Guest post by Jodi Ziskin

Cats are like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike. And no two households are exactly alike, either. These are important factors I have to take into consideration when helping cat guardians discover the best diet for their cats – and for their lifestyle.

There is a dizzying amount of information out there. There is also a great deal of misinformation. Some of the tips and protocols shared by well-meaning advocates of one type of diet or another may not be based on facts, but rather on interpretation. Think about how many times you have read articles on the “one, perfect diet for humans.” Biological facts about our bodies are often twisted to meet the ideals of the author.

Cats are obligate carnivores

Of course, all cats are obligate carnivores. All require muscle and organ meat and fat. All require the right balance of minerals and vitamins. All deserve human grade, high quality food. However, not all cats thrive on the same diet.

Raw food diet

While I am a big proponent of raw food, as many cats truly thrive on it (homemade or frozen raw by several outstanding raw pet food companies), it is not the only way to provide an excellent, bio-appropriate diet. There are several studies that show that raw and cooked meat are both highly digestible for cats.

Some cats with poor health improve greatly on a raw food diet. For others, especially those with a compromised immune system, raw food may not be appropriate. It is important to consult with your holistic or integrative vet when considering raw for a cat with cancer, irritable bowel disease or other autoimmune diseases.

Homemade cooked diet

For many of my clients, homemade cooked food has been instrumental in helping get, or keep, their kitties healthy. As a bonus, most cats transition easily to homemade food and truly thrive on a real food diet.

Freeze-dried raw diet

Freeze-dried raw diets can be a godsend for cat guardians wishing to offer real food in a convenient way that fits into their lifestyle. I have seen many cats that have rejected fresh/frozen raw or homemade cooked food absolutely love freeze-dried. While it doesn’t offer the same dental health benefits as fresh/frozen raw food, it still provides outstanding nutrition.

Canned diet

Many cats do very well on a canned food diet. It is usually my goal to graduate my clients from canned to a real food diet (raw or cooked), however I’ve had clients whose cats truly thrive on canned (human grade, grain-free, no ingredients from China, BPA-free cans). After transitioning a client’s two male cats that had been suffering from urinary tract issues to canned food, their issues subsided. The cats had been on a dry food diet and absolutely rejected the canned prescription diet their vet originally recommended. Thankfully, the vet was on board with turning to a more holistic diet. We tried raw food, but both cats rejected it.

Rotation diet

There is a misconception that only one type of food must make up the entire diet. How would you feel if you ate the same thing, day after day? Consider a rotation diet for your cats. This can mean providing both raw and cooked foods or one of these as well as a canned option. There are many advantages of doing this. Rotating food provides a well-rounded diet. If a pet food company changes a recipe or eliminates a line of food your cat has been enjoying, you will not have to endure the drama often involved in introducing a new food. In times of emergencies such as severe weather events, fresh food may simply not be an option.

Just say no to dry food

Cats should never eat dry food. Nearly all dry foods are high in carbohydrates, something cats have a minimal need for. Even grain-free dry foods are loaded with starch (that’s what holds the kibble together) and contain too many plant-based ingredients (carbohydrates). “Cats’ bodies aren’t equipped to digest carbohydrates efficiently,” says holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, “they lack the salivary, intestinal and pancreatic enzyme activity necessary to break down and digest carbs.”

Dry food is also directly tied to chronic dehydration. By nature, cats get nearly all of their liquid needs from their food. Kibble contains approximately 12% moisture. Compare that to real food, canned food and natural prey, which contain around 75 – 80% moisture (including nutrient-rich blood and plasma). Dehydration is one of the primary enemies of a cat’s body. A dry food diet is often a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome/disease, constipation, kidney disease, liver disease, joint problems, including arthritis, skin issues, including dry or flaky skin, hot spots, and itchy skin and more.

Finding the right diet for Cali: a team approach

Cali, an 8-year-old calico/tuxedo/tabby mix, was suffering from seizures. She was put on multiple medications that wreaked havoc on her digestive system. Every time she ate, she would get terrible diarrhea or vomit. Because my client has to travel a lot for business, she was filled with guilt and at a loss about how to help her beloved cat. After some trial and error, homemade food, along with a probiotic, digestive enzymes and a supplement for liver support, did the trick. No more diarrhea, no more vomiting, an increase in both appetite and energy. Success!

Any time your cat has a medical condition, it is best to work with a holistic or integrative medicine veterinarian to find the best possible diet for your cat’s individual condition. In Cali’s case, the veterinary neurologist was part of the decision making process and was pleased with the results.

Your lifestyle matters, too

When choosing a diet plan for your cat, it is important to be honest with yourself. If your life is super hectic and you don’t even have time to cook for yourself or your family, making cat food from scratch is probably not the best option. Making food for your cats should be joyful, not stressful.

There are many options when it comes to providing excellent nutrition for your cat. The goal is to find a diet that provides food your cat enjoys and thrives on, and one that is sustainable for you.

