Finding the Best Cat Food

We want to get the best cat food for our feline friends, but it can be very difficult to read nutrition labels and compare wet food vs. dry food. In this article I will provide information to help you find the best food to keep your kitty as healthy as possible.

First, we need to figure out.........what exactly should be in my cat's food to keep them healthy? Well, consider what cats would thrive on in the wild. A good sized meal for an average cat would be approximately 1 mouse. (Sorry Mickey!) Mice are made up protein, fat and moisture.

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that their diet should be mainly animal or meat based. Now while a fat juicy mouse may indeed be the best cat food available in the wild, we need to find a more conventional source for a best cat food. Let us explore. . .

Here’s a Cat Lady pet peeve – The idea of having a vegetarian cat. Oy! Feed your cat meat or meat based food! Many dry cat foods have a very high content of grains, and there are even vegan cat foods on the market now. In my opinion, not the best cat food choice at all.

Please know that Domestic cats can't adapt to a vegetarian diet because they can't make nutrients they need and that are absent or rare in plants. This applies especially to taurine, vitamin A and to some fatty acids. The absence of taurine is very important because it causes the cat's retina to slowly degenerate, causing eye problems and eventual irreversible blindness.

I have nothing at all against human vegetarians, but please do not impose those values on your cat, who cannot be healthy on the same vegetarian diet as you. And lest I get a thousand letters from irate vegetarians out there, yes, I am well aware that some of these meatless cat foods provide necessary nutrients in the form of supplements.

I just feel that this is a completely unnecessary thing, and frankly, if the idea of eating or feeding meat is that offensive to you then perhaps you should consider keeping a rabbit or hamster instead of a cat. Harrumph.

All that having been said (or ranted about!) we need to determine what really is the best cat food for your kitty. One of the things to look most closely at is the cat’s age. An elderly cat will not have the same nutritional needs as a kitten, and in fact will likely perceive the very flavors differently.

Aging animals often have impaired olfactory senses, and will need a stronger smelling food to inspire them to want to eat. Kittens will also have a need for much more energy (read calories) than a sedentary adult cat will.

Fortunately, many cat food manufacturers have begun to take all these differences into account and are currently offering many foods specially formulated for your cats age, and nutritional needs. Here are some rough guidelines on what to expect from various foods.

"Grocery Store" Foods

These are the generic or store branded foods found in grocery stores and super-center type stores. They are usually more economical than higher grade foods, but they also contain lower-quality, much less-digestible and inexpensive fillers and other ingredients.

While less expensive, these "grocery store" foods commonly don’t provide your cat with the healthiest, most nutritious ingredients and are not always the best cat food for your cat.

They provide less energy and because they’re made with more fillers and indigestible ingredients, they will also create more waste in the litter box because so much of their bulk simply passes through your cat’s system unusable and therefore unused. You're also likely to see artificial preservatives in these foods, like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, and a daunting number of by-products. Many times the manufacturers of these foods use the least expensive ingredients that will meet the desired levels of nutrients without taking into consideration whether your cat is even able to digest or absorb the nutrients.

Economy is in the eye of the beholder it would seem, so when searching for the best cat food for your cat, bear in mind that foods like this will sometimes cost you more in the long run because you have to feed more, and can sometimes short-change your cat's health.

Premium Foods

These are often considered the best "name brand" cat foods. They are available in grocery stores, pet stores, and veterinarian’s offices. These are generally made with higher-grade ingredients, including higher quality, more digestible protein sources and real meat as opposed to meat by-products, but may still contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, and chemical preservatives.

Now, let it be said that artificial colors, and flavors and indeed even chemical preservatives are not necessarily the kiss of death for your feline friends, but many people prefer to not include these in their cat’s diet so if you are one of these people, read the labels be aware of what you are feeding to your cat.

Premium foods are usually more expensive than "grocery store" foods because of their higher-quality ingredients, but are also usually more beneficial and digestible, making them some of the best cat food available.

Healthy Foods

One of the newer categories to be found on the cat food market, Healthy foods provide cats with the highest-quality, most nutritious ingredients without some of the less desirable ingredients so often found in either the premium or "grocery store" foods.

Often considered the best cat food in general, healthy foods generally use higher quality ingredients - such as real meat as one of the first two or three ingredients, whole fruits,vegetables, and vitamins and minerals formulated for the age and condition of your cat. You can confirm that you’ve found a healthy food by reading the label.

Regardless of what a cat food may say on the bag or can, by law, all pet food labels (at least those sold in the US) must list their ingredients in order by weight. Therefore, those foods with quality protein sources like meat, poultry or fish listed in the first three ingredients are some of the best cat food comercially available and will have greater amounts of digestible, high quality sources of protein. Here are some other things to look for on the list of ingredients:

*Carbohydrates, in the form of whole grains, which provide solid, useable energy.

*Fiber is important too. Look for fiber that is provided by the addition of vegetables such as beets or potatoes, which help your cat’s digestion and bowel function.

*Vitamin packed veggies and fruits are very good additions to a healthy food. These may include sweet potatoes, carrots and even apples, which are natural sources of nutrients and antioxidants. Especially beneficial are cranberries, which help maintain healthy urinary function and aid in preventing UT infections.

*Fish oils and other natural oils such as olive and sunflower not only supply energy, but are also very good for your cat’s skin and coat.

*Ash is a filler and does not contribute significantly to your cat’s diet, and so should be very low on the list of ingredients, and the best cat food manufacturers may not include it at all.

*Vitamin E, mixed tocopherols and other natural preservatives slow the process of fat oxidation. This is why some natural foods and homemade foods formulated without it tend to spoil. Preservatives are necessary, just try and choose foods with the least offensive ones!

Healthy foods may cost a little more, but are a better value because they also contain more nutrition per ounce and you will be feeding your cat less food while providing more healthy nutrition. Feeding less means less mess in your litter box, too. Nice bonus.

Other Considerations

Your cat's age - make sure you choose a food suited to your cat's age.

Your cat's overall condition – Overweight or underweight cats have very different dietary needs than “normal” cats. If your cat has special needs or medical conditions, be sure and consider that when choosing a cat food, and please do consult with your veterinarian regarding medical conditions and any special dietary considerations you cat might have. Your Vet will be happy to help you find the best at food for your feline.

Your budget – just as you would for your children, just feed your cat the best food you can afford to buy. You can make your own cat food, and I will provide more information and recipes on my Homemade Cat Food page, but when purchasing a commercially prepared food, it really is true that when you spend a bit more, you will usually be giving a better-quality, healthier food to your cat.

Cats are as unique as the people who care for them. They are incredibly complex creatures with their own personal preferences - some cats may prefer chicken, and some only adore fish. Some cats like canned food, some like dry food, and some will gobble up anything they can find! (So keep an eye on Fido’s food, it’s not good for kitties!)

Bear in mind that there is no best cat food for all cats. Fortunately, these days there are many varieties of cat foods for cats of all ages and conditions, and its fine to use a bit of trial and error to determine which one works best for your cat. Just be sure that when transitioning your cat from one food to another, to do so gradually, to avoid stomach and digestive upsets.

Also, keep an eye on your cat once he is fully switched to the new food for at least a month. Your cat’s appearance and behavior will let you know when you’ve made a good choice for your cat's nutrition. Look for bright eyes, good energy and a shiny coat. If you need help deciding on the best cat food for your cat, it’s always a good idea to seek out your veterinarian’s advice.

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