The Ultimate Guide to Select the Best Cat Food

Learn how to select the best cat food and best cat food brand for your furry friend’s unique nutritional needs

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Cats provide humans with love and emotional support, which cat owners might appreciate a bit more than usual considering the stressful times we’re currently living through. As cute and cuddly as cats might be, any cat parent can attest that it’s a big responsibility to provide them with proper care, a cozy place to snooze and good nutrition. While we all want the absolute best for our furry four-legged friends, selecting the best cat food and best cat food brand can be a confusing process.

To start, ask your vet for a recommendation. Why? Your vet is trained to understand your cat’s individual needs and can make recommendations based on age, weight, breed, physical activity and health conditions. However, the decision about which cat food is best for your feline friend is ultimately up to you. When you decide to shop, be sure to keep in mind the quality of the ingredients, the cost that’ll work for your budget and the type.

So, what’s the best and healthiest cat food option for your obligate carnivore? We have done a lot of research and checked with experts about how to select the best cat food for your furry friend.

How to Shop for a Safe Cat Food Brand

When it comes to keeping your cat healthy and happy, it’s important to pick the highest quality food for them to enjoy. However, pet food manufacturers use a lot of marketing ploys, which can make it hard to distinguish what brand is and isn’t a good choice.

Look for the AAFCO Statement

When shopping for a cat food brand, it’s important to start by checking to see if the food has been certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This organization creates the language for definitions, guidance and best practices related to the regulation of pet foods. There is no such thing as an “AAFCO-approved” or “AAFCO-certified” label. However, checking to see if your cat’s food packaging has an AAFCO statement indicates that the food has been adequately tested and is safe for pets.

Don’t Go Solely by the Ingredient List

If you’ve ever looked at your cat’s food packaging and felt confused or misled by it, you’re not alone. A 2019 study found that while 52.4% of the pet owners confirmed that they have used or noticed the pet food labels on their pet’s food packaging, 63% of them indicated that they find the information on the food labels to be misleading. While websites may suggest that you look at the first ingredients on the list on a food package to determine the quality, it doesn’t truly help. Manufacturers need to provide factual information on their pet food labels, but they also use them as a promotional tool. The ingredient list and any terms on the packaging that are similar to “holistic,” “premium” or “human grade” are unregulated and are of little to no use when determining the nutritional value of the formula.

Ask Questions

Instead of wasting your time trying to decipher the cat food ingredient list, ask questions. You can find answers to useful information you need on the manufacturer’s website or by contacting them directly. You need to determine if the manufacturer employs a qualified vet nutritionist, who formulates the food, where the food is produced and if they do quality control measures and testing. Considering all of these factors when selecting a food will help ensure that your pet—whether it’s a cat, dog, reptile or anything else—gets safe meals that will help them thrive in the future.

Nutrients

To live a long, healthy and happy life, your four-legged friend needs a diet that meets their nutritional needs. Traditionally, experts have categorized cats as obligate carnivores, which means that they thrive on the nutrients in protein-rich animal products. These products are high in protein content and contain some fat and a minuscule amount of carbs. Just like dogs, cats also need other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids to meet their nutritional needs.

If you take a daily multivitamin, you might be asking yourself whether your cat needs one too. The Pet Food Institute confirmed that high-grade commercial cat food is specifically formulated for cats and already includes all of the essential vitamins, probiotics, antioxidants, taurine and nutrients your furry friend needs. Unless your vet recommends that you incorporate additional supplements into your cat’s commercial food for health reasons, then you don’t need to. If you give your cat additional supplements anyway, it could make them very sick.

Dry Cat Food Vs. Wet Cat Food

To feed your cat wet food, or to feed them dry instead? That is the question. Selecting the type that’s best for your cat typically depends on their health status, their taste buds and your budget. According to the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, adult and senior cats are reluctant to try foods that they didn’t consume as kittens. So, you may want to consider exposing your kitten to both types early on in case you need to transition them in the future.

Why would you need to switch their diet? Cats are historically desert animals and used to get the hydration they needed from their prey, so they didn’t need to drink a lot of extra water. As a result, indoor cats are more susceptible to common health issues such as urinary tract infections and kidney stones due to dehydration. High-quality commercial wet and dry cat foods are designed to meet the nutritional requirements of cats. But dry cat food typically does not contain as much moisture content as canned food.

Even the best dry cat food is relatively inexpensive, and since it doesn’t dry out as easily as wet food, it offers owners the convenience of free choice feeding. However, some cats may not enjoy dry food, and depending on the quality of the ingredients, it also might be harder on your cat’s digestive system. If you opt for dry food, remember to check the expiration date and store leftovers in an airtight container in a cool, dry location.

