By Dr. Kathy Boehme

Believe it or not, choosing a food for your cat is even more confusing than feeding your dog.  There are lots of questions about what the optimal food looks like and very few data-supported answers. However, you can use the same rules of thumb for choosing a dog food company and apply them to choosing a cat food.

What Rules Should I Follow When Choosing a Cat Food?

When choosing a cat food, you should consider the following:

  • Look for diets that have undergone feeding trials and meets World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines.
  • Look for contact information on the label so you can get help if problems crop up or if you have questions. If they don’t have contact info readily available, forget it.
  • Look for brands that employ veterinary nutritionists. You cannot tell from reading an ingredient list or sending your veterinarian an ingredient list if it is a good diet or not. You need an expert to know that. At least the companies that employ and consult with veterinary experts are willing to put money into making sure they get their formulations as correct as we currently know how to do it.
  • Look for companies that have been around for a while; whose formulations have been on the market for years. 
  • Avoid exotic ingredients.  Avoid duck, bison, pork, rabbit, venison. If your cat develops a food allergy or sensitivity we need to turn to these type proteins. It can be difficult finding a diet if they have already been exposed to everything.
  • Finally, how processed do you want your cat’s food to be? There are lots of options available for pet owners now. Options other than kibble include canned food diets, semi moist diets, home cooked diets, frozen raw and dehydrated raw diets.

The supposition has been around for a while now that canned food diets may be better maintenance diets for cats than dry food. That assumption came about because cats are obligate carnivores and evolved from the African Wild Cat, which is desert adapted. As such, cats do not have a strong thirst drive and obtain needed moisture from their diet. Also, there are chronic diseases that arise in cats necessitating the switch to canned only diets.

So why not feed cats canned food from the get go in an attempt to avoid these illnesses? Well, no one knows for sure if you can avoid disease states by feeding moisture rich food although it makes sense that it might. Canned food has a high water content so the nutrients are diluted out, it is lower in calories than dry food and some cats lose weight on it. It is much easier to control a cat’s weight when they only eat canned food. This is great for chubby or even normal weight cats but what if you have one that is too skinny? You either need to feed canned food several times a day, feed a combination of canned and dry or feed dry food only. Leaving dry food out all day invites obesity though. Obesity leads to all kinds of other awful stuff so don’t do it unless you only have one skinny cat in the house. We always recommend cats be introduced to canned food even if the bulk of their calories will come from dry food just in case their diets need to be switched later. Cats can be very difficult to transition when the only eat dry food.

What Do You Feed Your Cat, Dr. Boehme?

He eats 2 small cans of wet food per day with 1/3 cup of drykibble. Now that he is 17 and skinny, I leave the dry food out. The dry food is a prescription, highly digestible diet because he has had some vomiting issues. When he was younger, I fed a variety of different canned foods twice daily rotating through the ones that I thought he did best on. I fed only dental care as the dry food in order to help me keep his teeth clean. It was fed either in a puzzle feeder or thrown across the floor or on the top of his kitty tree to promote physical activity. Even indoor cats need to move and using food to accomplish this is easy. Wild cats eat many small meals per day but twice daily feeding is fine because cats actually metabolize their food very slowly. Please be sure to check the calorie content of your foods as overweight cats are a growing epidemic. Always feed for lean body condition.

If you have questions about appropriate diet, formulation or calories please feel free to contact us to schedule a wellness visit.

The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.