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. 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.
You can find my recommendations of what to feed your cat here.
Quality premium cat food is more expensive
When it comes to nutrition, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely rings true. Quality cat food that is high in meat protein, low in carbohydrates and free of fillers is going to be more expensive. Of course, for most of us, budget is a consideration when it comes to selecting cat food, but keep in mind that while you can’t control your cat’s genetic makeup, you can control what you feed, and a high quality diet will save you money in the long run because you’ll spend less on veterinary bills.
The following is my ranking of types of cat food, from best to worst:
1. A nutritionally balanced fresh or frozen raw diet.
A raw diet is as close to the diet a cat would eat in the wild. This is a fast growing segment of the pet food market, and there are more and more raw diets coming on the market all the time. It’s important that you do your research and learn about the company, where they source their ingredients, and where and how they manufacture the food. You can also make your own raw food, but be sure to use a recipe that has a proper nutritional balance.
2. A nutritionally balanced home cooked diet
If raw feeding is not for you and you don’t mind cooking, a properly balanced home cooked diet is the next best choice. It is less processed than canned food, and you control the ingredients that go into your cat’s food. There are also some commercial cooked refrigerated diets available.
3. A dehydrated or freeze dried raw diet
Dehydrated and freeze-dried raw foods for cats offer the same advantages of fresh or frozen raw food, but in a neater, easier format for people to handle. These diets simply need to be rehydrated with water to make a complete meal.
4. A premium grain-free canned diet
Grain-free canned diets are easy to feed, and are easily available. Look for brands that contain human-grade ingredients, are preferably organic (although those are still hard to find) and free of GMO’s and carrageenan. Learn to read labels: unfortunately, with the rise in popularity of these diets, some manufacturers are cutting corners and replacing some of the grains in the diet with other carbohydrates rather than meat protein. Protein levels in canned foods can vary widely.
5. Lesser quality (grocery store brand type) canned food
This is the next to last least desirable choice, but if budget is an issue, the cheapest canned food is still a better choice for your cat than any type of dry food.
6. Dry food
Cats should never eat dry food; even the grain-free dry varieties are too high in carbohydrates. Additionally, cats need moisture in their diets. While cats who eat only dry food will generally drink more water, they still don’t get enough moisture to support all their bodily functions and essentially live in a constant state of low level dehydration, which can lead to bladder and kidney problems.
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. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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