One of the cons of a dry cat food diet is that cats tend to not drink enough to compensate for the difference in water content between dry and canned diets. Canned cat foods often are high in protein and have less carbohydrates than a majority of dry formulas. Due to the water, canned foods are lower in calories and offer fixed portion controls. However, some of the newer canned foods on the market are very high in moisture, which can make these diets much more expensive than dry diets. Wet cat food has a relatively long shelf life, but once you’ve opened it, you’ll need to store any leftovers in a sealed container and throw them in the fridge.

Overall, unless your cat has a health condition that requires them to incorporate more water into their food, there is little evidence that the type of diet makes a difference in overall health. So, rest assured that whichever food you choose for you and your furry friend’s specific needs is your best option.

Shop these items:

Dry cat food:

Wet cat food:

Home-Cooked Cat Food and Raw Cat Food Diets

A home-cooked diet for a cat can be a healthy choice, but it’s important to consult a veterinarian nutritionist first to make sure the recipe incorporates all of the necessary nutrients. If you don’t consult an expert first, you could accidentally use ingredients that are harmful to cats. For example, too many fat trimmings can cause pancreatitis, and foods like onions and raisins are actually toxic to cats.

Raw cat food can be homemade and store-bought. This diet typically consists of animal proteins such as organ meats, muscle meats and some cat-safe veggies. Some pet owners might think that this is a healthier choice for their four-legged friends since it seems to include more natural ingredients compared to commercial formulas that may contain unhealthy fillers, preservatives, by-products or additives.

In short, raw food diets are a risky choice for cats. Experts say that there is no scientific information available that indicates that this diet provides cats with any significant health benefits. In addition, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a study that confirmed that a raw food diet poses a risk to pets and their family members due to harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli.

If you want to select a commercially prepared raw food item, you should check that it’s been reviewed by a veterinary nutritionist first before you feed it to your furry friend.

How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

To determine how much food to give your cat, you first need to consider their what life stage they’re in, their weight, energy level and the type of food. The easiest way to start is to consult your vet first, since they are trained to understand your cat’s unique nutritional needs.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) define distinct feline life stages as:

  • Kitten: Birth up to 1 year
  • Young adult: 1–6 years
  • Mature adult: 7–10 years
  • Senior: 10 years and older

Kittens

If you’re going to be taking care of kittens for the first few months of their lives, then be prepared to move them from a diet of milk to regular kitten food. In the first 2 weeks of a kitten’s life, they survive on their mother’s milk. At 6 weeks, cat parents can start prepping their kitten to wean and can start to introduce solid food into their diet. Be sure that the solid cat food you get is a quality kitten formula, since little kitties need more energy-producing nutrients—like proteins and fats—and more vitamins, minerals and water than adult cats.

 Kittens can transition from kitten kibble to adult cat food on their first birthday. Just be sure to gradually incorporate the new food into your cat’s diet over the course of a week to avoid upsetting your feline friend’s digestive health, especially if they have a sensitive stomach.

Adult Cats and Senior Cats

Adult cats need high-quality nutritious food that’s specifically formulated to meet their energy needs and to keep their body tissues in prime condition. The amount you need to feed your feline friend depends on their size and activity levels.

At around 7–12, cats enter into their senior years and begin to show visible age-related changes. While old age in cats is not a disease, the changes associated with it can make our furry friends more vulnerable to health issues that can greatly impact their overall wellness. To help, it’s vital to adjust their diet to fit their aging nutritional needs.

Overweight Cats

While it’s very tempting sometimes to give in to your cat’s adorable pleads for treats and more food, it’s important to remember that moderation is key to help them maintain a healthy weight. Obesity in cats is a common problem and can be harmful to their overall health. It can add unnecessary stress on a cat’s body, which can cause liver problems and joint pain—plus it can increase their risk of diabetes. If you feel that your feline friend might be gaining too much weight, consult your vet to discuss a weight loss program that’ll be suitable for your cat’s needs.

Additional Resources

Don’t worry if you’re still figuring out how to provide the best nutrition possible for your furry friend. There’s a lot to learn! For more help, check out these resources:

  • Cat Care Checklist: We know that while it can be exciting to welcome a new cat into your home, it can be overwhelming to think of everything you need, so we’ve put together a checklist of essentials to help. 
  • Calorie Calculator: The Pet Nutrition Alliance put together a cat calorie calculator to help cat owners determine the amount of food they should feed their furry friends.
  • Transition Schedule: PetMD worked with a team of vets to put together a guide for cat owners about how to safely transition their cat’s diet to avoid health problems.

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