What Makes Cat Food Healthy?

Good nutrition is essential to keep your cat healthy and happy.

With so many brands in the market, however, it can be difficult to choose the best option to feed your feline. Should you feed dry or wet? Grain-free or not? And what are all those protein names listed on the label anyway?

Because cats are true carnivores, the quality of the protein you choose is very important, but so are other factors and ingredients listed. When in doubt, always talk to your veterinarian for recommendations so you can choose the best option available.

Not All Foods Are the Same

Although all commercial cat foods meet basic minimum nutritional requirements (as established by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control), this is no way means that all foods are nutritionally the same. All feline foods are not the same at all when it comes to complete nutrition for your cat.

“For example, the quality of ingredients can vary greatly between various cat foods,” according to integrative veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM. “For foods with added vitamins, the quality of the main ingredients is sometimes lowered so that the manufacturer is able to meet their bottom line I always recommend finding food that offers quality ingredients and if extra vitamins and minerals are needed, purchase those separately.”

Dry or Wet Food?

There is no one size fits all when it comes to what’s best to feed your cat. Standard dry food is less costly and very convenient. It contains more carbs and less protein—and when fed freely, tends to packs on excess pounds, according to Osborne.

Canned food, on the other hand, may contain up to 78% moisture. “In general, canned food tastes better, comes at a higher cost, and contains more protein and fat with fewer carbs,” Osborne says. “Since cats are carnivores and rarely drink water voluntarily, felines suffering from urinary tract conditions, kidney issues, and diabetes often benefit from canned food because of its higher moisture.”

Dehydrated foods are an excellent source of water once mixed, typically walking the line between wet and dry food. High-quality dehydrated cat food also has the benefits of canned food, containing more protein and fat with fewer carbs.

cat food

©istockphoto/Nektarstock

Learning to Read Labels

The front of a food package can promise you a world of things, but the truth about its quality is on the ingredients’ list. “Ingredients are listed in order of weight on cat food labels,” Osborne says. “Since cats are meat eaters, an easily recognizable protein source should be listed first on the panel—fillers like meal and corn, for example, are low quality and do not offer cats the nutrients they require.” Meat by-products, if listed, should be much lower on the list, since it’s not possible to say what the by-products are and there’s no way to verify the quality of the content.

Is Grain-Free Cat Food the Best Option?

Because cats are obligatory carnivores, grains are not a mandatory part of their diet, according to Osborne. Cats don’t necessarily need to eat a grain-free diet unless they’re dealing with health conditions such as diabetes, where controlled ingestion of grains is important to keep your furry friend healthy.

One important consideration when choosing a grain-free food is the quality of the ingredients. Grain-free doesn’t necessarily mean carb-free, as many foods that don’t contain wheat, corn or rice contain other carbohydrates such as peas, beans, and potatoes. The key consideration with grain-free food is that the main ingredients (the first 3 ingredients listed) should still be some form of meat.

Meet the Author: Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com

Nut Butters Your Dog Can Enjoy
The Definitive List of the 10 Best Dog Memes in the World