carnivore

The Truth About Dry Cat Food

dry-cat-food

Last updated April 2021

Grocery and pet store shelves abound with a dizzying array of dry cat food. For decades, kibble has been the preferred choice for most cat owners. After all, the bags say it’s “complete and balanced,” it’s easy to feed, and most cats seem to like it. Unfortunately, dry cat food, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, is the equivalent of junk food for cats. Feeding dry food to cats is no different than feeding sugared cereals to kids.Continue Reading

Introducing ZiwiPeak: Natural New Zealand Pet Nutrition

ziwi-peak-cat-food

This post is sponsored by Ziwi Peak

ZiwiPeak is one of the brands that has long been included on my list of recommended foods. Today, I’m delighted to offer you a closer look at this brand, courtesy of the folks at ZiwiPeak. Ziwi Peak is a complete and balanced daily diet for all breeds and all lifestages. Their formulas are 95% digestible and palatable to even the most finicky cats (and dogs.)Continue Reading

Your Hypecarnivore: Why Senior Cats Need Protein to Thrive

senior-cat

Guest post by Elizabeth Colleran, DVM

The nutritional requirements of senior cats are unique when compared to those of humans and dogs. Elderly cats require more energy to maintain their body weight, in part because their fat and protein digestion is impaired. To compensate for impaired nutrient absorption, senior cats need to eat more food relative to their body weight than younger cats. This can be challenging as aging changes associated with decreased ability to smell and taste can cause appetite to decline. Additionally, many aging conditions in cats result in pain, which can also distract from interest in food at a time when more food is essential.Continue Reading

Tiki Cat Launches New Gourmet Carnivore Line

Tiki_Cat_Gourmet_Carnivore

Tiki Cat has long been one of our recommended brands. They use quality ingredients, and their foods contain mostly protein with no fillers or vegetables added. They’re also high in moisture, and you can actually recognize the ingredients when you look at the food.

Tiki Cat recently launched a new line of foods. The Gourmet Carnivore selections feature 100 percent human USDA Grade products that are grain-free, carb-free, whole shredded meats cooked in natural consommé juices, not gravy. These new varieties nicely complement the existing 17 varieties of Tiki Cat Gourmet Whole Foods.Continue Reading

The Best Food for Your Cat: My Recommendations

best-food-for-your-cat

Last update: July 2021

Editor’s Note: Even though this article was first written in 2012, I periodically update the information to keep it current. I try to answer as many general questions in the comments as I can. I cannot always verify the veracity or accuracy of information or recommendations provided by readers in comments.  If you would like me to evaluate a brand or product not mentioned on the list in this post, or if you would like individualized advice for your cat, please schedule a consultation. This post contains some affiliate links*.

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.

Dry food is the equivalent of junk food for cats.  It’s really not all that different from feeding sugared cereals to kids. Cats are obligate carnivores: this means they need meat not just to survive, but to thrive. They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically. They need few or no carbohydrates in their diet. Feeding foods high in carbohydrates can lead to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Dry food is the leading cause of most urinary tract problems, and it is responsible for the obesity problem among cats. Dry food has also been implicated as one of the contributing factors to diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions. 1 in 50 cats may be affected, with overweight cats being at increased risk.

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.
  • Ideally, I’d like a food to be GMO-free. Some of the brands on the list below may contain GMO’s.

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Avoid fish-based foods

A word about fish: most cats love fish-based foods. I recommend using them sparingly or avoiding them altogether. The primary fish used in cat food are salmon, tilefish (usually identifed as ocean whitefish on the label) and tuna. Each of them presents health issues, because fish can contain toxic doses of common water pollutants, heavy metals, and other contaminants.

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.) Mercury is considered one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern by the World Health Organization.

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 foods (listed in no particular order). If you would like me to evaluate a brand not on this list, I would be happy to do so – please contact me for fees for this service.)

Best Wet Cat Foods

Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein™ is  available from Chewy.com.

Weruva Read my full review of this brand here. Wervua is available from Amazon and from Chewy.com.

Hound and Gatos is available from Chewy.com.  Some varieties of Hound and Gatos are available from Amazon.

Tiki Cat. I only recommend the poultry-based flavors. Tiki Cat is available from Chewy.com. Some formulas are also available from Amazon.

Soulistic. This brand is similar to Weruva and is available from Amazon.

Ziwi is available from Chewy.com.

Instinct canned formulas only. The protein content of the Healthy Cravings pouches is lower than what I like to see in a species-appropriate food.

Nature’s Logic is available from Chewy.com.

Best Raw Cat Foods

Darwin’s Natural Pet Food

Fegnion

Vital Essentials is available from Chewy.com.

Stella and Chewy’s

Primal Pet Foods

Dehydrated raw diets

The Honest Kitchen is available from Chewy.com.

Stella and Chewy’s is available from Chewy.com.

Primal Pet Foods Primal Pet Foods dehydrated formulas are available from Chewy.com. Some formulas are also available from Amazon.

Gently cooked diets

NomNomNow

Smalls

Additional Reading

How much should I feed my cat?

