With so many different cat food products on the market, it can be tough to figure out which diet is best for your cat. The following guide provides a quick overview of cat nutrition and tips for choosing healthy cat food products that meet your feline’s dietary needs. It can be challenging to change your cat’s diet, so I have also included guidelines and tips to help make the transition easier.
General Cat Nutrition Guide:
Look for a cat food that is high in animal based protein. Apologies to my vegetarian and vegan friends, however, cats are obligate carnivores and their bodies have evolved to process animal proteins.
Look for a cat food that is low on carbs and fillers. Carbohydrates should make up no more than 10% of your wet cat food serving, 15% for dry food. Avoid/minimize filler ingredients like corn, rice, potato and wheat gluten.
Choose wet or raw food over dry food. There are many reasons to limit the amount of dry food your cat eats. First, cats have a low thirst drive, so feeding them a dry diet sets them up for not getting enough daily fluids. which can lead to in urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney problems. Second, dry foods tend to be lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates. Third, the storage of dry food can lead to bacterial contamination. Think of dry food as the “fast food” of your pet’s diet. It is unlikely to be harmful in small amounts, but should never be relied on as the sole or major component of your cat’s diet.
Be as picky as your cat about snacks. Make sure snacks are high in protein. You can even make your own homemade cat treats!
Last but not least, be sure not to over feed your cat. Feline obesity has direct health repercussions, so aim for a lean, not so mean, purring machine!
Tips for Choosing Cat Food Products
Reading Cat Food Labels
Read cat food labels with caution. The requirements for pet food labeling are not as stringent as they are for human food. Plus, the same terms used for dry and wet foods can mean different things. There are ways to convert the information for comparison, however I think you are better off judging each type of food on its own merit with a goal of a diet composed mainly of wet food.
Pet Food Quality – Three Basic Rules
Use the following three rules when assessing the quality of a pet food product:
Rule 1: Pay attention to the list of ingredients or the “Rule of First Three.”
- The Rule of First Three: A good rule of thumb is to focus on the first three ingredients. Those ingredients make up the bulk of what is in the product. If you can’t pronounce it, you wouldn’t feed it to a human, or the top three doesn’t contain an animal based, whole food protein – put it down and keep shopping.Look for whole foods like tuna, beef, or chicken.
- Don’t be distracted by buzz words like “natural,” “grain free,” or even “veterinary diet.”The term “meal” refers to an animal protein source that would have otherwise been disposed of (think nose, toes and entrails). It is a less desirable source of animal protein and should never be the first ingredient.
- The term “meal” refers to an animal protein source that would have otherwise been disposed of (think nose, toes, and entrails). It is a less desirable source of animal protein and should never be the first ingredient.
Rule 2: Look at the Guaranteed Analysis:
- Wet food should be, at minimum, 10% crude protein.
- Dry food should be, at minimum, 30% crude protein.
- Ash, a common filler should be less than 2% of the guaranteed analysis.
You can use the percentages in the guaranteed analysis to calculate carbohydrate levels for both dry and wet cat food. Here is a good guide: Calculate Carbs. However, you might try this small cheat:
Cheat for Estimating Carbs in Cat Food Products: Add up the percents in the guaranteed analysis and the closer you are to 100%, the fewer carbs that food contains. For wet food, 97% or higher is good. For dry food, 70% or higher is okay. I am a little more lenient with dry food, as it is not the foundation of my cats’ diets. If you are only feeding your cat dry, I would advise using the calculation in the link to get the actual carbohydrate percentage.
Rule 3: Avoid/minimize fillers, chemicals and other additives:
- Avoid fillers like corn, oats, rice or wheat gluten if you can. Peas and sweet potato are more desirable alternatives.
- Avoid any product that contains mystery ingredients that you either can’t pronounce, don’t recognize, or would not eat yourself. Do you know what butylated hydroxyanisole is? Me either! My rule of thumb is that if the mystery ingredient makes up more than 2% of the guaranteed analysis, I will look either it up or move on to the next product.
- Avoid food dyes if possible. Your cat cares more about smell and taste than appearance.
Here is an example of what a cat food label might look like and a close up of the guaranteed analysis. This is Tiki Aloha Cat tuna and pumpkin:
Reading the Reviews
There are a number of websites that review cat food products. Some are paid to do so and should disclose this information. To be sure you are getting a balanced perspective, look at reviews from at least three separate sites that seem reputable. This is called “triangulation” and is a good way to avoid getting duped by a marketer. The review should look at nutrition, price, and how well it is liked by the cats who have tried it.
What I Feed My Cats
The foundation of my cats’ diet is Weruva canned wet food. I am not a Weruva affiliate nor do I receive product or money from their company (I wish!). I supplement this with one meal of raw chicken or rabbit a day from Savage Cat Food. Savage Cat Food does provide me with a small discount, but has never requested anything from me in return. I recently reached out to them (something I almost never do) to ask for a promotional code so that I could encourage people to give raw a try and now you can use SQUISH10 to get 10% off cat food on their site!
A side note on raw food: I turned to raw food when I first adopted Duffy. He had consistently loose stools and, after my vet ruled out any physical issues, I began exploring different diet options. It took me two months to try Savage Cat raw food and it was a lifesaver! I saw immediate results after adding raw food to Duffy’s diet. If money were no object, I would feed my cats additional raw food meals a day. The kitties love it and I love that they have healthy bowel movements without the awful smell. There are other good raw brands out there like Rad Cat and Primal, but Duffy’s stomach prefers Savage Cat. For more information, see https://savagecatfood.com and http://feline-nutrition.org
Finally, I do feed a small amount of dry food a day to Fergie and because they are cats, Duffy also consumes a small amount. I use Premium Edge, which I have no affiliation with, because it’s a medium grade, low cost kibble that I feel comfortable using as a supplement to their wet food diet. I also use it with a cat auto feeder PetNet when I travel. PetNet gave me a smart feeder to try in exchange for my honest review, and am quite happy with it.
For treats it is all about #meowforCiao. My cats are so crazy about Ciao treats I call it kitty crack! Recently we became an affiliate so we are able to offer you a discount. Just use code SQUISH30 at HealthySpot.com.
How to Transition Your Cat to a New Food
Do NOT change your cat’s food all at once! This could mean tummy trouble or complete rejection of the new food. Slowly add in the new food over time, paying attention to how this affects their litter box habits. I start by adding just a tablespoon a day to their regular food for a few days and then I add a tablespoon more and see what happens. If you have a cat that only eats kibble now, expect the process to take even more time. The health benefits to your beloved furbaby are worth it!
Tips to get your pet interested in a new food:
- Rewards! Give your cat lots of love, attention, treats, or play when they try the new food.
- Add a small amount of a yummy/smelly topper like tuna.
- Go just a bit longer than usual between feedings to make sure they are hungry and skip the treats during this phase.
- Warm up the wet food a bit in the microwave, or better yet with some hot water. Many cats dislike cold wet food. If you are trying to convert your cat from dry to wet, this tip can be particularly useful.
- Know when to admit defeat! It is possible your cat simply may not like the smell or taste of the new food, so be prepared to try several brands. Also try a different brand if you notice any tummy issues.
- If you have tried several different high-quality brands and still have a cat with tummy issues, your cat may have an allergy to one or more of the ingredients. You could try a single protein diet at this point, but I would also advise consulting with your veterinarian, if you haven’t already.
Note: These are general, easy to follow rules I’ve created based on research across multiple sources from a variety of websites. If you would like to dig deeper into what goes into food labeling and explore in-depth the variety of ingredients you might find in a cat product, I encourage you to do your own research. Here are two good places to start: