Veterinarians Teach us How to Buy the Best Cat Food

Your cat may pretend not to need you, but guess what? They do. At least so far as mealtimes are concerned. Unlike dogs, who’ll wolf down pretty much anything you put in front of them, cats are more discerning… as anyone who’s ever spent a fortune on a top-end cat food only to have their puss turn their noses up at it knows. But not only are they fussy by nature, they’re picky by design. Cats are obligate carnivores, which basically means they need meat… and lots of it. As Tim Julien, DVM, and chief medical officer at Paz Veterinary in Austin, Texas tells, “Cats are often thought of and fed as small dogs. It turns out cats are not small dogs. Cats are strict carnivores and have a decreased ability to digest and use carbohydrates.” So, what exactly should we be feeding our four-legged friends? If you’ve been left dazed and confused by all the different options, worry not. Help is on hand. Using the latest research and helpful advice of veterinarians, we’ve drawn up some top tips to guide you through the boggling matter of what you should (and shouldn’t) feed your cat.

Don’t Fear By-Products

For a while now, we’ve been told ‘whole protein is good, by-products are bad’. As it turns out, the science behind this is, at best, shaky, and at worst, downright wrong. By-products (which are essentially the ground-up parts of animal carcasses and can stretch to include everything from necks and feet to intestine and bone) may sound unappetizing to us, but your cat could give a fig about our delicate sensibilities. The protein and nutrients contained in by-products are just as valuable (and in some cases, more so) than those in whole meats. As Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, an associate professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine explains to “I’m actually a big fan of using byproducts.” “They have way more nutrients than straight meat. In chicken byproduct, for example, you’ll get things like vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and copper — instead of just the protein in a chicken breast.” So, there you have it – stop avoiding anything labeled “contains by-products” and start treating your cat to some delicious, nutritional turkey feet instead.

Look for Complete, Balanced Nutrition

Regardless of what brand you chose, and regardless of whether you plump for wet food or dry food, there’s one thing you should always ensure the food comes complete with: a “complete and balanced” label. A nutritional adequacy label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is your confirmation that whatever it is that’s inside that can of cat food, it’s got everything your cat needs to stay fit and healthy. Never feed your cat a diet composed exclusively of food marked as “supplementary” – even if the protein content is high, it’s likely to be lacking the other key nutrients, vitamins and minerals required as part of a balanced, healthy diet.

Don’t Go It Alone

If you thought you could keep your cat in tip-top shape by feeding them nothing but fresh chunks of chicken breast, think again. While protein is a vital part of a cat’s diet, cats cannot live on chicken breast alone… or, indeed, on any other fresh-from-the fridge, human food. For healthy growth and development, cats need a balanced range of feline-specific nutrients – and that’s not going to be found in the food you’d happily chow down on yourself.

Choose Wet Over Dry

Kibble is convenient, unquestionably. Most cats also love it. But as The Strategist notes, the consensus among vets seems to be that wet food is preferable to dry. Not only is wet food less calorie-dense than dry (and considering the rise in fat cats, that’s enough of a recommendation, right there), it’s also higher in moisture. Cats tend to lack a natural thirst drive, putting them at risk of kidney and urinary problems. If your kitty shies away from the water bowl, it’s vital to ensure they get adequate moisture from their food instead.

Feed According to Life Stage

Cats don’t stay kittens forever. As they age, their bodies change and their nutritional needs do the same. “Kittens need more energy-producing nutrients and more vitamins, minerals and water than adult cats,” Shelly Farris, DVM, the regional director of Petco Veterinary Services tells “Formulas made specifically for kittens provide these nutrients in the right amounts.” But once your cat stops being a kitten, it’s time to change their formula. Typically, you should start weaning a young cat onto adult food at about the time of their first birthday… but take it slow. Cats are prone to digestive upsets if you switch their diet too abruptly, so gradually make the transition over the course of a week. But your work doesn’t stop there. When a cat hits their senior years, their needs change again. Many older cats lose their ability to chow down on hard foods, while others might need to be supported with additional minerals and supplements to help their joints and mobilities. Some seniors also lose their sense of taste and smell, making it doubly important to look for extra-flavorsome, smelly recipes that’ll tempt their appetites. Whatever the age of your cat, look for a cat food that’s targeted at their particular life stage.

Avoid Exotic Ingredients

We might like a bit of exoticism on our own plates, but that’s not to say the same applies to your cat. Over the past few years, there’s been an increasing trend for pet food manufactures to appeal to our own dietary preferences by including exotic meats like kangaroo, buffalo, and bison in their formulas. Some have even started adding a handful of lentils to the mix. But while these kind of ingredients are all well and good in our diets, their suitability for cats is still very much in question. Play it safe by sticking to regular ‘cat approved’ meats such as turkey and chicken.

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