Good nutrition is the foundation of good health. Finding the best cat food will be one of the most important decisions you will make as a paw parent. The right diet can help keep your cat healthy, full of energy, and at a good weight throughout its life. With so many different brands and formulas, it can be difficult to know which is best for your cat. Here are some basic things that a cat parent should know when searching for the best cat diet.
1. Wet canned, dry kibble, dehydrated or raw
It used to be either wet canned or dry kibble cat food. Today, pet owners have more options to choose from like dehydrated cat food, specifically air-dried and freeze dried, and readymade raw diets. Most cat owners are familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of dry and wet cat food. However, not many cat parents are aware of the other type of cat diets. Let’s look at the pro and cons of the different types of cat food to help you decide what’s best for your pet.
The largest benefit of feeding a wet canned diet is the higher water content. Cats don’t like drinking water especially if it’s still or standing water. This leads to dehydration and an increased risk of kidney disease. Cats will benefit from the additional water in these wet diets. The downside is that canned cat food is more expensive compared to a dry kibble diet. Canned food spoils easily and requires refrigeration after opening. It’s not convenient for owners who practice free feeding.
Like dry kibble, air-dried and freeze dried food have a very low moisture content. So, providing ample water to your cat is crucial to avoid dehydration. The advantage of air-dried or freeze dried cat food is its nutritional value. These dehydration processes are gentle, and no heat is applied to the food. As such, there is minimal loss of nutrients. Nutritionally, good quality air-dried and freeze dried, dehydrated cat food are the closest thing to a fresh, raw diet.
Dehydrated cat food is relatively easy to feed, scoop and serve. For storage, tightly sealed the cat food in their original package. Keep in a cool environment, away from direct sunlight and heat, and best used within 8 weeks of opening. Unlike dry kibble, dehydrated cat food does not stay fresh for long once opened.
The Real Meat Company Air-Dried Lamb Dog & Cat Food is a dehydrated diet that can be fed as a sole diet, or used as a meal topper, added to dry kibble to boost the kibble’s nutritional value and taste. The Real Meat Company promises a formula that is free from fillers, colourings, artificial preservatives, artificial flavours, and antibiotics.
Some cat food brands combined the best of both worlds – the convenience of a regular dry kibble, with the flavour and nutritional value of freeze dried cat food. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Raw Coated Kibbles (Chicken) Dry Cat Food is one such combo cat food. Stella & Chewy’s dry kibble is sprayed with powdered freeze dried meat. This will improve the flavour of the kibble naturally, without having to add any artificial flavours.
Finally, on to the raw diet. The ideal raw diet for cats must be prepared based on a carefully designed recipe consisting of muscle meat, organ meat, and bones. Many cat owners choose to prepare these diets themselves at home, but commercial raw diets that are nutritionally balanced are also available. The Grateful Pet Raw Cat Food (Beef & Chicken) uses human-grade ingredients and are scientifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of cats who are obligate carnivores. This formula is also enriched with taurine, an essential amino acid that contributes to healthy heart health.
2. Cat’s age
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Once you have decided on the type of food – dry, wet, dehydrated, or raw, the next step is to consider your cat’s age.
For cats below one year old, it is best to feed a kitten formula unless advised by your vet to switch to an adult formula. Kittens generally have a higher need for protein, fat, and calories than adult cats. Kitten cat food ensures that they get an adequate amount of these nutrients to support their growth. Kitten formula is best but if it is not available, choose a cat food formulated for all life stages.
Once a cat reaches maturity, the focus should be maintaining a healthy body weight. This is when you will need to switch from high-calorie kitten food to an adult formula that is lower in calories.
This dietary requirement will change again when your cat moves into its senior years – 7 years and above. Just as in humans, as cats age, both muscle mass and bone mass decrease. Coupled with the inability to digest their food well, elderly cats are unable to meet their nutritional requirements leading to loss of muscle mass. Senior cat foods are formulated with additional nutrients to support their joints, bones and prevent muscle loss.
3. Activity level
A healthy, active cat that doesn’t tend to put on weight can be fed regular adult cat food. Indoor cats, due to less physical activity, do tend to put on weight. Choosing the right cat food for indoor cats is crucial to prevent many of the diseases that come with obesity like diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, urinary problems, lameness, and pancreatitis.
Not all weight-loss strategies work for every cat. Some cats will do better on certain diets. Discuss with your vet to find out what’s best for your cat. Depending on your cat’s health and dietary history, your vet may be able to help you decide which is the best cat food for weight management.
4. AFFCO Complete & Balanced
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established basic minimum nutritional requirements for cats. Pet food brands that carry the statement “Complete and Balanced” have completed AFFCO’s feeding trials and you can be assured that their cat food formulas contain adequate nutrition for cats.
Look for the statement “Complete and Balanced” on the cat food packaging to know that the food meets your cat’s minimum nutrition requirements. This statement is a regulated statement and formulas that fail the feeding trial or did not participate in the feeding trial are not permitted to use the statement. This statement can be printed at the front or back of the packaging. You may need to look around to find it or ask the shop for assistance.
5. Check the ingredients
By now, you may have decided on a few products. One final step is to check the ingredients.
The ingredients should be showing named protein sources like "chicken, lamb or fish", rather than a general word like "meat".
The named protein source must be the first listed ingredient.
The named protein source should not be “animal digest”, “by-products” or “meat meal”. You want to avoid these items in any cat food.
Look for chemical preservatives, including BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and propyl gallate. You want to avoid these!
Low-quality dry kibble can contain as much as 50% grains. Corn and wheat are the primary carbohydrate “fillers” used in cat food. Avoid any cat food that has corn or any carbohydrate-rich grains listed within the first 3 ingredients.
Check the expiration date for freshness.
6. Health issues
If your cat has special dietary needs, discuss with your vet and get his or her input. There are other factors to consider in a medical condition and getting guidance from a trusted vet can help you find the best food for your cat.
Regardless of the type of food your cat prefers, these are the basics to look out for. Always read the label and chat with your vet if your pet has health issues that require special diets.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.