What to look for in cat food?

When answering the question “What is the best cat food for cats?” owners should understand that ingredients matter, and it’s crucial to pay attention to every detail. 

Which ingredients should be included? 

important ingredients to look for in the best cat food

Arguing over the type of meat makes no sense: it does not matter whether your cat likes beef, chicken, fish, or rabbit. All of them serve as the source of protein. However, you should understand what the origin of the meaty components is. Ideally, you should give your cat fresh or dried pieces of meat. When it comes to dry foods, the label should say ‘real chicken’ or ‘dehydrated beef’ instead of ‘chicken meal.’ The word ‘meal’ implies that any part of the flesh and body (including bones and organs) has been used.

“Healthy cats & dogs can eat just about any meat & survive, if not thrive. Their stomachs contain high concentrations of hydrochloric acid & digestive juices, and their digestive tracts host an abundance of beneficial bacteria, making it difficult for harmful bacteria to survive”.

CJ Puotinen, The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care

Which nutrients are essential?

important vitamins and nutrients to look for in the best cat food

Aside from the meat, cat food for daily nutrition should contain vitamins and minerals: this way, you won’t need to give your cat any supplements. 

So, what is the best cat food from the standpoint of vitamin content? A recipe should contain the following vitamins:

  • Vitamins of B group (B6, B12);
  • Vitamin D3;
  • Vitamin A;
  • Folic acid;
  • Calcium;
  • Manganese;
  • Zinc;
  • Iron;
  • Thiamine;
  • Potassium;
  • Choline;
  • Taurine
  • Omega fatty acids.

Those are the primary components of healthy cat food. You can read more about the cat’s nutritional needs in the guideline published by The National Academies Press. Different recipes may have a different volume of vitamins – the volume of some is specified on the label. When you feed your cat such nutritious food, she reaps many health benefits and does not need any supplements.

Pay specific attention to the content of nutrients in wet food: pretty often, it lacks some important vitamins and minerals. In this case, it should be combined with nutritious dry food.

What to avoid in cat food? 

ingredients to avoid in cat food

There are several components that can be dangerous for the cat’s health:

  • Meat and fish by-products (they can comprise a lot of bones, tripe, and organs);
  • Soy, especially the one that contains GMO;
  • Wheat contains gluten that might be allergic for some cats;
  • Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives may cause various health problems starting from allergy and finishing by more serious diseases.

Also, there are many components that raise questions and are not equally suitable for all felines. For example, grains and white potatoes load the intestinal system, and provoke digestion disorders. The same applies to peas, starch, and flour. Sensitive cats are recommended single-ingredient foods. Also, you should mind that tomatoes, fish oil, and some berries cause allergy in cats, so you should watch your furry friend’s well-being once the switch to another food has been made.

“Dogs and cats need raw meat to be really healthy, and even the best processed foods cook their good ingredients, and most commercially available foods, even the expensive ones, use the cheapest ingredients (that means dead, diseased, and decaying meat & by-products).”

Christina Chambreau, DVM

Do I need a special diet? 

In some cases, special cat food is required: it is used to address certain health issues. For example, neutered pets need food for sterile cats, while sensitive and allergic pets are recommended single-ingredient diets. Typically, a special diet is prescribed by a doctor and sold by prescription only. 

1. Food for nursing cats 

choosing the cat food for nursing cats

Nursing cats need four times as much water as adult cats. As a rule, nursing cats are fed a high-quality kitten formula. Such recipes have:

  • A high calorie content;
  • All necessary vitamins and minerals (the daily norm should be included);
  • A high amount of moisture (if it’s wet food).

A nursing cat that weighs 10 lbs and has three kittens needs 600 kcal per day, while a 15 lbs cat with 3-4 kittens needs 800 kcal. Generally, nursing cats may be given regular kitten food formulas, but in higher amounts.

2. Kitten food

which cat food is the best for kittens

Once a kitten turns ten weeks, it can be expected to eat solid foods. This is when special recipes come in handy.

