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Best Cat Foods On The Market

Cats are carnivores, not omnivores like dogs and people. That's the most important thing to keep in mind when considering what to feed yours.

"When it comes to nutrition, they are very inflexible, and owners must realize that," says Louise Murray, DVM, vice president of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York.

Frequent Questions About Cat Nutrition

  • Should they eat as they would in the wild?
  • Should they avoid carbs?
  • ​Should they eat dry food for the health of their teeth?
  • Should they eat wet food for better hydration?

Some of these opinions are myths, some are based in science, and some are in between. Even scientists don’t agree whether some plant-based protein is acceptable for cats or whether plant-based ingredients are harmful to them.

Cat Scientist Doing Experiments

One thing is clear: cat food should be chosen for its ingredients and not for weasel marketing words such as premium, super-premium, natural, complete, balanced, which are not based on any standard.

What Are The Good And Bad Ingredients?

According to Anna Shoveller Assistant Professor, Dept of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, “There is no evidence that grains or other carbohydrate-containing ingredients are good or bad for cats. What is most important is that the cat's protein requirement is met first.”

This means that healthy cat foods feature meat as their first listed ingredients. Plant-based foods are okay for dogs but are not good for cats.

Cats have a few other special requirements:

  • They don’t drink enough water so they should have both canned food and dry
  • They need digestible (high quality) ingredients in order to absorb the nutrients – it’s not the % of protein that matters so much as what it is
  • ​Small amounts of some carbs may help them digest their food and promote kidney health—the debate rages on—but a diet high in low-quality carbs is definitely hard on their kidneys
  • Low quality ingredients in general are hard on a cat’s health
  • Rendered fat – cheap way to add the required fat
  • Additives – color, flavor, thickening agents
  • Sugar
  • Thickening agents – carrageenan, xanthan gum
  • Ocean fish can be an allergen for cats, may contain toxins, and may also be fished by slaves
Cat Eating Raw Steak

    Things To Look For

    Whole Proteins

    • Chicken
    • Turkey
    • ​Beef
    • ​Duck
    • ​Liver
    • Whole eggs​
    • ​Salmon
    • ​Basa
    • Pollock
    • ​Whitefish
    • ​Quail
    • ​Snapper
    • Boar
    • ​Pheasant
    • Herring

    Whole Grains

    Natural Preservatives

    • Quinoa
    • Brown rice
    • Barley
    • Bulgur
    • Farro
    • Kasha
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin E

    Things To Avoid

    Unspecified Meats And Proteins

    Unhealthy Grains And Fillers

    • Meat
    • Meat meal
    • ​Meat by-products
    • Rendered fat
    • Corn
    • Wheat
    • ​Soy
    • Sugar
    • Fruit pomace

    Additives & Chemical Preservatives

    Thickeners

    • Vitamin K3 (menadione)
    • BHA
    • ​BHT
    • ​Sodium nitrite
    • Sodium nitrate
    • Ethoxyquin
    • Carrageenan
    • Xanthan gum
    • Carrageenan gun

    Color

    • Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, etc

    They came up with the following two lists of most-used ingredients in the dry and wet foods they analyzed:

    Cat at Computer Doing Research

    Top Ten Ingredients In Foods Deemed “Best” (In Order)

    Top Ten Ingredients In Popular Grocery Store Brands (In Order)

    • Whole herring
    • Boneless walleye
    • Herring meal
    • Whole salmon
    • Boneless turkey
    • Beef liver
    • ​Boneless pork
    • ​Boneless beef
    • Boneless chicken
    • Boneless lake whitefish
    • Chicken
    • Liver
    • ​Meat by-products
    • ​Artificial & natural flavors
    • ​Wheat gluten
    • ​Cornstarch-modified
    • Water sufficient for processing
    • ​Turkey
    • Soy flour
    • Chicken liver

    What About The Different Formulations?

    Scientists and veterinarians are still researching and arguing about the perfect feeding regimen for house cats.

    Cat Eating on Table Next to Beer

    Regardless of the type of food your cat prefers, quality ingredients and digestibility are the most essential considerations.

    Dry

    Pros

    Cons​

    • Economical
    • Convenient
    • More processed than wet
    • Doesn’t add hydration
    • The teeth cleaning thing is a myth

      Wet (Canned)

      Pros

      Cons​

      • Added hydration
      • Less processed than dry
      • Better balance of protein, fat, carbs
      • Expensive
      • Cats may ask for treats more often

        Raw

        Pros

        Cons​

        • No preservatives or chemicals
        • Nutrient-rich
        • May have harmful bacteria (for you and the cat)
        • Expensive
        • A lot of work

          Dehydrated

          Pros

          Cons​

          • No preservatives or chemicals
          • Nutrient-rich but without the bacteria potential of raw food
          • Expensive
          • Need to ensure cat drinks enough water to avoid kidney problems

            Homemade

            Pros

            Cons​

            • Confidence in the ingredients
            • Very time-consuming
            • Raw meats may contain pathogens
            • You must know exactly what you are doing in terms of nutrient balance

              What Do I Do Now?

              If your cat already has engrained food preferences, there may be nothing you can do.

              Confused Cat Next to Bowl of Food

              If you want to try:

              • Read the label – what are you feeding your cat now – research the ingredients
              • Chat with your vet – find out if your cat has special dietary needs
              • Digestibility – brands don’t publish this on their labels so reach out to your brand and ask about it

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