How to Choose a Healthy Cat Food
Before discussing how to choose a healthy cat food, you should know that the choice of diets available for cats is astonishing. Walk through the pet food isle of any pet supply or grocery store, and you’ll find canned foods, dry foods, semi-moist foods, foods for kittens and “senior” cats, fat cats, healthy cats, indoor cats, and cats with specific problems.
If that’s not a full-enough pantry for you, you can also find information for homemade and natural diets galore on the Internet and in books. (And no matter what you choose to feed your cat, someone’s bound to tell you what’s wrong with that diet.)
It’s true that health and behavior problems, from itchy skin to flatulence to hyperactivity, are often linked to nutritional factors and food allergies. So how can you be sure you’re feeding your cat a healthful diet? Let’s sniff out the facts about feline nutrition.
Tips for how to choose a healthy cat food
1.Animal protein is essential?
The first tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is knowing the animal protein is essential. A cat is almost entirely carnivorous by nature (also known as an “obligate carnivore”) so foods that are made primarily of cereal grains pose a problem for felines.
A cat needs a diet of protein and no more than 20 percent carbohydrates. A carb-heavy diet is ill-advised for a cat because it can lead to serious health issues: obesity, diabetes, digestive problems including serious constipation and urinary tract problems (to which cats are prone in the first place).
Carbohydrates are not natural to the cat’s digestive system in anything but the smallest amounts—for example, the undigested grain and plant matter that would be in the stomachs of rodents or birds they would feed on if they were fending for themselves in nature.
2. Cats are not vegetarians
The 2nd tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is knowing the cats cannot be vegetarians; it’s as simple as that. This is at least in part because they need a chemical called taurine, which their bodies can only get from meat, unlike people’s or dogs’ bodies, which can manufacture it themselves.
In theory, a non meat diet could be a healthy option for dogs, but a vegetarian cat is a contradiction in terms. A cat cannot live on plant matter alone—at least not well, and not for long.Because taurine is essential to a cat’s survival, check what you are feeding. Canned food needs to have at least .05 percent taurine (although more is even better) and dry food should have at least .16 percent taurine.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan who is determined to impose your personal nutritional choice onto your cat, then you need to be sure at the very least that she gets a taurine supplement from the vet. She cannot survive without it.
Even though you could create a vegetarian diet for a cat that would include added taurine, along with some of the other essential components of meat, why would you go to that trouble? (Do forgive me, please, for feeling the need to suggest that if you feel so strongly about having a vegetarian animal, bunnies make very nice pets.)
3. Sense of smell and taste
- The 3rd tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is knowing that cats have a powerful sense of smell, with receptors so sophisticated that they can distinguish between the smells of different proteins and fats.
- If something smells good to a cat, she will eat it; if not, she probably won’t.
- Cats cannot taste sweetness (which dogs can). So to encourage a cat to eat, a food must first appeal to her odor receptors, which is why very strong-smelling cat foods have been developed.
4. Preservatives and other chemicals in food
The 4th tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is knowing the preservatives and other chemicals in your cat food. Processed foods are as much a concern for animals as they are for people.
They often contain poor-quality ingredients and are full of preservatives, which may harm pets. The labels on commercial products can be deceiving because pet food companies add large quantities of premixed vitamins and minerals to their products and each of the individual ingredients in these concoctions contains some kind of preservative.
So while the label may not list preservatives and claim “no added preservatives,” your cat will be eating chemicals in various ingredients added during the manufacturing process.
(A) BHA and BHT
- These two preservatives have been considered toxic for decades, and were once in snack foods for humans, too. They are chemical antioxidants that keep the fatty contents of pet food from turning rancid.
- These chemicals have been linked to birth defects and liver and kidney damage. If a cat ingests them at every single meal, it has to take a toll.
- The value of BHA and BHT to pet food makers, who still routinely use them, is that once they are doused on kibble, the stuff can stay “fresh” for vast amounts of time.
- This is another antioxidant preservative that was once added to most pet foods to keep them from going bad. It is now proven to be toxic to animals (really toxic—it is known to cause blindness, leukemia and cancer of the stomach, skin, spleen and liver in companion animals).
- It took a while, but finally many of the pet food companies bowed to consumer pressure and removed it from the foods, which now bear the proud claim “No added ethoxyquin.”
- Except this may be a deceptive claim, folks. Pet food companies can state they don’t add ethoxyquin to the food at their plant, but that does not take into account that suppliers of the raw ingredients of the foods (the meat and fats) have already treated them with this deadly chemical before shipping them to the pet food company.