A kitten needs a lot of nutrients for healthy growth and development. What kind of cat food is best for kittens? Special formulas contain higher levels of some nutrients, fat, calories, calcium, and protein: it contributes to normal growth. Besides, kibbles for kittens should have a smaller size and be not too chunky to avoid injuring small teeth and sensitive gums. 

It goes without mentioning that quality recipes do not contain artificial colors and flavors – those might affect the cat’s development. It’s okay if a kitten recipe has veggies and fruits: they contribute to better digestion and provide fiber.

3. Hypoallergenic cat food

Some cats are very sensitive and develop allergic reactions to various ingredients. The worst thing about allergy is that it’s not visible at the early stages, and many owners stay unaware of such responses. It’s important to watch the cat’s state after switching to a new diet.

As a rule, hypoallergenic cat food does not contain:

  • Grains;
  • White potatoes;
  • Soy or corn;
  • GMO products;
  • Animal by-products;
  • Artificial fillers;
  • Gluten;
  • Tomatoes, some allergic vegetables, and fruits;
  • Egg products.

Ideally, the food for allergic cats is single-ingredient and does not contain anything except for meat, nutrients, and vegetables. 

4. Diabetic cat food

Such recipes are formulated to manage the glucose in a pet and help to keep blood sugar stable after meals. Wet food for diabetic cats contains more meat and less starch or grains. Thus, it has more protein and fewer carbs than dry food. The protein content in such food is not less than 10%, while in dry food, its value should be at least 40%. As for the content of carbohydrates, it must not exceed 5-10%.

Calorie content does not vary much. However, one should remember that cats with type 2 diabetes are prone to obesity, so their owners should avoid serving fatty food. There is one more thing to remember: although recipes do not matter for diabetes treatment, you should choose palatable products for your pet. It especially concerns picky eaters. 

5. Cat food for kidney disease 

Since kidney diseases are more widespread among aging cats, the formula reminds of the food for seniors. Besides, wet food is better for cats with uretic problems because it contains a lot of moisture. Food with a higher content of moisture helps a cat to produce less urea and dilutes the urine. Besides, diabetic cat food contains less protein and phosphorus than regular foods. The protein in diabetic cat food should be of high quality – only this way, it will help restore a normal acid-base level.

As a rule, such foods are prescribed by a doctor. They provide enough moisture, a moderate amount of protein, and a reduced amount of sodium. Ideally, it should not contain salts. Special amino acids in such foods promote muscle development and support kidneys.

6. Cat food for weight loss 

As a rule, overweight pets are given the best indoor dry cat food. Weight loss food contains a lower amount of carbs and protein and lower calorie content. For example, in dry foods, 350+ kcal per cup is too much: cats on a diet need to eat the food with up to 300 kcal content per one cup.

At the same time, the food for overweight cats should contain all necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for normal development. It is high in protein because it converts into energy better than carbs. Besides, protein satisfies better and makes the pauses between food intake longer. Pay attention that dry cat food for weight loss contains significantly more protein.

Veterinarians often recommend wet food for weight management because it contains more moisture, which makes up for better digestion and faster metabolism. Besides, adding L-carnitine might have a positive impact on metabolism.

In search of ideal cat food: raw, dry, or wet?

1. Dry cat food 

selecting the dry cat food

Kibbles and other types of dry cat food are made of dehydrated meat and meal. They contain up to 10% of moisture and tend to be crunchy. 

As a rule, dry cat food is classified into:

  • Economy foods are usually made of low-quality ingredients, meat meals, and by-products. This is a source of low-quality protein, and such products usually contain a lot of preservatives and fillers.
  • Premium foods have vitamins and minerals (below the daily value), might have preservatives, but contain meat, and offer a good balance of nutrients. They are relatively safe for the daily nutrition of cats. 
  • Superpremium (holistic) foods have organic meat and state clearly what the recipe is made of. They do not contain by-products, meals, soy, and artificial flavors and preservatives. They provide the whole range of necessary vitamins and minerals. 
ProsCons
Does not require cooking;Can be stored for a long time;Has a high protein level;It contains all the essential nutrients.Not good for cats that don’t drink enough water and are prone to dehydration;Has a high calorie content;Not suitable for cats with weak teeth.