How to wean your cat off dry food

How to get finicky cats to eat

How to read a pet food label

Homemade food for your cat: healthy, simple and economical

The right diet for cats with kidney disease

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

*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on Amazon. The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of Chewy.com. The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of NomNomNow. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

Photo: depositphotos

Don’t force your cat to be vegan

vegan-diet-for-cats

People adopt a vegan lifestyle for a variety of reasons, some of them health related, others as a conscious choice to help the planet. One of the most frequently cited reasons why people become vegan is because of a genuine concern about animal rights. There is no doubt that factory farmed animals live in abysmal conditions both prior to and during slaughter.

I admire people who can completely embrace this way of eating. It’s too restrictive for me, but the evidence I’ve seen, both scientific and anectdotal, makes me think that it is, indeed, a better way to eat. I’m mostly vegetarian, but I occasionally eat fish and seafood, and I do eat dairy. However, more and more, I try to incorporate vegan principles into my diet.

Unfortunately, the increased popularity of the vegan lifestyle presents an ethical dilemma for devoted cat guardians who believe that their cats should reflect their human beliefs about the treatment of animals and an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.Continue Reading

Kidney Failure and Diet in Cats

cat eating bowl

Guest post by Darren Hawks, DVM

Renal insufficiency, or kidney failure, is very common as our cats age. Early signs are subtle, seen only as increased drinking and urination. More advanced signs are weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, and dull coat. Problems occur as the kidneys can no longer reabsorb water, leading to excessive urination and chronic dehydration. As problems progress, the kidneys cannot handle the breakdown products of excess protein, leading to the buildup of toxins in the blood (azotemia). This is reflected in an increased BUN and creatinine on blood work.Continue Reading

The many voices of feline nutrition

I’m passionate about feline nutrition.  I believe that learning about and understanding cats’ unique needs when it comes to nutrition is the single most important thing we can do for their health.  There’s so much we can’t control – but we do have control over what we put in their food bowl.   

Opinions about what constitutes optimum nutrition for cats vary widely, and it can be a challenge to find unbiased and well-researched information.   This is why I was thrilled when I discovered the Feline Nutrition Education Society website. 

The organization was started by founder and executive director Margaret Gates after transitioning her own cats to a raw diet.  Her previous generation of cats had died, some from what she believed were diseases caused by or exacerbated by grain-based diets.  After making the switch to a raw diet, she witnessed dramatic, positive changes in her cats’ health.  She started the Feline Nutrition Foundation to promote awareness of the issues involved in feline nutrition and health, with an emphasis on species-appropriate raw feeding for cats. 

Gates found that very few cat owners had ever even heard of a raw diet for cats.  Most people she knew were feeding dry food.  So Gates began to do research.  The first thing she learned was how unhealthy dry food was for cats.  Then one day, while making dinner, she found herself shooing her cats away when they begged for some chicken:  “You can’t eat that, it’s raw. You’ll get sick.”  And suddenly, she realized that her cats were trying to tell her how wrong that was.  Cats eat raw meat in the wild – so maybe a diet emulating the natural diet of a cat would make sense for pet cats, too? 

Once Gates started feeding a raw diet, she noticed changes in her cats almost immediately.  One cat who had never had a firm bowel movement had a normally formed stool the next day.  After a couple of weeks, she noticed more changes.  Her cats had more energy, their coats had become softer and silkier.  The chubby ones lost weight.  They weren’t waking her up in the middle of the night anymore because they were hungry.  And, says Gates, “the amount of stool they all produced dropped by about half. Best of all, it didn’t stink any more. Really. With eleven cats, this was a very big deal. I’ll confess I probably would have switched them to raw for  this result alone.” 

The site contains a wealth of information, and contributors include such animal health leaders as Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, the founder of catinfo.org, Elizabeth Hodgins, DVM, Esq, a successful veterinarian for more than twenty years, former technical director at Hill’s Pet Nutrition and founder of YourDiabeticCat.com, and Dr. Michael W. Fox, author of more than 40 books and the syndicated column Animal Doctor.  Articles are thoroughly researched and carefully cited and footnoted to science journals and studies. 

The site contains a (free) membership area.  Gates hopes to spread the message of species-appropriate nutrition for cats and feline health in general by building a strong base of members who care about cats and their health. 

Feline Nutrition has big plans for the future.  The not-for-profit advocacy organization is currently setting up the non-profit Feline Nutrition Foundation in order to accomplish its longer term goals. The Foundation will establish a formal feline nutrition certification program, work toward creating a program of raw diet nutritional testing and evaluation, and initiate and be involved in institutional scientific feline nutrition studies. 

If you want to learn more about feline nutrition, visit the Feline Nutrition Education Society website – your cats will thank you for it.

How to Select Healthy Cat Treats

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You will find a lot of information on feline nutrition on this site, but one aspect I haven’t covered in detail is treats. While treats should always be used judiciously, especially for cats that have a tendency to gain weight or are already overweight, realistically, most cat guardians want to occasionally spoil their feline charges with a special treat.  Treats also have their place when it comes to training (and yes, cats can be trained).  Since most of us will give our cats treats, it’s important to choose healthy options.Continue Reading