How to choose the best dry cat food

For a dry cat food to do good for our feline’s health and overall well-being, let’s consider the following steps:

Step 1 – Make sure it matches the cat’s life stage and special needs

As well as humans, cats require different nutrition through different stages of life. Thus, kittens and pregnant/nursing cats need kitten food; adults require regular cat food formulas; and, senior cats will thank you for specific recipes made for their particular needs. When choosing the healthiest dry cat food, check a label to see if it meets your cat’s life stage.

Some dry cat food formulas are prepared for all life stages, making it easier for owners to buy the same food for their several cats of different ages.

Also, consider your feline’s individual needs. If she is allergic to some products, has a sensitive stomach, suffers from obesity, kidney disease, or other health problems or even smelly poop she will need corresponding diets. Consult your vet and choose dry cat food accordingly.

Step 2 – Remember about proteins

Cats are obligate carnivores, and that means they need nutrients from animal meat to thrive. When choosing a dry cat food for your four-legged friend, please check the ingredients for the formula’s primary source of proteins and fats. There should be no less than 30% of protein on a “dry matter basis” in the recipe.

Avoid the options with artificial preservatives and too many grains, as they won’t provide a cat with any proteins at all. 

To learn the information about protein sources and amount, check the list of ingredients (listed by weight, the first four or five elements will help you understand the food’s overall quality) and guaranteed analysis.

Step3 – Consider the carbs

A cat’s proper nutrition is protein-rich, fat-medium or -low, and with very little to almost no carbohydrates. The thing is that a cat doesn’t need carbs in her diet, and that is why the best cat food brands are proud of their grain-free formulas.

When checking the ingredients and guaranteed analysis on food labels, make sure it doesn’t contain too many carbs. The fewer, the better. Too many carbohydrates in a cat’s diet may lead to weight issues.

Instead, check if the formula contains fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6) and amino acids (taurine, arginine). Together with other vitamins and minerals, they are essential to a cat’s health.

Step4 – Check if it’s AAFCO-approved

AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials, including local, state, and federal agencies. They provide pet food manufacturers with the standards in producing products and require them to provide all the nutritional information on packages.

AAFCO’s subcommittee, Feline Nutrition Expert, has developed basic nutritional requirements for pet food to have so that a cat or a dog could get the correct balance of nutrients and calories. So, all foods carrying an AAFCO-approved nutritional guarantee are OK for pets to eat.

Labeling regulations by AAFCO include nutrient profiles (ingredients and guaranteed analysis) and feeding protocols. Also, there should be information such as brand and product names, quantity statement, and what species the food is for. When checking the label of dry cat food, make sure all the necessary information is present.

Step5 – Choose cat kibble flavors your cat loves

As well as people, cats may have their own preferences in food. So, once you’ve determined that a product is balanced and AAFCO-approved, feel free to focus on flavors your feline loves most. It can be poultry, fish, or meat – just make sure your cat isn’t allergic to any components in the formula, and it’s OK for her to eat them.

Sometimes, kibble size matters too. For example, if you have kittens or Persians, small kibbles will be more natural for them to consume. The same is true for senior cats: Problems with teeth and gums make it more challenging for them to eat big and hard food pieces from cat kibble brands.

Related guide: How to soften dry cat food to make it more palatable.

So, try several options to choose flavors your cat loves most, and feed with them. Consider mixing flavors from time to time: Cats love the diversity in food, too.

Benefits of dry cat food:

1) It’s safer to use

Unlike with wet cat food we can store for up to 48 hours with refrigerated specialized feeders, the best dry cat food is more lasting and, therefore, safer to use. You can put a portion to a cat’s bowl and leave it for a day with no fear your feline will eat rotten products. Dry cat food is more comfortable to keep, and it remains fresh for a longer time than other cat food types.

2) It’s more affordable

Thanks to its specification and quantity statement, dry cat food is more affordable for pet owners. It’s calorie-dense, so a cat won’t consume as much food as she would do that in the case with wet food. Also, you can buy more dry food for less money – and save it for later.

3) It’s more convenient

Dry cat food brands make their products more convenient because they understand the demand for dry formulas is higher than for wet ones. Larger quantities for less money, more comfortable and longer in charge – these are among top benefits for most owners when it comes to feeding their felines.

4) It cleans a cat’s teeth

Thanks to its crunchy texture, kibble cat food helps remove tartar and bacterial plaque from your felines’ teeth. Plus, it allows a cat to strengthen jaw muscles and massage gums so you won’t rely on chew toys only. Together with dry cat food, feel free to use other treats promoting healthy teeth and fresh breath of your four-legged friend.

5) Some picky eaters prefer kibbles

Though most cat kibble reviews say that all felines prefer wet food formulas, I can say firsthand that some cats are picky eaters choosing nothing but dry cat food only. My Rambo is one of them. So, when you choose dry food for feeding, you can be sure your feline will eat it with gusto.

6) It better fits automatic cat feeders

Some owners use automatic cat feeders outdoors to make it easier to control their felines’ diet. And that’s where dry cat food wins because most auto cat feeders are designed to store the kibble, and it will last for longer. On the contrary, wet cat food can be stored for up to 48 hours only, and there are only a few feeders that allow even this duration.

Please, notice: both canned and dry cat food have their own pros and cons. This is why mixed feeding is so popular among cat owners.

The healthiest dry cat foods

The healthiest dry formulas for your cat will be those protein-rich, grain-free, and recommended (or even designed) by vets. Understanding a feline’s nutritional needs for a healthy and happy life, specialists focus on the recipes that will provide a cat with the right balance of proteins and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals.