2. Canned cat food 

choosing the best canned food

Canned cat food is made of either processed meat (pate) or pieces of meat (morsels in gravy) and contains a lot of moisture, pretty often – broth. The content of moisture usually varies from 70% to 83%. The higher – the better, though some cats like pure large pieces of meat.

As a rule, wet cat food has 6-10% of protein depending on the type of meat used. The formulas with pea protein and dry egg products are high in protein.

Like dry food, wet food also contains some basic nutrients, but often lacks a lot of minerals. This is why it’s usually given as a complementary option, not regular daily food. The choice of texture depends on a cat. Kittens are recommended pate-style wet foods because they don’t require chewing. On the opposite, adult cats prefer larger pieces of meat: this is excellent training for their jaws and teeth.

ProsCons
Easy to chew;High moisture content;Low calorie content.More expensive than dry food;Lacks some vitamins;It does not last long when the can is opened..

3. Raw cat food 

feeding the cat with raw cat food

“What’s the best cat food for my cat?” – you ask. “Raw meat” is what many veterinarians would answer. 

“Despite the domestication of the canine and feline and the fact that a Chihuahua may not look much like a wolf, the truth is that we haven’t changed their gastrointestinal systems. Cats and dogs are carnivores, designed to eat meat, bones, and the intestinal contents of their prey.”

Dr. Susan Krakauker, DVM

Raw cat food is made of frozen pieces of meat. These pieces become dehydrated but preserve all essential nutrients, proteins, and carbs. They can either be served defrosted or be cooked with water. That should depend on what your cat likes most.

ProsCons
The closest option to natural real-meat nutrition;Contains a lot of proteins and nutrients;It can be served in different styles.Expensive;Requires preparation;Not all cats like this type of food.

4. Semi-moist cat food

Basically it’s a category of high-moisture cat food that is not canned. As a rule this food is has high percent of moisture and it’s low in proteins. It’s a budget-friendly option to diversify your cat’s ration. You can read this guide with top semi-moist options.

ProsCons
This food is budget-friendly and cats love it.It can be used only as a supplementary option because it may have not enough protein.

FAQ’s 

frequently asked questions about best cat foods

How to keep ants out of cat food?

Do not leave a bowl with cat food for a long time. Once your pet has finished the meal, clean the bowl with a wet cloth and wipe the floor underneath the bowl. Make sure there are no crumbles and residues of food left.

You can also try to shift the feeding area away from the ant colony. However, this is a temporary measure and won’t work if you leave food for long.

Also, you can sprinkle some repellent around the feeding area:

  • Chalk;
  • Cinnamon, coffee grounds, chili powder, or ash;
  • Apply some petroleum jelly on the edges of the food container;
  • Spray lemon juice or vinegar around the pet’s bowl.

Also you can use automatic cat doors to store the food in-house.

How long can a cat live without food?

Since the cat’s body consists of 75% of water, it can survive without food and water for 2-4 days. It means no access to prey and any source of water.

If a cat drinks water, it can live without food for up to 2 weeks. Yet, a lot depends on whether a cat is domestic. Homeless cats are better survivors. The survival rate also depends on the age, breed, and weight.

How much food does a cat need?

It depends on the cat’s weight and level of activity. Here’s a breakdown of average nutritional needs:

5 lbs10 lbs15 lbs20 lbs
Kitten200 kcal400 kcal600 kcal800 kcal
Lean Cat170 kcal280 kcal360 kcal440 kcal
Overweight Cat180 kcal240 kcal280 kcal310 kcal
Nursing/Pregnant Cat336 kcal603 kcal851 kcal1091 kcal

This table applies to both wet and dry food. More details can be found in this feeding guide. You should follow the directions on the cat food label: most often, this information is more precise.

