With all the commercial cat food options on the market, choosing the best food for your cat can be overwhelming. "Should I be feeding wet or dry food?" "What ingredients are best for my cat?" "Which are the best food products to get?" These are the questions we'll answer to make your decision an easy one.
Read more: FAQs about Cat Food
Basic Nutritional Requirements of Cats
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that meat must be the primary ingredient in their daily diet. In addition to meat-based protein, the other nutrients that complete a cat’s diet include fats and oils, some carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Types of Cat Food
There are 4 general types of cat food that are commercially available. These include:
- Dry foods or kibble for cats - contains 3-11% water and is more economical compared to the other types. If not moistened, it can remain under room temperature without spoiling for at least 3 hours.
- Recommended Food
- Canned foods or wet food - contains 60-80% water and are generally more palatable than kibble or semi-moist foods as they tend to contain more protein, fats, and water.
- Recommended Food
- Semi-moist foods - contains 25-35% water and are usually packed in pouches. These foods are more palatable than kibbles.
- Freeze-dried raw food – highest in freshness, nutrients and enzymes. Due to the way freeze-dried food is prepared, it is certainly the most natural commercially-bought food you can feed your cat. This type is probably the most expensive option, so it is recommended to vary it with wet and/or dry food to lower your costs.
- Recommended Food
Unlike in humans, who require a variety of foods to have a complete diet, premium quality cat food is already formulated and manufactured to give a complete and nutritionally balanced diet. Being familiar with the pros and cons of each type of pet food can help pet owners choose a product that will satisfy the nutritional needs of their pets.
Deciphering cat food labels -- How to read cat food labels
Cat food labels contain valuable information about the product. These include the following:
Name of the Product
The name of the product often emphasizes or highlights a particular component of the product such as the name of a particular ingredient. If it’s a named ingredient, the “95% rule” must be followed. For example, if a product’s name is Tuna Cat Food, at least 95% of the product composition must be tuna.
Statement of Net Quantity
This states the net quantity or total amount of the product in the container.
Name and Address of Manufacturer
This provides information on the company that is responsible for the product’s safety and quality, and where the company headquarters are located. Some manufacturers that include a toll-free number if consumers have inquiries, concerns, and or complaints about the product.
List of Ingredients
The list of ingredients is based on the order of predominance by weight. For cat food, named meat like ‘beef’, ‘tuna’, or ‘salmon’ is preferred over unnamed meat. Thus if it’s Tuna Cat Food, the first ingredient listed must be tuna. If the product is a combination of ingredients, such as Tuna and Salmon Cat Food, the two ingredients must be 95% of the total weight.
There are state regulations for food made in the USA that require cat food products “to guarantee the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture”. Take note that guaranteed analysis is often made on an “as-fed” or “as is” basis.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
If a product is labeled “complete” or “balanced”, the claim must be substantiated for nutritional adequacy by either of these 2 methods--
- The cat diet must be formulated with ingredients that meet the specific nutritional requirements of the lifestage or nutrient profile issued by AAFCO.
- The product undergoes testing using AAFCO Feeding Trial Protocols. This means the product has been fed to the specific species and lifestage under strict guidelines established by AAFCO.
The Nutritional Adequacy Statement also states for which particular lifestage the product is formulated for, such as “for kittens”, “cat food for diabetic cats”, “for maintenance”, “cat food for older cats”, etc.
These contain specific instructions on how the product should be offered to pets including the recommended quantity. Take note that feeding directions are just rough guidelines. Several factors can influence the food intake of pets including the breed, environment, health issues, lifestyle/activity level, temperament, etc.
The calorie statement is described on an “as fed” basis. To roughly compare the caloric content values between a canned and a dry food, multiply the value for the canned food by four.
What to avoid in cat food and treats
Even with strict implementation of established guidelines and regulations concerning the formulation and manufacture of pet food products, there are still those that incorporate ingredients that are deemed undesirable, unwholesome, and even harmful to pets. When you have developed the habit of reading pet food labels and learning how to decipher them, you should steer clear of products that contain the following:
- Feed-grade ingredients
Feed-grade ingredients are of lower quality compared to human-grade. They also have higher risks of having toxins, such as mycotoxins which can cause serious illness.
- Chemicals and preservatives
The most common chemicals and preservatives that are used in pet food products include Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Ethoxyquin. BHA is a known carcinogen and can have harmful effects on the reproductive system. BHT is also a known carcinogen which has been demonstrated in studies to cause damage to the liver and kidney of rats. Ethoxyquin can be harmful when consumed or with direct skin contact.
Propylene glycol (PG) is a moistening agent that is added to some soft pet foods and treats. It is derived from ethylene glycol, a type of antifreeze that is extremely toxic to pets.
- Artificial food coloring
Many types of artificial food coloring such as Red 40 and Blue 2 can trigger cat food allergies, displays of behavior problems, and even cancer in humans.
- Rendered fat
This is used as a flavor enhancer for kibble but it has been linked to Salmonella and toxins.
Read more: How to Store Cat Food