How to Choose the Best Food for Your Cat
It's important to consider your pet's age, breed, and overall health.
As cat owners, we know how food motivates our feline companions like nothing else. Our cats will meow to remind us that it's time for dinner or they will complain that their bowls are only half-full. Cats can also be finicky eaters, so it can be tough to find a brand or type of food that your cat likes with all of the nutrition your feline friends needs to be healthy. "Providing the right nutrition for your cat or kitten is an essential step in pet ownership," explains Hyunmin Kim, DVM, veterinary staff manager of community medicine at ASPCA. "Adult cats should eat enough of a high-quality, nutritious food to meet their energy needs and to maintain and repair body tissues."
When it comes to how much you should feed your cat, it depends on several factors: Your cat's size and energy play a role in their portions at meal time. "Activity levels vary dramatically between pets and will play an important role in determining caloric intake," Dr. Kim says. A hyper-active Bengal that prowls and plays all day, for example, would have higher calorie needs than a Ragdoll that likes to sleep most of the day. Here are some of the things to check for including labeling, nutrients in the list of ingredients, and expert advice, according to veterinary experts.
Understand the labeling.
Cats can have either a canned wet food-based diet or a dry food diet, or a meal plan that incorporates both. The benefits of each depend on your cat, her lifestyle, and her overall health. You can evaluate a cat food by making sure that it has the right balance of nutrients that your cat needs for healthy appearance and functioning—proteins, fats, amino acids, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Wet cat food has a higher moisture content, which ensures that your cat gets enough water, while dry cat food may help to prevent or slow down dental disease.
"Select a food with an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional adequacy statement for the appropriate life stage for your cat," suggests Dr. Kim. "AAFCO uses two methods to evaluate the nutritional adequacy of cat food, formulation and feeding tests. The formulation method involves doing a nutritional analysis of ingredients and comparing it to AAFCO nutritional profiles for a specific life stage while the feeding method evaluates digestibility and nutrient absorption.”
In addition to visiting the AAFCO website to familiarize yourself with pet food labeling, it's a good idea to check out the FDA's pet food recalls and withdrawal list. This list is updated whenever a pet food brand issues a recall, so you should check it on a regular basis.
Read the list of ingredients.
Of the ingredients, look for three key nutrients. "Cats are obligate carnivores and should not be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet," says Dr. Kim. "They have a high protein requirement, along with a need for taurine, arachidonic acid, and preformed vitamin A." Taurine is only found in animal-based protein. While your cats are able to digest a few select vegetables, the primary component of their diet should be meat. "Cats require taurine, an essential amino acid, for heart and eye health," explains Dr. Kim. "The food you choose should be balanced for the life stage of your cat or kitten. Properly balanced foods will contain taurine."
Likewise, "Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid for cats because they lack delta-6-desaturase enzyme found in the liver to convert linoleic acid to arachidonic acid," Dr. Kim says. In other words, your cat's cell membranes need this fatty acid to function properly. Lastly, your cat's fur will look healthy and shiny if they get enough vitamin A in their diets. "Vitamin A is also an essential vitamin for cats because they cannot synthesize it from beta carotene from plants but require it for proper function of skin, coat, muscle and nerves," explains Dr. Kim.
Consider your cat's age, breed, and overall health.
When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian about which brands or types of food would be best for your cat. If your cat has certain medical conditions like diabetes, then this is even more important. "A cat recovering from surgery or suffering from a disease may have increased nutritional requirements to repair, heal, and fight infection. Talk to your vet about adjusting your cat's diet during periods of illness and recovery," says Dr. Kim. "Cats begin to show visible age-related changes at about seven to twelve years of age. There are metabolic, immunologic and body composition changes, too. While some of these are unavoidable, others can be managed with a change in diet."