Conscious Cat

March 22, 2012 147 Comments

The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

Posted by Ingrid

cat with food bowl

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m passionate about species-appropriate nutrition for cats. Cats are obligate carnivores, and they need meat not only to survive, but to thrive. The optimal diet for a cat is a properly formulated raw, home-cooked or grain-free canned diet.

Never feed dry food

Cats shouldn’t eat dry food; even the grain-free dry varieties are too high in carbohydrates.

And contrary to the myth that just won’t die, dry food does not clean your cat’s teeth. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

Articles about feline nutrition, and one-on-one consultations

You can find many of the articles I’ve written about this topic in the Feline Nutrition section right here on this site. I also provide one-on-one consultations if you need help with transitioning your cat to a healthier diet.

What I look for in a food

  • Protein is listed as the first ingredient on the label, and the meat/poultry used is fit for human consumption. If the meat is organic, that’s even better.
  • The food is grain-free (no rice, barley, or any other grains. Even though these are considered healthy in human nutrition, cats’ digestive tracts are not designed to digest the unnecessary carbs).
  • The food does not contain by-products, corn, soy, or any other fillers.
  • Ideally, I’d like to see no carrageenan in the food. Some of the brands on the list below have carrageenan in some of their flavors, so check labels carefully.

Avoid fish-based foods

A word about fish: most cats love fish-based foods. I recommend using them sparingly or avoiding them altogether. Sadly, much of the fish that goes into pet food is contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. (On a side note, that is also true for fish sold for human consumption.) Fish used in pet food manufacturing often contains whole fish, guts and bones, which can increase phosphorus levels of the food. This can be a problem for cats with kidney disease. Some cats are sensitive to fish-based diets and develop urinary tract problems that resolve when fish is removed from their diet. Additionally, fish based foods may contain menadione, a synthetic form of vitamin K, which has been banned by the FDA for use in human supplements.

My recommendations

I am often asked what brands I recommend. Unfortunately, there are many diets on the market that sound good based on what the pretty packaging says, but when you take a closer look at the label, you realize that there’s not much substance behind the marketing claims. The brands listed below are foods that I either currently feed to Allegra and Ruby, or have fed to them in the past. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and it does not mean that there aren’t other really good diets out there. It just means that these brands are the ones I’m comfortable with after doing thorough research.

I recommend the following (listed in no particular order):

Grain-free canned diets:

Weruva. Read my full review of this brand here.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Canned. Please be aware that the rabbit in Nature’s Variety’s canned and raw forumulas is sourced from China and Italy. Nature’s Variety employs a US trained food scientist to oversee rabbit sourcing.

Nature’s Logic Canned

Hound and Gatos

Tiki Cat

Soulistic. This brand is exclusively sold by Petco (and also available from Amazon), but is produced under the same processing standards as Weruva.

Addiction

Wild Calling

Raw diets:

Primal Pet Foods I like these diets, but I have found that the formulas seem to vary a bit from batch to batch. If you have a finicky eater, this may become a problem.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw. I like these diets, but they’re not my first choice, because some of their products contain mixed proteins, so read labels carefully. I prefer single protein foods. Please be aware that the rabbit in Nature’s Variety’s canned and raw forumulas is sourced from China and Italy. Nature’s Variety employs a US trained food scientist to oversee rabbit sourcing.

Rad Cat

Feline’s Pride

Dehydrated Raw Diets

The Honest Kitchen. The Honest Kitchen offers free samples (shipping not included.)

Stella and Chewy’s

Gently Cooked Diets

Freshpet

Resources:

How to read a pet food label

Feeding your cat: know the basics of feline nutrition by Dr. Lisa Pierson

Feline Nutrition (solid and well-researched information on raw feeding)

Cooking for your cat: how to make a balanced homemade diet

Kidney failure and diet in cats

Dr. Goodpet

Photo: istockphoto

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147 Responses to “The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations”

  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks, I would be concerned with the spinach in NVP Instict’s raw formulas – even their new cat product – (Raw Bites, duck) contains spinach. The ASPCA cautions against “chronic” (cumulative) ingestion of spinach b/c it contains calcium oxalates and could cause crystal formation / UTI’s in cats.

    http://www.aspca.org/about-us/faq/spinach-0

    It’s too bad their raw products has vegetables, one of my cats loved the raw lamb but because of its’ high bone content – 15%, it made him constipated with bloody stools. Primal is lower in bone content, 10%, but still contains vegetables cats have no use for.

  2. Lisa says:

    How I got my cats off dry food: I’d like to share this tip, maybe it will help others who want to eliminate dry food from their cats diet.

    I never fed much dry food to my two almost three year old cats, however, one of them was beginning to turn into a “dry food junkie”. Both cats are allergic to fowl and fish, hence limiting our options of meat proteins available in most grain free canned foods. It was also difficult trying to find *single* protein, grain free foods and especially foods they liked. We ended up with Natural Balance’s LID venison formula, Mikey liked it, Molly didn’t care for it much, I’d have to “season” it with some type of treat on top of the food in order for her to eat it. Hence, she would just run to her dry food bowl (kept in another room, far from the kitchen where they eat their wet food). Long story short: I found a formula she liked – Addiction’s venison and apple, she loved it, would inhale it, even cold from the refrigerator. Both cats still expected something though in their dry food bowls; I never free-fed dry food but would give a small scoopful after they had eaten their wet food.