Jodi Ziskin is a Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant who also holds a Master of Science degree in Holistic Nutrition with a concentration in companion animal care. Her mission is to help cats and dogs live healthier and happier. Through her company, Healthy Pet Coach, she educates pet parents in their home environment, via Skype/Facetime or by telephone on how to make the best holistic diet and lifestyle choices for their animal companions. Jodi has been featured in articles appearing in Animal Wellness Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine and Urban Animal (Australia). She is also a Cat Health Writer for and a Nutrition Consultant for Lap Of Love Veterinary Hospice.

Photo by Kevin N. Murphy, Flickr Creative Commons

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18 Comments on The Best Food for Cats: Is There Only One Right Choice?

  1. My 15 yr. old cat Zoey has had problems with crystals in her urine, she has been on a subscription dry food (science diet C/D) for most of her life., recommend by her vet. Because she’s been throw up quite a bit I’m now feeding her the canned C/D food. Not sure if this is a good choice, need to check the label for ingredients.

    My 9 years old (Jaegermeister) big 16 pounds male cat (always hungry, never satisfied) is on science diet W/D dry food. The only reason why he’s on this special food is because he eats her C/D food as well. Lately he has been occasionally throwing up his dry food as well, mostly right after eating. He doesn’t like the science diet w/d wet food. I would like to get him off the dry food (he does like the grain free Byond canned food which is sold in supermarkets) not sure if this a good one, will need to further check the ingredients. Could you recommend a grain free without carrageenan, no fish (fish flavored) and no veggies canned food? I checked out Wellness canned food products and Carrageenan is listed as an ingredient, will not get Wellness products. Appreciate your input, hearing from you.

  2. I was wondering on the homemade cat diet you said you could buy organic frozen veggies or use extra steamed veg. cooked for my dinner. If they are obligate carnivores don’t they have a hard time digesting veggies? Just wondering, I want to do what is best for both my senior, indoor only cats, I have been feeding dry cat food and one cat is gaining weight and the other is loosing weight, both have weekly vomiting and I want to get away from dry asap! Also is turkey or chicken meat fresh cut in my supermarkets deli bad for our cats? I work at such a deli and have several customers who buy such meat for their cats and dogs and have always wondered if it is safe. I give tiny amounts to our cats on rare occasions as treats only.

    • Veggies should make up less than 5% of a homemade diet, Nadine. They’re primarily used as a source of vitamins. Good for you for eliminating dry food from your cats’ diet! Deli meat as an occasional treat in very small amounts is usually fine, but it’s definitely not something that should be fed in large quantities. It’s highly processed, and, depending on the maker, may contain preservatives and other artificial ingredients.

  3. I’m looking for a grain free canned food that has chunks or shreds or gravy. My cats do NOT like the pate style and most if not all of the better ones seem to be that style. They will not eat it and just glare at me and cry with hunger, so I gave in and went and bought more Friskees.

    • If I feed Friskies my cat gets diarrhea..don’t have any idea why. If I feed chunky cat food it seems they lick up all the juice and leave the chunks. Cats are definitely finicky. I cook chicken breasts which is their favorite. You can try looking online for Weruva brand. They make pate and chunky. The food is very good quality. Read the labels. I’m trying to find food with as little “garbage” as possible in it. Fillers along with the vegetables and fruit.. really now. When was the last time you saw a cat in the vegetable garden except to chase a mouse. I think these manufacturers have gone off the deep end.

  4. Hello,

    I bought recently a bag of Kirkland dry food for cats and kittens (with chicken and rice) and would like to know if this food is good or bad for them, they like it very much. I used to feed them with purina cat chow which they liked it too.

    Sometimes I feed them with chicken which I cook in boiled water, and chop it into small pieces.

    Thank you in advance for your reply.

  5. I sympathise with the lady whose one cat seems to want to eat “just” dried food…. we have a cat like that. She DOES have a “sensitive stomach” and is on a dry food diet that is just that although, says the vet she doesn’t HAVE to be… it is her choice. Giving her fresh fish or chicken is not on – she thinks I’m trying to poison her! She does have a variety of the dried foods so it isn’t “just” always the same one. I’d far rather all three of our cats had a balance of wet and dried but tend to go along with what THEY seem to like and while Ella plods on with dried only thank you Mumsy, George and Ella are happy with a variety.

    As they are all now mid-teens I can only say that whatever they choose to eat must suit them as they have got this far in their life-span and at present all seem to be reasonably fit and healthy

  6. I have a question if you wouldn’t mind giving me your advice.

    I have two cats. One’s a Siamese, and she *loves* wet/canned food. There would be no problem switching her from a dry and canned food diet to just canned food. However, my other kitty, an orange tabby with lots of special dietary needs, would not be happy about a canned food-only diet. I can barely get him to eat one or two wet meals a day, and our vet has me hunting down other prescription diet canned food because he seems to be absolutely sick of his (he has FLUTD and my vet absolutely insists he stays on a prescription diet). Do you have any suggestions about how I could switch my orange tabby to a canned food only diet?

  7. I have had several cats with IBD. I found that cooking chicken for them was a great way to go. I also found a grain free canned food that they could tolerate. I did take my remaining two cats to the vet for loose stools and had them on an antibiotic and panacur just in case the loose stools was from giardia. One of my cats was an outside feral guy and the possibility of giardia was present.

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