Also, it won’t hurt to consult a veterinarian to find out how much your pet needs to eat, and what are the best cat foods depending on your furry friend’s age, breed, and health. Yet, you should also watch how much your pet eats and serve food accordingly.

“Do not follow the feeding instructions on the bag. In general, the manufacturer’s suggested serving size is a little too much for pets.”

Sara Ochoa, Dog Lab

How long does it take for a cat to digest food?

As a rule, it takes 3-4 hours for the cat’s stomach to digest food. This is why feeding a cat every 4-6 hours is an optimal solution. If a cat eats raw meat, it might be digested for 6 hours in the stomach. The complete digestion cycle takes 24 hours. It’s better to give a cat small portions to improve metabolism and avoid digestion problems. 

What is ash in cat food? (50 words)

Ash is the minor minerals left over after burning the organic portion of the product. The mineral content might comprise potassium, silicon, sulfur, magnesium, and some other compounds. Previously, it was considered that ash caused the formation of crystals in urine. However, research shows that modern cat foods have a moderate ash amount and don’t change urine pH.

How to feed wet cat food while away?

First read our guide on this question (it contains a number of feeders that serve wet food refrigerated).

If you have to be away for a while, simply leaving a bunch of cat food in the bowl is a bad idea. Consider automatic cat feeders for a dry food. They serve certain portions of pet food on a pre-set time and can be programmed for a week in advance. Such devices prevent cats from overeating and keep them well-fed while the kibbles in a container last.

When to switch from kitten to adult cat food?

As a rule, kittens can switch to adult food at the age of 12 months if the formula contains enough nutrients. The food for adolescent cats should be made of high-quality ingredients, meet the AAFCO standards, and have enough nutrients as well as balanced levels of vitamins and minerals. It’s crucial to monitor the cat’s health during the transition.

What can cats eat besides cat food?

You might have already concluded that “meat is the best food for my cat.” However, there are some safe human foods that can be given to felines in a moderate quantity:

  • Vegetables (carrots, broccoli, squash, asparagus);
  • Eggs (not raw);
  • Cheese;
  • Avocado;
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, herring, and crab).

Avoid giving sugary foods, chocolate, caffeine, baking, and brewing products. 

How to keep a dog out of cat food?

To prevent a dog from eating cat’s food, buy a special feeding box or an automatic cat feeder: it will serve kibbles at a certain time. Some advanced models come with facial recognition features and only serve food to the ‘assigned’ pet. Alternatively, you can try a chip-based cat feeder that provides access to the food only when the pet with the corresponding chip approaches it.

Electronic cat doors are also a very effective tool to separate your pets when feeding.

Also, it’s a good idea to keep separate bowls for each cat in the household: it will prevent aggressive behavior and overeating/malnutrition.

“Animals naturally prefer to have their own food. Even pets who know each other may fight over food. Food aggression is common, and it’s easily preventable by feeding in separate rooms or crates.”

– Dr Gary Richter, a veterinarian from Rover.com

How to soften dry cat food?

First of all, it depends on your goal. Do you want to make it smell better or creamier? We have a dedicated guide that goes in-depth with dry cat food softening techniques.

Looking for a fast method? Add about one fourth cup of filtered water to the bowl full of kibble and wait for it to absorb the moisture. It will not only make kibbles more palatable but will also enhance their flavor. Before adding water to the pet’s diet, consult with a veterinarian. If a cat refuses to eat wet kibbles and does not drink much, consider giving it wet food instead. Alternatively, you can buy raw frozen pieces of meat and cook them with water. 

How much does cat food cost?

That mostly depends on the type of cat food because this criterion defines the quality of ingredients and cooking. Basic dry kibble of an economy brand usually costs between under $5 and $8 for a four-pound bag each month. Premium or “holistic” dry kibble, on average, costs between $8 and $16 for a four-pound bag. However, an adult cat needs twice as less premium cat food than a regular cheap one! Wet food or frozen raw food costs between $16- $38 for 2-3 cases of 3-ounce cans or frozen raw food.

