Choosing the Right Cat Food

Cat Eating Food

Cats can be even more unpredictable than humans in some ways, including what they will and won't eat. But even though some felines are more finicky than others about their dietary choices, they all share some basic nutritional needs – and some need specific adjustments to their diets to help them cope with health challenges. Let's take a moment to examine what you should (and shouldn't) feed your favorite four-legged friend.

Feline Nutrition 101

Cat and Meat

Cats eat meat. This fact will come as no surprise if you've ever received the surprise present of a dead mouse or bird from Kitty. But there's more to it than that. Cats have to get their nutrition from meat instead of plant matter. That's because their bodies can't manufacture several essential nutrients, from vitamins such as Vitamin A and niacin to amino acids such as arginine and taurine. (By contrast, dogs can produce these substances internally.) Your cat can also get these essential nutrients from the tissues of other animals. A high-quality cat food solves this problem by providing a fully-balanced nutritional mix.

Keep in mind that cats may need different amounts of calories, proteins, and other nutrients depending on their age and activity level. That kitten bouncing all over your house may need 3 to 4 meals a day until he starts to mature, at which point you can taper off to 2 meals. Geriatric cats may not move much at all, so you'll want to scale down their daily food intake. Sedentary cats can quickly become obese. Obesity in turn can make your cat prone to diabetes, high blood pressure, internal organ problems, arthritis and other woes.

What Not to Feed Your Cat

Cat with Plate

As you can imagine, commercial dog food isn't designed to provide that comprehensive nutrition your cat needs. Make sure your dog's food bowl and your cat's food bowl each contain food created specifically for each animal – even if your kitty prefers the taste of “puppy chow.”

Generally speaking, human food should also be crossed off of your cat's menu, no matter how much your cat may beg for it. Not only do human bodies require a totally different nutritional mix than cats, but our diet tends to include foods full of salt, sugar, fat, chemicals, and other things we probably shouldn't even be feeding ourselves. Some foods, such as garlic, onions, and chocolate, can even make your cat dangerously ill.

That said, the occasional treat of a genuinely healthy human food won't hurt your cat; in fact, it might even do him good. Sardines, for example, are packed with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and other nutrients cats can use. (They're also lower in mercury than that other feline favorite, tuna.) But these fish also add calories, so you'll want to dial back your cat's portion sizes accordingly. You also want to stick to salt-free, water-packed sardines so your cat isn't receiving unhealthy extras along with his nutrients.

Special Diets for Special Needs

kitten eating

Even though all cats need the same basic nutrition, some food ingredients can aggravate, or at least don't do anything to improve, existing health issues. Fortunately, there are plenty of specialized products your veterinarian can recommend these days, some of which are devised to suit cats with particular diseases or disorders. For example, you can find low-carb food for cats with diabetes, low-phosphorus food for cats with kidney disease, and low-sodium food for cats with hypertension. Low-fat foods and/or reduced portions may be good for obese felines (along with exercise and other healthy responses). If your cat suffers from a painful inflammatory condition such as arthritis, ask your vet whether adding a little turmeric to his food might help him feel better.

Feeding a cat isn't as simple as you might have thought. But serve your cat high-quality food that meets his nutritional needs, and he'll thrive for years to come!




Christine Whitt
Christine Whitt

Author



13 Responses

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

October 10, 2018

@Gloria – Hey Gloria, I think that’s a problem many of us cat parents can relate to! Have you seen this article? https://prettylittercats.com/blogs/prettylitter-blog/how-to-keep-your-cat-at-a-healthy-weight

@Mary – Not yet! :)

@Gina – Without looking at the specific ingredients of your cat’s food, I couldn’t say. However, I highly recommend checking out this article, which explains what nutrients your kitty needs: https://prettylittercats.com/blogs/prettylitter-blog/thinking-about-a-homemade-cat-diet-what-you-should-know

@Sharon – It sounds like your fur baby is avoiding chewing or simply prefers liquids. I recommend talking to your vet, as that could be a sign of tooth problems. If your kitty is checked out and cleared with no signs of tooth problems, I would talk to your vet about the best ways to turn your cat’s food into liquid/puree form so that she can still get her nutrients despite her pickiness. :)

Sharon
Sharon

October 10, 2018

My Crissy is 10yrs old with stage 3 kidney disease & hyperthyroidism. She’s on meds for the thyroid, and special diet for kidney. Try as I may, I cannot seem to get her to eat any of the recommended food. She licks the sauce & leaves the “meat”. I throw out more food than I care to think about. HELP!!

Gina Cipriano
Gina Cipriano

October 10, 2018

I feed my cat science diet dry food & fancy feast appetizer wet is this good.???

Mary White
Mary White

October 10, 2018

Do you sell cat food to

belle b nysen
belle b nysen

October 10, 2018

my cat loves his treats, as I KNOW they are a creature of habit.
Loves gravy as I give him a lot of dry food once a couple of days wet with the gravy.
He looks like a siamese, only he is all white with a black tail , black around the ears.
Pink nose, green eyes, and lots of white fur

LoAnn Patterson
LoAnn Patterson

October 10, 2018

Karen I have my opinions about the way to feed cats. I feel that the best dry food for cats is grain free with limited ingredients. I feed mine one that only has 7-8 ingredients none of which are grains. Not sure I can name the brand here. I also supplement with chicken, tuna, & salmon. I find that my cats use the box a lot less as they seem to absorb most of what they are eating. My 12-13 yo cat at one point had stones, since I switched their diet to what I said above we’ve had 0 health issues. I only wish I had done this years ago.

Denise
Denise

October 10, 2018

Clean protein. Dr.Elsey

Gloria Lester
Gloria Lester

October 10, 2018

What do you recommend for a cat that loves to eat and has a tendency to gain weight. Will be three years old in January.

Jill Rowland
Jill Rowland

October 10, 2018

There is no ‘healthy’ dry cat food. There is a dried chicken treat that is pure chicken meat and out cats love it. It’s expensive, but has no ingredients but chicken. (Life Essentials Chicken Littles)
There is a website (catinfo.org) that.has loads of good information about what to feed your cat. It is from studies done at a Texas college that is a well known and respected authority on animals. When thinking about what is best for your cat, think long ears and feathers. Our senior cat was getting really fat and sedentary. He loved dry food. We switched to the recommendations on this site and he is lean and energetic once again.

Sarah
Sarah

October 10, 2018

Thank you for the article! I feel like not enough people realize exactly what cats need to stay healthy, so this is very educational. _

Lynmarie Corbett
Lynmarie Corbett

October 10, 2018

Thanks to science we now have complete nutritionally balanced and healthy(!) Vegan cat food. We no longer have to demand the slaughter of another animal to feed our babies. Check it out!

My baby gobbles AmiCat.

Karen Jones
Karen Jones

October 04, 2018

What is the best dry cat food?

elisabeth westfall
elisabeth westfall

October 10, 2018

We feed out cat Darvin’s natural pet food – its the best, it balances the cats PH – some Cats don’t get enough to drink and develop unary problems (especially male cats) Darvin’s food provide the right nutrition and also has a high water content so the cat stays hydrated vital for avoiding stones and clogging up the urinary tract. The best part – no fillers and unnecessary stuff and he loves it!

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