How To Pick A Healthy Food For Your Cat
Dr. Fern Slack, UCVC Medical Director
You want to feed your cat a “healthy” diet. But what does that mean? You are bombarded with marketing all day, every day: pet food labels, banner ads, TV commercials, even advice from your veterinarian. How can you know what’s true and what’s not? Are carrots and cranberries good for cats? What about grain-free foods? Life-stage diets? Lifestyle diets? Are raw foods dangerous? Are raw foods the only way to go? Should it be organic? Proper cat nutrition doesn’t need to be that hard.
The questions are endless, but the answers are, surprisingly, pretty straightforward. The single most important concept in feline nutrition is this: for all but the last 100 years, cats have eaten prey animals and nothing but. And they have thrived, cats of all sizes and shapes in all parts of the world. Cats don’t farm or harvest or frolic in fields of broccoli –cats hunt. The only carbohydrate a wild cat eats is predigested in the GI tract of his prey.
In short, if it isn’t in a mouse or a bird, it probably shouldn’t be going into a cat.
Thinking about what cats evolved to eat tells us what a cat food should look like. It should look like prey. It should not look like a buffet of veggies, fruits, grains and starches. Fruits and veggies are great for humans and make for colorful and attractive packaging photos – but are not good for cats.
For additional information on how cats are special, see our article “Cats are not small dogs“.
So how can YOU scan a cat food label and know if it’s healthy? Although no rules are infallible, we’ve outlined a few easy rules-of-thumb to help guide you:
Download/View a printable PDF Version of The following Guide HERE
Quick and Easy Guide to Choosing Healthy Cat Food
- Photos of vegetation on the label >> put it down and move on.
- Label wording that glamorizes plant ingredients >> move on.
- Label words to be aware of: organic, natural, pure, grain-free, fresh… (not disqualifying, but worthy of skepticism. Most of these terms have no legal meaning when applied to pet foods.)
- Labels with specific health claims (cleans teeth, supports kidneys, indoor, weight control, etc.) >> move on.
- DRY >> don’t even pick it up! ALL Dry food (kibble) is inherently bad for cats. (This does not include freeze-dried products meant to be rehydrated prior to serving.)
- Canned – Read the ingredients. Many canned foods still contain lots of plant matter.
- Raw / Frozen >> Some of these contain plant ingredients — look for those without plants.
- More than one plant-based ingredient >> Yellow light – read nutritional analysis!
- Ingredient lists with the same plant broken into separate entries (peas, pea protein, pea flour). Not cool.
- “Fur and Feathers, not Hooves, Horns, and Scales.” (Choose proteins that resemble normal cat prey — cats don’t hunt cows, pigs, or fish..)
(should look like a mouse. High protein, low fat, low to no fiber.)
- Nutritional Analysis – Protein best at or above 9%.
- Nutritional Analysis – Fat best at or below 2%.
- Nutritional Analysis – Fiber best at or below 1%. (Fiber not noted should ring alarm bells.)
Following these guidelines will put you firmly on the right path to choosing a healthy food for your cat. Consult your veterinarian for specific nutritional advice tailored to your cat’s individual needs.
Want to know more? Check out the other resources on our website, or schedule an appointment for your cat at Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center – WE UNDERSTAND CATS.