The healthiest dry cat foods to try:

For cats with allergies or sensitive stomachs, specific dry cat food formulas will be the healthiest ones:

Best dry cat food for indoor cats

According to the recommendations from AAFCO, cat kibble brands should specify a cat’s life stage, health issues, and lifestyle on the label for us to see which one to choose for our particular feline. On that basis, the best option will be to consider “Indoor Cats” formulas.

First, they are less caloric than regular formulas (to prevent weight issues, since indoor cats are usually less active than their outdoor fellows). And second, recipes for indoor cats are designed to help them reduce hairball formation (as far as they shed continuously and swallow hair during grooming).

The best dry food for indoor cats are:

Vet-recommended dry cat food brands

First, let’s clear out what dry cat food we consider as “vet-recommended.” As stated by AAFCO, for a formula to become vet-recommended, it must be approved by most vets in a “statistically sound” survey. For some brands to get a “vet-recommended” label, it took a survey of around 300 veterinarians.

These dry cat food brands are:

Yet, the conventional “vet-recommended” cat food refers to “prescribed” formulas, meaning they are only available with a vet prescription. Your vet knows your cat’s health and medical history to recommend the food that will manage your feline’s condition best.

“Your pet’s veterinarian is the only one who should be making recommendations about putting your cat on a special diet,”

“We love Hill’s Science Diet because it’s AAFCO-approved and made with simple ingredients.”

Dr. Hyla Gayer from West Chelsea Vet in New York City

Best tasting dry cat food

Tastes differ, so we can’t say whether this food is best-tasting or not until a cat tries it. Some picky eaters choose fish kibbles only, while others eat nothing but wet food from poultry. To determine the best tasting dry cat food for your four-legged friend, try several options with different flavors, and see which of them your cat loves more.

According to most dry cat food reviews, the best tasting dry cat food formulas are these:

Before choosing the flavor, please make sure your cat doesn’t have any allergies or sensitivities to its ingredients.

Calories in dry cat food

The best cat kibble food is more calorie-rich than wet formulas. That’s because dry formulas lack moisture: There’s around 10% of the water in kibbles, which is not enough for a cat to thrive. So, being substantial and providing your feline with all the necessary nutrients, dry food still intends pet owners to control calorie intake (to prevent weight and health issues in a cat) and provide a feline with free access to fresh water.

A typical range of calories in dry cat food is about 500 calories per 8-ounce cup of food. For indoor cats of 10 pounds (5 kg), it’s too much to consume daily. So, make sure to control your feline’s diet, providing her with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of food each day.

The calorie intake depends on your cat’s weight, lifestyle, and health. Ask your vet to help you count the necessary amount of calories for your cat, and feed with dry cat food formulas accordingly.

FAQ’s

How much dry food should I feed my cat?

It depends on your cat’s weight, health, and lifestyle. Lazy indoor cats need fewer calories than active outdoor felines; otherwise, they risk suffering from obesity. Also, smaller cats need less food than big ones. Please read feeding instructions on the food label, and count the number of kibbles accordingly. And don’t forget to read our guide on how much to feed a cat.

What dry cat food is best for indoor cats?

As a rule, indoor cats are less active than their outdoor fellows, so choose formulas with fewer calories. Also, check a label: According to the AAFCO recommendations, the best dry cat food brands will specify the cat species for which this food is for. Choose “Indoor” cat formulas: Purina Cat Chow Indoor and Blue Buffalo Indoor Hairball & Weight Control are great to start.

How long does dry cat food last?

Speaking of storage, please keep in mind that expiration dates only apply to sealed bags. So please always check the label for food’s expiry. As a rule, you can keep dry food (sealed) for up to 3 years. Once opened, cat kibbles in a bag will stay fresh for up to 1-2 months.

How long can you leave out dry cat food?

Once in a bowl, dry food lasts 4 hours (if temperatures are above 50 °F) and 7-10 hours in lower temperatures (40 to 50 °F). Please don’t leave cat kibbles in a bowl for more than 10 hours, even if your feline doesn’t consume them. Change them for fresh ones regularly.

When can kittens eat dry cat food?

By the age of 5 to 6 weeks, kittens are ready to try kibbles. Please choose specific formulas for kittens and don’t feed with the recipes for adult cats. Even if your kitty is still nursing and eats a milk replacement formula, introduce dry food gradually, mix it with water to make it more comfortable to consume, or choose formulas with small kibble size.

At the end of the day

Thanks to its numerous benefits, dry cat food is the most popular feline nutrition option among pet owners. It’s more affordable, convenient, and safer to use. It’s easier to store than wet food, and some cats eat nothing but dry formulas as they are more palatable to consume.

With that in mind, I’ve crafted this guide, reviewing the best dry cat food brands with their 15 most balanced formulas for healthy nutrition of our felines. Feel free to choose any of them according to your cat’s life stage, dietary needs, and flavors she loves. 

But remember: Always check the package before purchasing. Please read the ingredients to make sure they are natural and safe for a cat to consume. Check the guaranteed analysis to ensure the formula is protein-rich and full of essential vitamins and minerals, and follow the manufacturer’s feeding instructions so that your feline would get enough calories.

When fed and stored right, dry cat food promotes a healthy and happy life for our four-legged friends.

I’m Kimberly Baumgart, a future veterinary physician from Manhattan, Kansas. Volunteering in animal shelters and assisting in the local vet hospital, I help pet owners learn more about feline lifestyle. Read my works on Catpet.Club blog to discover the world of healthy nutrition and well-being for your four-legged friend.

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