The Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF), an advocacy group established by Susan Thixton, the publisher and founder of The Truth About Pet Food, recently published the results of an unprecedented pet food testing project conducted by U.S. labs late last year. The results reveal serious concerns for pets and for the human families that purchase and handle the pet food.Continue Reading
Costs for pet health care, food and other supplies continue to increase just as human health care and food costs are rising. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to save on pet care expenses. Suggestions range from price-shopping for a vet to foregoing veterinary care altogether in favor of at-home “medical” care, purchasing vaccines online and administering them yourself, and buying the cheapest food. All of this advice couldn’t be more wrong, and will most likely put your cat’s health at risk.
The following tips can help you save on cat care expenses without compromising your cat’s health:Continue Reading
The recent Diamond Pet Food recall has left many pet parents wondering whether it’s safe to continue to feed commercial pet food. This particular recall was surprising topet owners who did not realize that Diamond manufacturers a large variety of different brands. As of this writing, 11 brands are involved in the recall, due to possible salmonella contamination.
Sadly, recalls have become a fact of life, and they happen in all kinds of industries, not just for pet food. While recalls may not be completely unavoidable, this one is unsettling because it covers so many brands – and because it’s not always transparent who actually makes the brand you’re feeding your cats. In most cases, pet guardians also have no way of knowing where the ingredients in a particular brand come from. Multiple brands share the same supplier, as we saw in the horrific 2007 pet food recall, which caused the death of thousands of pets who had eaten food contaminated by melamine, which was traced back to a Chinese supplier.
As a result, pet parents are looking for alternatives. Continue Reading
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Costs for pet health care, food and other supplies continue to increase just as human health care and food costs are rising. Since pets are part of the family, pet care expenses are often the last item that gets cut from the family budget. Pampered Pets On A Budget: Caring For Your Pet Without Losing Your Tail helps pet owners cut pet costs without compromising care.
I was curious about this book. Advising people to save on pet care expenses can backfire. Recommendations on how to save on veterinary costs published in a 2003 Consumer Reports article essentially stated that you should price shop for veterinary care. While price is certainly one consideration, it shouldn’t be the only one, and it should most definitely not be the most important one when choosing your pet’s family doctor.
Thankfully, the authors of this book do not make this mistake. Continue Reading
It’s always nice when companies give back to the community, and it’s especially nice when that giving is directed at pets. Banfield Charitable Trust, the charitable arm of Banfield Pet Hospitals, has been running its Season of Suppers™ program since 2006. Since its inception, the program has collected more than 50 tons of food to help feed hungry pets nationwide and helped start or sustain more than 150 pet food distribution programs.
The challenging economy is making it more difficult than ever for vulnerable pet owners to feed the pets they love so much. Banfield reports that they are experiencing a growing number of requests (pleas really) from struggling pet owners – especially seniors—who can’t afford pet food. This is forcing them to share their limited human food supply or consider the heartbreaking option of surrendering their pets.Continue Reading
If you purchased Natura pet food during the last six years (between March 20, 2005 and July 18, 2011), you may be eligible for a payment of up to $200 from a class action against Natura Pet Products. Natura is the maker of the brands Innova, EVO, California Natural, HealthWise, Mother Nature & Karma.
A federal judge has entered an order for a preliminary approval of the class action suit against Natura in a California court, alleging, among other things, that Natura violated California’s Business and Professions Code when advertising their dog and cat food products and allegedly made false and misleading statements about the human grade quality of its food in its advertisements, promotional materials and labeling.
A $2,150,000 settlement fund will be reportedly created by Natura under the class action settlement. The settlement fund will be used to make payments to settlement Class Members, as well as cover attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses, a payment to the Class Representative and the costs associated with administering the settlement. Natura will also reportedly stop promoting its pet food products as human grade, human quality, or as something that you would eat yourself. To get a payment (of up to $200), settlement class members must submit a claim form by January 8, 2012.
For more details on the suit, and how to make a claim, click here.
The Innova EVO cat and kitten food line was one of the first in the grain-free offerings. Amber, Buckley and Allegra all ate this food, and they did really well on it. I stopped feeding, and recommending, this line when Natura was purchased by Procter & Gamble in May of 2010. Even though there have been no reports to date that the formula has changed, and despite Natura’s promise to maintain the integrity of their formula once it was being manufactured under the auspices of a multi-national conglomerate, I just wasn’t comfortable feeding and recommending their diets anymore.
It should be noted that this suit was initiated before Natura was purchased by P & G. Natura agreed to the $2,150,000 settlement and will reportedly also stop promoting its products as human grade.
Sadly, the moral of this story is probably that if you’re feeding commercial pet food, there just aren’t any guarantees that what you think is in the can is really what is in the can. At least in this case, unlike during the pet food recall of 2007, no pets died – at least none that we know of.
Feline Nutrition: Who bears the responsibility?
How to read a pet food label
The many voices of feline nutrition
I’ve previously written about the foods I recommend based on what an obligate carnivore like the cat needs to thrive. In general, the progression from most desirable to least desirable is a raw food diet (either commercial or homemade), a home cooked whole food diet, grain-free canned food, and, if cost is a consideration, any canned food. I do not recommend any dry food for cats (read The Truth About Dry Cat Food for more on why this dry food is not a good choice). But even within these parameters, the available options can be overwhelming. Pet food labels should be a useful tool to help pet owners decide which foods to select. Unfortunately, unless you know how to interpret the often confusing information on the labels, they may only add to the confusion.
Pet food packaging is all about marketing
Pet food packaging is all about marketing. Our pets couldn’t care less what container their food comes in, or whether it has cute pictures of kittens and puppies on it. They don’t care about pretty label and brand colors, but you can bet that pet food companies spend major marketing dollars on determining which colors appeal to pet owners. Don’t let pet foods labelled as “natural” mislead you – just because the label has the word “natural” and pictures of wholesome vegetables and grains on it does not necessarily make it so. The only way you can be sure to understand what’s in a food is by reading the label. Here are some things to look for:
Pet food manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order; in other words, the most predominant ingredient has to be listed first. Look for meat based proteins as the main ingredient. Avoid anything that lists corn or soy and their by-products – these two ingredients are some of the prime culprits for causing allergies in pets. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a food is good for your pet because it lists ingredients such as peas, carrots, cranberries, blueberries and the like. Pets don’t really need these ingredients to thrive, but they make for good marketing to the pet’s human. They can be a source of antioxidants and vitamins, but in many foods, the amounts are not significant enough to make a difference.
Manufacturers are required to list basic nutrient percentages on the label. Typically, this portion of the label will list crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and ash content. Note that there is no listing for carbohydrates on food labels, which is a very important consideration when it comes to feeding cats, who are obligate carnivores. However, it is not difficult to calculate approximate carbohydrate contents. Simply add all of the listed nutrients and subtract the total from 100% – this will give you a fairly accurate number.
This is probably the most misunderstood item on pet food labels. AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is the organization which is charged with establishing and enforcing animal feed requirements across all fifty state governments. Its primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of feed for human food producing livestock. The AAFCO statement on most pet food labels indicates that the food has been tested and approved as “complete and balanced for the life of a pet.” This is sadly misleading. The tests are conducted on very small groups of animals and for very short periods of time. The only real long-term tests of pet food happen when pet owners feed these diets to their own pets!
Just like selecting food for yourself and your human family members, choosing healthy food for your pets comes down to educating yourself, reading labels, and not falling for marketing hype. Your pets will thank you for it.