popular form of cat food. Kibble has a much longer storage life than wet food and also tends to be cheaper to produce. However dry cat food can cause chronic dehydration in cats. This can have serious health consequences, and so we do not recommend a cats diet consist of entirely dry cat food.
At the very least you should feed your cat a mix of wet food and dry food. In addition to a lack of moisture dry food tends to contain higher quantities of unnecessary carbohydrates and fillers. Despite this, some high-quality dry cat foods have relatively good nutrition. WSAVA discusses why canned cat food can be better for cats than dry food in their FAQ.
For more information about dry cat food and a list of the brands we’ve reviewed, check out our Dry Cat Food section.
Wet Cat Food
Wet cat food is commonly stored within a can and contains a much higher percentage of moisture than dry cat food. It 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, wet food tends to contain fewer fillers and processed ingredients. Despite this, some wet foods do contain fillers, and processed ingredients so always check the packaging to see its ingredient list.
For more information about wet cat food and a list of the brands we’ve reviewed, check out our Wet Cat Food section.
Kitten foods contain different ratios of nutrients and vitamins. This is because kittens have different dietary needs to adult cats. Protein and Fat content tend to be higher in kitten food. Moreover, the number of specific vitamins and minerals are increased. Some kitten food has a different consistency to make it easier to digest.
For more information about kitten food and a list of the brands we’ve reviewed, check out our Kitten Food section
Senior Cat Food
Senior cats require different ratios of nutrients and vitamins just as kittens do. Preventing health problems such as joint or kidney problems is also an essential consideration in senior cat food. Generally speaking, senior cat food is not hugely different from traditional adult food, but it can have some benefits.
For more information about senior cat food and a list of the brands we’ve reviewed, check out our Senior Cat Food section.