    I gradually began substituting the grain free dry food for a dehydrated / freeze dried raw food, Stella and Chewy’s. I waited 24 hours before beginning small amounts of the freeze dried raw given that dry food causes longer digestion times and I didn’t want to risk the cats getting a bacterial infection mixing dry with raw (raw digests quicker but dry slows it down), albeit dehydrated.

    I wanted to use SC’s cat formulas but could not b/c they only make fowl and fish for cats. So …. I bought the rabbit formula for dogs (high in vegetables but again, the use of this product as a means to an end and very little). I’d cut up a patty into little “kibble” size pieces and put that in their dry food bowls – they loved it!! I realized that they don’t care what’s in their dry food bowls as long as they like it. I did that for about 6 weeks until I found ZiwiPeak and now I use their air dried raw lamb, not a lot, it’s very concentrated, sometimes I may sprinkle a bit over their canned food.

    Anyway, I hope this info helps. Thanks also for the great site Ingrid – I’ve recommended it to others!

  3. Eliette says:

    Hello Ingrid,

    Why do you prefer single protein food? Thank you.

  4. felines says:

    how much protein should a cat have in his diet?
    is naturesmenu pouches OK?

  5. Hi Ingrid, what’s your take on dehydrated foods such as Honest Kitchen (http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/cat-food/grace)? Many people add meat to the diet to ensure their cat gets a decent source of meat protein as well as necessary nutrients provided by the mix.

    I understand your single protein source method, but with most allergies caused by grains (esp. cheap grains and waste products like brewers rice) is that really necessary? Perhaps if a cat has known allergies it’s worth investigating.

    • Ingrid says:

      I like the dehydrated foods as an alternative to fresh or frozen raw diets. As for the single protein, it just makes identifying possible culprits of a food intolerance or allergy easier than if you feed a food with multiple proteins. You may still need to do a true elimination diet trial, but it makes things a little easier.

      • It certainly makes sense. I normally start with a grain-free diet to eliminate allergies to wheat/soy, and then avoidance of chicken and/or beef and so on. Cats don’t need grains anyway, so grain free has no caveats (expect for price).

        It’s interesting to see the opinion of others, so thank you.

  6. claudia says:

    Please would someone look at the ingredients below, do you think this sounds good? Its for my cat with Kidney disease, who also has bladder stones.

    Composition:
    Chicken (min 43%), Turkey (min 28%), Minerals.
    Analytical Constituents:
    Protein (10%), Crude Oils & Fats (6.5%), Crude Ash (2.5%), Crude Fibres (0.4%), Moisture (79%).
    Additives (per kg):
    Taurine (200mg/kg), Vitamin A (2.000iu/kg), Vitamin D3 (320iu/kg), Vitamin E (30mg/kg).
    Trace Elements: Potassium iodide (0.2mg/kg), Manganese oxide (2.1mg/kg), Zinc sulphate monohydrate (10mg/kg), Zinc sulphate monohydrate (10mg/kg).

    Is there any ingredient i should avoid / add to help with bladder stones? If so are their recommended levels?
    Is there any ingredient i should avoid / add to help with Kidney disease? if so the levels also?

    for example, are the values below of 10% protein too low?
    the phosphorus levels are approximate 0.26%, though the word approximate concerns me (does this mean it could be much higher!?) If so i need to look for another food.

    Does anyone please know of a food that is the lowest in phosphorus levels that they have come across? Would this also help with bladder stones?
    Im in the UK, so some foods ive read people mention i can’t get hold of easily here in the UK

    Again, thank you very,very much, I look forward to your comments

  7. claudia says:

    No problem, however can someone clarify on the following as i am totally confused. One of my vets said that 10% protein is way to high for a cat with kidney disease. The other vet said it is way too low! (when we go to our vets, we tend to see whoever happens to be available, therefore the advice can differ) its so confusing to know what to do,

    • Ingrid says:

      Claudia, please read the article I linked to above, it goes into detail on this topic. Conventional wisdom is that cats in kidney failure should eat a diet lower in protein, however, newer information indicates that protein restriction is not indicated until the final stages of renal failure.

  8. Liz says:

    Hi Ingrid,

    Great site, and I really appreciate that you aren’t judgmental about the compromises we sometimes have to make with our kitties!

    I’ve been reading a lot of your articles and the conversations in comments, I’m just trying to understand how to prioritize the various things I should be avoiding. Is this about right (I’m a little fuzzy once we get past dry food and grain!)?

    1. No dry food
    2. No grain
    3. No carrageenan
    4. No or very little seafood
    5. low or no carbs
    6. no xanthan gum
    7. avoid vegetable starches?

    I read somewhere else someone said to look for food that was under 10% carbs, would you agree with that?

    Also I think you said a 10 pound cat should eat around 170-200 calories, what about a kitten? I have a kitten that is estimated to be about 6 months old (rescued feral so we don’t know the exact birth date) and he just topped 11 pounds! So I’m starting to control his eating, but I don’t want to be too strict since he’s still growing.

