As the owner of a 10-year-old cat, I am always considering ways to ensure that she continues to enjoy good health and a happy life.
One of the most important aspects of this equation is selecting the appropriate food, which can be a task that proves to be surprisingly challenging when one considers the abundance of marketing claims.
If you’re like me and feel overwhelmed by the options available, ranging from grain-free and raw to human-grade and freeze-dried, veterinarian Brennen McKenzie, who blogs about science-based pet care at the SkeptVet, may be able to help put your mind at ease by providing the following information: According to him, “the reality is that there is no one food that is ‘right,’ and the vast majority of cats can thrive on a broad variety of diets that are available.” ” When compared to the random diet of whatever prey and scavenged dead things that feral cats can find, the conventional commercial cat foods that we feed our pets provide an excellent source of nutrition.” But even with that reassuring guidance, there are still hundreds of different cat food formulations to choose from. Because of this, I asked McKenzie and 11 other experts to walk me through the various options and explain why a cat owner might choose one brand or type of food over another.
Some of the determining factors, as will be explained in the criteria that follow, will depend on the specific requirements of your cat (which are typically determined by their age), while others will be more open to personal interpretation (as cat owners know, picky felines often have their own unexplainable preferences).
You can continue reading to learn about the factors that we considered, or you can click on any of the links that are provided below to go directly to our recommendations for the best foods for cats.
What to look for in cat food
Life stage: According to Martha G. Cline, a certified veterinary nutritionist who works at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey, “the most important part when you’re buying food for your pet is looking for the nutritional-adequacy statement and making sure it’s for the appropriate life stage for your pet.” This is something that pet owners should do when they go grocery shopping.
Every bag of pet food ought to have a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials indicating whether or not it satisfies the nutritional requirements for growth (making it appropriate for puppies and kittens), adult maintenance (ensuring that adults maintain a healthy weight), or all life stages (any age).
Detailed analysis of the diet: You won’t typically find a nutrition label on the food you give your cat that specifies the exact amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and protein that it contains. This is in contrast to the case with human food.
McKenzie believes that this is acceptable as long as the food in question satisfies the AAFCO standards and provides an adequate quantity of each of the three types of macronutrients. According to him, ” there is a range in which cats can thrive, and individual cats all have slightly different needs,” and he goes on to say that ” nearly all commercial diets fall within these ranges ” However, the recommendations of some veterinarians are more detailed than others.
According to Jennifer Berg, the founder of Tribeca Veterinary Wellness, “more protein than fat, and then very little of any kind of carbohydrate is what we feel is probably ideal.” [C]arbohydrates can come in a variety of forms.
Jennifer Coates, a veterinary expert working for the online retailer Chewy, is in agreement that cats have a greater requirement for protein compared to many other species. She also believes that the protein “should be sourced from animals” in cats’ diets.
If you would like to see the nutritional breakdown of an individual formula, veterinarian Lisa Pierson has compiled a comprehensive Google spreadsheet of the nutrient profile for hundreds of different cat food flavors. This spreadsheet is available to the public and can be found on Google.
However, the best thing to do is to consult your veterinarian to find out if they have a particular formula that they would suggest for your cat’s requirements.
You might also notice that the label on some cat food reads “grain free,” but veterinarians warn against placing too much stock in this marketing term because it doesn’t reveal very much about the food’s nutritional content. According to McKenzie, ” Grain-free foods can be either excellent or terrible in terms of their nutritional value, and the presence or absence of grains in and of themselves says nothing about the health impact of the diet.” ” Anxieties about grains, and carbohydrates in general, in cat foods are not based on real science, and they should not be the basis for selecting a cat food. A cat’s diet should be based on what’s best for them, not what other people think is best.
Food that is either wet or dry: Wet and dry food are the two most common types of food for cats.
Consult your veterinarian first to find out which of the two options is better suited to meeting the requirements of your feline friend.
Wet food is preferred by some veterinarians because of its higher moisture content, which helps keep cats hydrated and may aid in the prevention of kidney disease. Cats naturally drink very little water, so this preference makes sense.
Other veterinarians are of the opinion that wet food is worse for cats’ kidneys than dry food, and they point out that there is scant scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that feeding cats wet food leads to healthier kidneys.
If your cat is having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, your veterinarian may suggest switching them to wet food because it contains fewer calories.
Dry food, also known as kibble, has the advantage of remaining fresh for a longer period of time, so if your cat prefers to graze on her food throughout the day, this might be a good option for you to consider giving her.
