Walk into any pet store and you’re likely to feel slightly overwhelmed by the row upon row of different food types on offer. Canned, pouched, dried, and raw… with many options to choose between, it can be tempting to give up looking and simply reach for the nearest bag to hand. As it turns out, this could be a mistake. A big, big mistake. According to a recent article by the Reader’s Digest, cats need a very specific diet to thrive. Specifically, they need meat, meat, and more meat- with just a few added extras for good measure. Thanks to the advice of the experts, the task of deciding the best diet for our furry friends is a piece of cake.
This is the Very Best Diet for Cats According to Vets
Much as we may like to think our cats can be good little eco-citizens, try feeding them a diet of mung beans and tofu for a month and see what happens. Or rather, don’t. While humans can happily cut down on their meat intake without too many problems, cats are a different kettle of fish entirely. As obligate carnivores, their diet should consist primarily of protein- and unfortunately for both your budget and the environment, animal-based protein just won’t cut it. Left to select their own food, cats would naturally tend towards a diet that consists of 52% protein, 36% fat, and 12% carbs… and while humans may have lost their instinctive understanding of what constitutes the best diet for health, savvy cats know only too well what’s good for them, with vets agreeing that a diet of these proportions is the best for their health.
Adjust for Age
While it may be tempting to feed your cat the same food from kittenhood to seniorhood, plumping for the easiest option is not necessarily the best route. Like us, a cat’s nutritional requirements change throughout life, and if you want to support them at each life stage, it’s important to adapt their diet accordingly. “Just as human babies do not eat the same foods as adult humans, nor should kittens and adult cats eat the same foods as they require different nutrients as they change over the years,” Brittany Carey, a cat specialist at Cat Safari in San Francisco, told RD. “You may see cat food with the phrase ‘for all life stages’ in its description, but it is best to seek life-stage nutrition.” Kittens are generally much more active than their elderly counterparts and need a higher percentage of calories and fat to support their energy demands (as well as their growing frames). Senior cats, on the other hand, tend to be more sedentary and prone to weight gain, so may require a reduced calorie formula to keep them in peak condition.
Monitor Any Changes
Just like humans, a cat’s health can change over time. Food sensitives and allergies can occur at any point, so it’s important to continually monitor their health and take action when you notice any changes. Similarly, a cat who develops a kidney problem or other health condition may need a very different diet to the one they’d previously enjoyed. Lactating or pregnant cats may also need a diet overhaul.
Wet vs Dry
In the fight between wet and dry food, wet comes out on top. While dried kibble has the advantage of convenience, wet food has a far higher content of moisture. As most cats are notoriously poor drinkers, keeping them on a diet of mainly dry food may lead to issues such as dehydration or even kidney problems down the line. Wet food is naturally higher in moisture, so you can be confident your cat is getting plenty of water, even if they do still back away from the water bowl.
Don’t Compromise on Quality
Ultimately, whether you opt for wet food, dry food, or something in between, quality is paramount. While you don’t have to spend a fortune to ensure good quality food, there is, as you’d expect, some correlation between the price you pay and the quality you can expect, so always aim for the best you can afford. Regardless of price, don’t forget to pay close attention to the ingredients list – as a general guideline, look for food options that list a whole protein source at the top of the list, and have an absolute bare minimum of additives or unnecessary ingredients (the baseline being- if you can’t pronounce it, your cat probably shouldn’t be eating it). Conveniently, most foods that pass the test will be labeled as Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved, and be accompanied with a statement declaring the contents are complete and balanced. Make sure your food comes with this label, and half your work is done.
Be Selective with Human Foods
While it may be tempting to treat your cat to the same foods you eat, it pays to be wise about how much you give them. While there’s no harm in offering them occasional morsels of cooked meat or fish (or even little chunks of cooked egg, sweet potato, or cantaloupe melon), don’t fill them up so much on snacks that they’ve no room left for their own food. Also remember that some human foods should be off-limits completely: according to Spruce Pets, onions, garlic, green tomatoes, chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocado, and xylitol are all toxic to cats and should be kept well away from little paws. Surprisingly, milk and dairy products can also cause stomach upsets in some cats, so keep the cream off the table unless you’re sure they’re able to tolerate it.
Go Easy on Portions
Don’t think your job is done once you’ve selected the right food; just as important as deciding what to feed is deciding how much to feed. While we may think cats are far too refined to go on a feeding frenzy, today’s formulas can often be so loaded with fat, calories, and very tasty “appetite encouragers”, cats are liable to go from slim to porky in no time at all. Most formulas come with a convenient feeding guide, but as no two cats are the same, monitor their weight, health, and condition carefully, and be sure to make any changes necessary.