- There’s no way of being certain which kibble is free of ethoxyquin; one solution would be to choose a product from one of the high-quality pet food companies that has not had to be on the defensive about their ingredients.
(C) Flavoring Agents
- Artificial flavoring agents are also added to many commercial foods, and although they are tasty to cats, they are unhealthy for them—and actually toxic in large quantities.
- Flavored pet foods also contain preservatives and added dyes that turn the naturally grim, gray color of dry food into a bizarrely unnatural red color, but some marketing genius must have decided this is what people find appetizing when they go to purchase cat food.
- Comfrey and Pennyroyal Are Dubious Supplements AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) has moved to ban these three ingredients in pet foods, on the basis that not enough is known about their safety and usefulness in a cat’s diet.
- Dozens of other supplements in cat foods have not yet been proven safe or effective, but these three have recently been singled out.
5. Fats in cat food
The 5th tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is detecting the fats in your cat food. All commercial dry pet food has fat added to make it more enticing, whether mixed with the other ingredients or sprayed on the finished product at the end.
Fats give off an intense odor that attracts cats, who are especially stimulated to eat by their sense of smell. However, you need to know that frequently the source of fat in pet foods is old cooking oil sold by restaurants to pet food companies when they can no longer use it in their kitchens.
It is then added to your cat’s food instead of being thrown out or used for industrial purposes.
6. Protein in cat food
The 6th tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is detecting protein in your cat food. In nature, the prey that a cat would eat consists mostly of muscle meat; about one-sixth is organ meats and some intestines and blood vessels (if we discount feathers or fur).
The best fuel for a cat’s digestive system is meaty raw food, but if you’re not going to feed raw, you want to at least follow those proportions in the prepared food you choose.
The highest-quality proteins are those that come from muscle meat (what we think of as the flesh of the animal) and organs, because these both have the right balance of amino acids to aid a cat’s digestion, allowing her body to most efficiently utilize the protein source.
(A) Low-Quality Protein
- Generally speaking, the protein quality in most commercially made pet foods is low. These ingredients have to be processed under high heat and often sprayed with chemicals afterward.
- A pet food manufacturer can also count feet, eyes and feathers as part of the total protein content of their food, although the lower the quality of protein, the more processing it needs to pass even those low government standards.
- Besides being less nutritious, or even useless to your cat’s system, which cannot assimilate them, low-quality protein is also a cause of alkaline urine, a leading cause of urinary problems in cats.
- The pH of a cat’s urine is affected by diet, and urine with an acidic pH is the most desirable because it prevents the growth of germs that cause feline urologic syndrome (FUS).
(B) Meat By-products
- If you think what you just heard about “meat” sources is nasty, you’re really going to be disappointed when you find out about by-products, the other animal protein sources in cat food.
- By law, by-products can contain moldy, rancid or spoiled meat, as well as the tissue and muscle meat too full of cancer to be eaten by humans. Diseased tissue, hair, pus, decomposing carcasses and meat rejects from the slaughterhouse all go into those little cans in the supermarket.
- Dead, diseased and dying animals are fair game for pet food, as are “downer animals,” the ones who cannot walk to the slaughter.
7. Dry Food Is Basically Disastrous for Cats
The 7th tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is knowing the dry food is basically disastrous for cats. The single most serious problem in feline nutrition is that most cats are fed exclusively dry food (also called kibble), which is not an appropriate food for a cat.
You must be thinking, “Everybody feeds their cats dry food, right?” Sure they do—because nobody told them otherwise and everybody else feeds it and always has. Topping off a bowl of kibble is great for people—it’s quick, clean and easy for people to deliver. You can well imagine how happy the pet food industry is about that unquestioning devotion on the part of their customers, who are people, of course—the ones with the wallets.
I’m here to urge you to “think outside the bag.” I’m here, as your cat’s best friend, advocating for a good hard look at what is in those bags of food. I may have an uphill battle ahead of me with some of you who have been doling out dry food to your cats all their lives.
But the best-kept secret in the pet world is that a diet of dry food is to blame for many of the serious health problems that plague domestic cats. Many cats can tolerate that diet for years, but eventually it will catch up with them and cause health issues.
(A) DRY FOOD LEAVES CATS DEHYDRATED
- With a moisture content of around 10 percent, dry food goes against the basic design of a cat’s digestive system, since it is not instinctual for a cat to drink water.