Freeze-drying is a method that some dry foods go through, which is a process that manufacturers use to maintain the freshness of ingredients (especially with raw food) without running the risk of bacterial contamination.
In the category of wet foods, you’ll find items such as patés (a type of food formed into a loaf and having a consistent texture), shredded meat formulas, and meat-in-gravy formulations (a liquid-based food with chunks of meat).
It’s common for finicky cats to have a certain type of food that they prefer, so you might need to give them a variety of options to choose from.
Approximate cost per ounce: The price of cat food can vary widely depending on the brand and type of food that is purchased, and there is no guarantee that more expensive food is better for your cat’s health.
We have listed the approximate cost per ounce for each food based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price in anticipation of the fact that you will be purchasing a significant amount of food over the course of your cat’s lifetime (which may be different than the retailer price as those can change because of different promotions).
Regarding the amount of food that should be given to the cat, the average cat needs between 200 and 250 calories per day, but this number can change depending on the cat’s size, the amount of activity they get, and whether or not they need to lose or gain weight. (Because the calorie counts that are listed per ounce of food can vary, you will need to check the feeding instructions that are printed on the packaging.)
In order to determine whether or not your cat is underweight or overweight, a veterinary nutritionist at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech named Megan Shepherd recommends consulting the following body-condition score chart and checking in with your veterinarian for more specific guidance.
The best overall cat food
According to the veterinarians I spoke with, this Purina Pro Plan formula should check all the nutritional boxes for the vast majority of adult cats that do not have any specific dietary requirements. However, as was previously explained, there is really no one “best” cat food.
Purina is a brand that is highly recommended by veterinarians, such as Cori Blair of Feline Health and Valerie Parker, an associate professor of small-animal internal medicine and nutrition at the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. This is due to the fact that Purina has full-time veterinary nutritionists on staff as well as makes significant investments in research and development.
Purina Pro Plan is a brand of pet food that is recommended by Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian who works for the pet health website Doggie Designer. Dr. Bonk recommends this brand of food because it is of high quality while also being reasonably priced and simple to locate. She says that Purina uses real, whole meat as their first ingredient and that it contains a high amount of protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a great deal of healthy fiber.
The best meat-and-gravy-based food for cats
According to Berg, this chicken-in-gravy flavor from Weruva is a good option because it has a high protein content and a low carbohydrate content. The protein content is particularly high, and the carbohydrate content is relatively low.
Susan Lauten, who specializes in pet nutrition, is another person who endorses the brand.
If that is something you are looking for, it does not contain any grains; however, as was discussed earlier, “grain free” is more of a marketing term than a reliable indicator of whether or not a product is healthy.
The best meat-in-gravy cat food that's also more affordable
If you choose a food that meets your cat’s nutritional requirements while still saving money on its food, there is no reason to feel guilty about doing so. According to Berg, although a lot of people have the misconception that Fancy Feast is comparable to McDonald’s for cats, this is not the case at all. The protein content of Plenty of the Fancy Feast is actually quite high, while the carbohydrate content is extremely low.
This variety pack of protein-rich, meat-in-gravy flavors would be a good option for cats who like to mix up their meals and checks all of her boxes.
The food that is ideal for older cats
If you take a look at Pierson’s chart, you’ll notice that the fourth column provides information regarding the amount of phosphorus that can be found in each food that is listed.
Although it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you go shopping for your own food, phosphorus is a mineral that plays a significant role in the overall health of cats.
According to Berg, an excessive amount of phosphorus can cause or worsen kidney disease, which is a common problem among older cats. Phosphorus is necessary for the development of young cats’ bones, but as cats age, an excessive amount of it can cause or worsen kidney disease.
Because of this difference, the AAFCO standards for kitten food have lower minimums for phosphorus than those for adult formulas.
Although AAFCO does not specify a maximum level of phosphorus, Berg advises that if your cat is 10 years old or older, you should try to keep the amount of phosphorus in its diet to less than 200 milligrams per 100 calories.
However, senior cats still need a diet that is high in protein, and Berg suggests taking the following precautions to ensure that you are not compromising their protein intake in exchange for a lower phosphorus content: According to her, “Phosphorus levels have a tendency to rise as protein levels rise.” However, there are some proteins that have a higher phosphorus content compared to others.
This Weruva food is considered to be nutritionally sound, yet it only has 163 milligrams of phosphorus for every 100 calories.