We get this question quite often at Happy Cats. We have a comprehensive list of ingredients to look for and avoid here. The biggest factors on this list are the quality of the protein and avoiding known toxic ingredients.
The fact is, there are few foods on the market that meet those criteria. The decision is also complicated by availability, cost and style of feeding. As your cat’s guardian, you will have to weigh those factors to make the best choice you can to keep your cat healthy.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are biologically oriented to thrive on a species-appropriate diet of high quality protein. Investing a little more in higher quality food when your cat is young can pay off in better health and lower medical costs as your cat ages.
Each food type has its champions and detractors. We hope this gives you basic information so you can make your own best decision for you and your cat.
Please note we are no longer making recommendations for specific foods online except for some tips about raw food. Please read your cat food labels carefully and tap here for a list of ingredients to include and avoid.
Most people feed their cats dried food, or kibble.
- Easy to feed
- Cats can eat when they’re hungry
- Most cats like it
- Usually more cost effective
- Can be high in carbohydrates, low in protein
- Said to be a culprit in the current epidemic of feline obesity, leading to diabetes
- Low in water which is said to contribute to kidney disease
There is a movement in the pet food industry to make grain-free dry foods. Usually, this means replacing such fibers as corn, wheat and rice with potatoes, peas, oats, etc. As far as we can find, the latter have not been researched as safe for long-term use in cats. In fact, some “grain free” foods can be higher in carbohydrates than those with grain.
Some veterinarians recommend feeding only wet, or canned, food. For most purposes, we recommend the paté food rather than the flaked food in gravy. Many cats will lick off the gravy and not eat the meat, which leaves them with incomplete nutrition full of thickeners and glutens.
- Gives cats more water in the diet
- Usually very palatable
- Easier to hide supplements or medication in
- Must be schedule fed, which eliminates a cat’s natural pattern of eating small meals frequently
- May be higher in cost
- Often sticks to cats’ teeth, which may lead to dental disease
There’s a growing movement, even among some veterinarians, to feed fresh raw food. This is a complicated decision, however. You either must make your own or rely on ready-made frozen or freeze-dried sources. Tap here to see our discussion about raw food for cats.
Raw food has to be fed correctly. As Dr. Jean Hofve, a leading veterinary proponent of raw food, says, “The best diet you can feed your cat is a properly prepared homemade diet, but the worst diet you can feed your cat is an improperly prepared homemade diet!”
Dr. Karen Becker, another veterinary proponent of raw food, says, “If you find that you’re leaving ingredients out and it’s too much trouble, you’re better off with commercial frozen or canned products, or even dry food.”
- Said to cure many difficult diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Disorder and allergies
- May support better coats and teeth
- Leaves less waste to clean up after
- Can be more work to prepare
- Must be schedule fed
- Many cats–especially those raised on commercial foods–dislike it initially
- Can be expensive on the front end
- If not prepared correctly, a raw food diet can lead to deficiencies in your cat
Many pet parents opt to feed a combination of the above. Perhaps they schedule feed at night and leave out some kibble during the day. Or perhaps wet food is the treat that’s added to a dry diet. There are many ways to keep your cat happy, as long as he or she is getting good nutrition.
Treats don’t need to make your cat fat. Simply make sure the treats are high-quality protein that takes the place of some of your cat’s regular food. It’s also a great idea to use treats for clicker play. Your cat will love being engaged with you doing something fun, plus you’ll have fun with your cat!
Cats instinctively take their prey away from other cats to eat. When we expect multiple cats to eat side-by-side, we may be setting them up for conflict.
Please see the article below for more background information & references:
Ingredients: what to feed and what to avoid