- As mentioned earlier, a cat’s natural dinner in the wild would have about a 70 percent moisture content, which is sufficient to hydrate a cat.
- But if kibble is the main food for a cat, it leaves her with urine that is too concentrated and contributes to various medical problems such as diabetes, urinary stones and other bladder problems.
(B) DRY FOOD CAN CREATE A FINICKY EATER
If kibble is left out all the time, a cat is never fully hungry. This can become a reason that a cat refuses to eat
8. Changing Over to a Better Diet
The 8th tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is changing over to a better Diet. The most efficient way to break a cat of the habit of free-feeding kibble is to do it cold turkey: Get rid of the always-available crunchies and replace them with two meals a day of protein-based food that you make or buy for your cat.
You have several choices of methods to feed your cat: commercial food from a can, a raw dehydrated food to which you add water or raw poultry you prepare yourself or purchase already ground and supplemented.
are a number of Web sites for information about feeding cats properly, which are run basically as a public service by volunteers who care deeply about educating other cat lovers about proper nutrition, and giving them advice and support in that journey.
9. Some Good Canned Foods
The 9th tip for how to choose a healthy cat food is choosing good canned food. There are a growing number of high-quality cat foods sold in pet food stores, with more companies joining the field all time.
There are also some supermarket brands of canned cat food that can pass muster with the Feline Food Police (meaning those who volunteer for some of the organizations listed above).
However, it is super important to buy ONLY the flavors that are recommended of any brand: As good as some versions of the food are, other flavors with corn syrup and corn in other forms are not healthy, and those with “gravy” should be avoided, too.
Please note that many of these foods contain beef, fish, “meat” (of unknown origin) or even a small amount of grains.
Since poultry and rabbit are the most appropriate and digestible proteins for cats, some of these supermarket brands may therefore be inappropriate for cats with food allergies or gastrointestinal disorders.
Fish should be fed sparingly, but can serve as an excellent tool for transitioning cats to canned food after a lifetime of “kibble addiction.” Likewise, liver can be an “addictive” ingredient for cats, and therefore you should offer it sparingly or infrequently.
(A) High-Quality Canned Foods
AvoDerm • By Nature • California Natural • Canine Caviar for Cats • Eagle Pack • Evo (the high end of Innova) • Felidae (from the Canidae company) • Innova • Merrick • Natural Balance • Nature’s Logic • Nature’s Variety Prairie • Newman’s Own • PetGuard • Solid Gold • Timberwolf Organics • Wellness • Wysong
Whiskas Savory Ground Pate—Chicken Dinner, Mealtime, Bits o’ Beef, Turkey & Giblets (not the Whiskas in gravy—The savory ground pate is grain and vegetable free, and the “chicken & tuna” works well for transitioning cats to canned)
Lives—Chicken Dinner, Super Supper, Chicken and Beef Dinner, Chicken and Tuna Dinner, Turkey Dinner, Chicken and Seafood Dinner, Liver & Bacon Dinner, Prime Grill with Beef
Happy Tails—Chicken Dinner, Chicken & Tuna Dinner, Mixed Grill, Super Combo, Turkey & Giblets Dinner, Salmon Dinner (any of the flavors not in gravy)—This is Jewel’s store brand (Jewel is a large grocery store chain in the Midwest).
Friskies—Supreme Supper, Mixed Grill, Country Style Dinner, Poultry Platter, Turkey & Giblets Dinner
Trader Joe’s—Chicken, Turkey & Rice, Turkey & Giblets, Oceanfish, Salmon & Rice, Tongol Tuna & Shrimp, Tongol Tuna & Crab, Seafood Medley, Tuna Dinner—all excellent for transitioning cats to canned food. The chicken and turkey flavors are usually appropriate for regular feeding. Although the first three flavors contain grains, it is a small amount and seems tolerated by many cats with diabetes or gastrointestinal disorders.
Pro Plan—Adult Chicken & Liver Entrée, adult Turkey & Giblets Entrée
Fancy Feast Gourmet Feast—Almost all flavors in the gourmet feast line are low in carbohydrates (grain and vegetable free): Gourmet Chicken Feast, Gourmet Turkey & Giblets Feast, Tender Beef Feast, Tender Beef & Liver Feast, Savory Salmon Feast, Tender Chicken & Liver Feast, Beef & Chicken Feast, Chopped Grill Feast
Fancy Feast Flaked—Fish & Shrimp Feast (this is good for transition for a cat who needs fishiness to convince her about canned food)
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