If you didn’t know already, the biology of cats is vastly different from dogs. Hence, as a responsible cat parent, you should take the initiative to learn how to choose cat food.
Cat food plays a major role in the health and longevity of your feline companion so paying attention to the ingredients is important!
Learn what types of cat food are available in the market, what to look for on cat food packaging, and what your cat needs for their specific life stage!
Table Of Contents:
Types Of Cat Food
To ensure that your cat has the nutrition it needs for a healthy life, you should first know what breed your cat is, and what is available in stores.
Commercial cat food comes in 3 different forms that vary much more than just by their water content!
1. Dry Food
With <10% water content, these small, dried pellets look similar to dog food. Store them in an airtight container to keep the nutrients and flavor as potent as possible!
Cats will usually go for wet food and canned food instead if they have a choice!
But dry food is convenient for when you are not going to be home to feed your cat!
1.1. Oven-Dried And Extrusion
This is the conventional/ commercial method of drying fresh ingredients to make kibble. Dry ingredients are mixed with wet ingredients, steamed and extruded (I.e. dough pressure cooked and pre-cut).
Once cut, the dough slices are oven baked. After which, they are cut into kibble sized biscuits.
High heat (from steaming and baking) does kill bacteria and remove moisture but also removes some nutrients from the food.
Which in turn (and ironically), causes manufacturers to add other ingredients (like vitamins) to compensate.
1.2. Air-Dried (Or Dehydrated)
While heat (lower temperatures than the above method) is still used to remove moisture from fresh ingredients, the time taken to process food this way is longer. And processing batches are typically smaller too.
But since lower temperatures are used, the ingredients still retain some vitamins and other nutrients. Without the bacteria or the necessity to add preservatives!
The resulting texture is hard and crunchy and thus, requires some soaking before young or elderly pets can consume them.
1.3. Freeze-Dried Cat Food
This category of cat food preserves raw meet by freezing it at very low temperatures (I.e. no heat). And then drying it at a high pressure.
The resulting food is soft (easier to chew), and much lighter than the original content due to the removed moisture. The food lasts longer and is less messy to serve than raw meat.
How nutritious the food is, depends on the freshness of the initial ingredients as the freeze-dried version keeps more or less the same nutritional value.
2. Wet Food
Wet food or semi-moist food has ~35% water. Cats usually find this super delicious.
And if your cat doesn’t like to drink water, this is one way of making sure it gets adequate hydration! Alternatively, you can mix this with dry food to encourage picky cats to start eating. Or as an occasional treat.
Note: This type of cat food doesn’t last long once you open the package!
3. Canned Food
Lastly, there’s canned food with ~75% water. Cats find this the tastiest out of all commercial cat food. As there may be choice pieces of meat inside!
Note: If your cat cannot finish the contents, you can store the rest in the fridge for later.
What Nutrition Does A Cat Need?
Commercial cat food typically lists meat or by-products of meat as the first ingredient. Followed by some grain/ fiber and maybe fish meal!
There may or may not be dairy ingredients. And dry food can have additional supplements (i.e. vitamins or minerals) in the formula too.
1. Important Ingredients For Cat Food
- Animal sources of protein (and amino acids like taurine and arachidonic acid) – Energy, growth and repair
- Carbohydrates (e.g. corn, barley, oats, wheat, etc) – For energy too
- Healthy fats like Omega-3 and Omega-6 – healthy skin and coat
- Fiber – For better digestion
- Vitamins A – For healthy immune systems, vision and skin
- Vitamin E – Also for the immune system
- Iron, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, zinc and magnesium – For bone growth and healthy joints
- Vitamin B – Nervous system, organs and growth
2. Ingredients To Avoid On A Cat Food Label
- Chemical preservatives (e.g. butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), ethoxyquin and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT))
- Too many carbohydrate fillers (e.g. corn meal or wheat gluten)
- Grains if you suspect your cat may have an allergy related to food
Always keep an eye on your cat for signs of allergies when introducing them to new cat food!
How To Choose Cat Food
1. What Is Guaranteed Analysis?
On the packaging of the food, there’s usually a description of protein and fat content by percentage.
Along with fiber and moisture!
This should be listed first in the ingredient list (assuming it’s by weight). Meat like beef, fish, poultry, chicken, turkey, etc are all acceptable.
Be wary if the ingredient list just lists “meat” rather than specifying what the meat is!
There may be by-products in the ingredient list as well! These can be nutritional organs like liver and lungs.
Likewise, avoid products which just vaguely list these as “animal by-products”.
4. Taurine And Arachidonic Acid Content
Your cat should not be taking a wholly plant-based diet! Else they will not get complete nutrition (i.e. taurine and arachidonic acid found in meat)!
5. Look For High-Quality Grains
A diet that has plenty of protein and fewer carbohydrates is ideal for cats.
Grains like barley, wheat and corn are carbohydrates that cats can digest easily. Although legumes (like chickpeas and lentils) are preferable still.
Note: Experts may recommend diets with grains, but there are also a lot of commercial food that is grain-free to follow a more “natural” or ancestral feline diet.
6. Vitamins And Minerals
Refer to the previous list for more details, “What Nutrition Does A Cat Need?”
7. Check If The Food Has Been Certified By The AAFCO
So if the product has this certification:
That means “95% beef” on a label really means 95% of the food is beef! And other similar requirements!
8. Selecting Cat Food Based On Your Cat’s Age
Kittens generally need more protein and fat that adult cats. They need folic acid and DHA too for healthy development!
While lazy and older cats need less calories!
If there’s one thing to take away from how to choose cat food, it’s that you shouldn’t stinge on high quality cat food if you want your cat to live long with minimal health problems.
Healthy cats will also look better and have more energy to enjoy their life!
Yes, cat food can be very expensive but that is because cats naturally require animal-sources of protein. Cheaper brands of cat food will use less animal-based protein and more plant-based protein instead to reduce costs.
Disclaimer: If you have an elderly cat or a cat with existing health problems or chronic conditions, you should seek advice from your vet before trying out a new diet.