    • Ingrid says:

      Your list is about right, Liz. As for the protein/carb ratio, you’ll find lots of differing opinions. Generally, I prefer foods that are at least 95% protein. At six months, you can start feeding your kitten as an adult. You can probably go to two meals a day at this stage.

  9. vickie doyle says:

    I really appreciate and understand the focus on healthy eating for our cats and dogs as well as humans. That said, all of my cats have lived into their late teens and one to age 22. My first cat lived to 18 and at that time at 9 Lives, that was the popular brand. Then FF came along which all of my cats, including current ones, have eaten. The one that lives to 22 would only eat fish. I am not sure how that happened, but once it did, that is all she would eat. They also get some dry food; I currently give them Royal Canin. Perhaps good genetics played a big part in the longevity of my kitties; also, I hope my current three live that long and longer. I know others that prefer the grain free for their cats. I have been thinking of weaning them to one of the healthier brands, but so far have not. I have tried things like Wellness on occasion, and no one likes it. Just my two cents; I myself am a vegetarian, due to not wanting to kill animals, but I know there are health benefits too.
    I love reading about your cats. The beautiful gray one i the photo looks identical to the love of my life kitty girl who lived to 22 and 3 months.

    • Ingrid says:

      I figure it’s like the person who eats junk food all their life and lives to be 90, Vickie. You’re right, genetics do play a part in longevity. However, I feel that since nutrition is one of the few things, if not the only thing, we can influence when it comes to health, whether it’s our cats’ or our own, it just makes sense to feed them the best possible food we can.

  10. Deb says:

    Liz’s list is helpful for me. Simplifying all this new information is good. I wish I’d found your website sooner.

    My older cat (13) adopted us 11 years ago and has had chronic vomiting for the duration. Our veterinarians don’t appear to have diagnostics short of exploratory surgery for her problem. She’s been on prednisone for over a year which has helped the vomiting, but I worry about the long term issues. The IBD diet they prescribed only caused more digestive tract distress and she really disliked the taste. I’m hoping for the best with a healthier diet.

    Then, in early November, I came across a young kitty crouched at the edge of the road, rescued her and she spent three days under observation with our vet. She’d been hit by a car resulting in a fractured front paw, broken teeth, contusions and abrasions over her head and face and a couple extra kinks at the end of her tail. She’s mended now and is a great addition to our household, but over the past few weeks she’s developed some bloody diarrhea. From the beginning she’s had an odd odor (similar to mothballs) and the fumes from the litter box are noxious. Today I picked up probiotics, a sample packet of Primal and a couple cans of Wild Calling chicken (96% chicken) which is approved by the AAFCO. I visited two of our more edgy local pet stores and read a bucket load of ingredient lists. Many products touted as natural contained vegetables and fruit and the sales people insisted that the ingredients were what a cat in the wild would eat. I had some trouble imagining my kitties digging up potatoes, wading into the cranberry bog, etc. The list of added nutrients and vitamins on the Wild Calling gives me some concern, but I’m hoping it’s a start toward better digestive health for both my little girls (both are grey tabbys and under 8 lbs. I suspect they’re long lost sisters.)

    They’ve been on Blue Buffalo Wilderness dry and canned. I’m going to begin weaning them from the dry, adding the probiotics and trying the more natural foods to find out what they tolerate best. Any more suggestions for the bloody diarrhea, odor and vomiting?

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m not familiar with Wild Calling and I’m not sure all Blue Buffalo varieties are grain-free – take a close look at the labels. It sounds like you’re already doing all the right things. I would, however, recommend that at the very least you get a stool sample checked for your new rescue kitty if you haven’t already done so. If you’d like to discuss this in more detail, I’d be happy to schedule a consultation.

  11. Deb says:

    Thank you, Ingrid. I’m calling their office this morning and will take in a stool sample. Tikitibu gave me some quite putrid ones this morning just before 5.

  12. lisa says:

    I agree regarding Primal raw and the variability of each batch. I’ve purchased four different bags of the rabbit formula; two of those bags my cat loved, the other two he rejected, money down the drain.
    He’s never rejected Natures Variety Instinct. He loves the lamb and I’m about to try the venison and lamb recipe with him. I’m not concerned that there are two proteins in one formula since he’s. already familiar with venison. It’s chicken and turkey he’s allergic to.
    I was initially concerned about the bone content in this food but giving it a second go around, he’s
    Actually doing quite well on it.

  13. lisa says:

    Forgot to ask previously Ingrid, I understand not using any foods made or sourced in China (Petco won’t even carry any foods made in China any longer), however, what makes the rabbit from Italy suspect? China has little to no government oversight of foods but is this the same case with Italy? Should I be concerned about my olive oil from Italy? :)

    • Ingrid says:

      I did not mean to imply that the rabbit from Italy is suspect, Lisa. I don’t think there are any issues with ingredients sourced from Italy (other than the GMO issue, which is a global issue with both human and pet food.)

  14. Martha says:

    How much should you feed your cat every day? New cat owner, learning…….

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