Determining what to feed your cat is no easy task with so many different factors to consider. Here’s how to find the right affordable, healthy option for your cat:
Nutritional Needs to Consider
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they require the nutrients found in meat to survive. There are some vitamins, minerals, and proteins in animal tissue that cats don’t produce and can’t get from other sources. However, they also shouldn’t get more than the correct amount. Too much of one type of nutrient could be harmful to your cat’s health.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, has requirements for cat food to be nutritionally complete and balanced. If a brand of cat food is AAFCO-approved, it has the nutrients your cat needs to be healthy.
Types and Brands of Cat Food
There are many types of cat food and many brands within each type. The three main types of food are dry, semi-moist, and canned, but there are many subcategories of food as well.
Dry food will typically contain meat, poultry, grain, or fish, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements. It has a long shelf life and is usually the cheapest type of cat food. It also is the ideal choice if you want to leave food out for your cat to eat throughout the day because cats are less likely to overeat on dry food than wet food. However, dry food may not be as easy to digest as wet food, depending on the ingredients. It’s also important to check the expiration date on the bag.
There are many reputable brands of dry cat food. Halo’s Natural Dry Cat Food was the top-ranked food on digestibility in the AAFCO’s protocol tests in 2016. The food contains only whole meat and has no corn or wheat, and a 3-pound bag costs roughly $12. Orijen Cat and Kitten Dry Food is another excellent brand. It is more expensive, though, with a 4-pound bag costing about $30.
Semi-moist food is similar to dry food but is chewier. It’s made from meat or meat byproducts combined with grain, soybean meal, and preservatives. Like dry food, semi-moist food can also be left out for your cats to eat throughout the day. Cats may like semi-moist food more than dry food, but the additives often bring the food quality down.
Canned food, or wet food, contains about 75 percent moisture and is a good source of water for your cat. It’s typically more expensive than dry and semi-moist food, but cats tend to like it the most. Canned food usually contains meats like kidney or liver, as well as whole meat byproducts.
If you choose canned food for your cat, make sure to check the label for AAFCO approval. Some brands will not satisfy your cat’s nutritional needs. To prevent uneaten canned food from spoiling after being opened, store it in the refrigerator.
Purina Fancy Feast provides all the nutrition your cats need and comes in a variety of flavors. A 24-pack of cans usually costs roughly $15. Purina Friskies Classic Pate is also a great option. There are no meat byproducts or fillers, and it contains micro-organisms that help your cat’s digestive tract. A 24-pack usually costs under $12.
Treats are fine for your cat from time to time, but they should not be a steady part of your cat’s diet. They don’t contain the correct balance of nutrients to be a large part of your cat’s food intake.
There are also some “treat” foods that you should avoid feeding your cat entirely. Raw meat can contain infectious diseases that can be very dangerous for your cat. Cats shouldn’t eat canned tuna or other canned fish products. Adult cats also shouldn’t drink milk.
Grain-Free and Natural Food
Many cat foods advertise themselves as being “grain-free.” This is mainly important for owners of cats who are allergic to proteins found in grains. Cats with food allergies may have bald patches, inflamed skin, or sores and scabs. If you think your cat may have a grain allergy or a food allergy, bring them to your vet for immediate inspection.
Some pet owners try to feed their cats a grain-free diet to lower their carbohydrate intake. Cat foods without grain can still have high carbohydrate contents however, so it’s always important to check the ingredients.
Recently, natural cat food is also becoming more popular. According to the AAFCO, natural food must contain natural preservatives. This is the only requirement from the AAFCO, so if a cat food brand advertises itself as “natural,” it could just mean that the preservatives are natural.
How to Choose the Right Type
There isn’t one type or brand of food that’s best for all cats. To choose the right type of cat food, it’s important to consider your cat’s individual eating preference.
To start, you’ll need to consider your cat’s age. Kittens need a diet with more protein and fat than older cats so they can develop strong bones and muscles. Additionally, adult cats usually need fewer calories than kittens. It’s also important to think about weight control with adult cats in order to prevent arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Older cats usually need less fat in their diets than younger cats.
Indoor and outdoor cats also tend to have different dietary needs. Outdoor cats are often more active than indoor cats, and require a higher-calorie food. Indoor cats may spend more time grooming, so they may ingest more of their own hair. If this is the case with your cat, look for high fiber foods to eliminate hairballs.
All cat food should have nutritional information on the label so you can decide which type is best for your cat. Try to find a brand that meets or exceeds the AAFCO standards. In most cases, you should avoid foods that list byproducts, added sugars, or corn meal as ingredients.
Many experts recommend using more than one type of cat food. Because the different types of food have different benefits, switching it up occasionally can be good for your cat. A balance of wet and dry food can provide your cat with the nutrients he or she needs, and it can prevent your cat from getting bored of eating the same food all the time. You can also pay attention to your cat’s preference; some cats love the crunch of dry food, while others much prefer wet food.
Where to Find High Quality Cat Food
Pet stores will be your best option for finding high quality food. Store employees should also be able to make recommendations based on what your cat needs. Most supermarkets and drug stores also sell a variety of types and brands of cat food. Not all stores sell the top-quality brands, though, so you may have to order them online from Amazon or directly from the company’s website.