Practice shows that buying premium food does not take a toll on the cat owner’s budget because it’s required in smaller amounts. 

How to switch cat food?

Typically, the transition takes 7-10 days. Start with mixing the new and old cat food in a 25%/75% ratio. In about 2-3 days, mix the food in a 50%/50% ratio. In two-three more days, you can leave only 25% of the old diet. In a few days, the switch will be over. Note that a cat may experience diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and other digestive problems during the transaction. In case of problems, slow down the time between mixing and give your furry friend more time for adjusting. If digestive problems persist, contact a veterinarian.

Why grain-free cat food?

Since cats are carnivores, their intestine is not designed to digest grains and gluten. Oatmeal, barley, wheat, and other grains may cause digestion problems in the best case, and in the worst case, they trigger severe allergic reactions. Interesting to note, allergy might manifest into noticeable symptoms after a few months or even a year. Be attentive to your cat’s health if it eats the food with grains. In some cats, such products also cause kidney diseases. You can read more about the grain-free diet in this research.

Why does my cat scratch around her food?

This behavior is related to cats’ instincts. In the wild, carnivore felines bury the leftovers of their eaten prey to cover their tracks. This way, other predators don’t know about wild cats’ whereabouts. When a cat behaves like this, it thinks it covers and hides the food. Some cats may even start covering their foods with a paper towel or a napkin. Although that might be annoying for people, such behavior is completely normal and harmless for a cat. Further suggestions on this topic can be found here.

What is taurine in cat food?

Taurine is a vital amino acid that is important for maintaining normal heart functioning and reproduction in kittens. Besides, it helps the cat’s body to form bile salts that help proper digestion. The majority of mammals produce taurine, but the cat’s body does not emit enough taurine by itself and needs to acquire it from the diet. Taurine is often found in animal-based protein components but can be added as a synthesized supplement. 

What is crude protein in cat food?

In fact, crude protein is just a laboratory name of protein content. It might be obtained from different sources: pure meat, animal by-products, meat meal, peas and beans, soy, organs, and so on.

Protein serves as a great source of energy and the primary building material for muscle development. Also, proteins perform the function of enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. This is an essential part of the cat’s daily nutrition. A normal content of crude protein in dry food is 30-40%, in wet food – 7-10%. 

What to feed the cat when out of food?

You can serve cooked chicken, turkey, beef, or a minor amount of deli meats to your cat. Also, cats may eat cooked eggs, canned fish, and cooked salmon. Do not give her raw or spoiled meat because it might cause health problems and stomach upset. Raw eggs, sushi, and fat trimmings are also potentially dangerous. Instead, your cat can get a snack of peas, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, green beans, cucumber, avocado, blueberries, peeled apples, and even bananas. Do not give your cat grapes, garlic, onions, mushrooms, scallions, and chives. 

What happens if dogs eat cat food?

Cat food formulas are very attractive to dogs since they contain a high amount of meat, but the dogs’ intestinal system is not able to process so much fat and protein. A dog’s stomach is weaker, so giving it feline food may cause gas, diarrhea, vomiting and other digestion problems. A high volume of protein puts a strain on the kidneys and the liver. From this standpoint, kitten food is even worse because it’s high in fat and crude protein. 

What are meat by-products in cat food?

The definition of such thing as ‘meat by-product’ is clearly defined by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO):

Meat By-Products – is the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, & stomachs & intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth & hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal food.

Meat By-Product Meal – the same as Meat By-Products, except it is the dry rendered product derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, & stomachs & intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth & hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal food.

You can get more information on the AAFCO website.

How to warm up refrigerated cat food?

The easiest way to warm up the cat’s food is to use a microwave oven. However, you should not overheat it – that will destroy nutrients and affect the flavor. Some pet owners mix the food with water right in a bowl: that improves the flavor and prevents overheating.

If you have enough time, you can simply leave the food in the kitchen to be naturally defrosted. Such a process will take a few hours, though. 

If you don’t have a microwave, you can put the closed can with food in hot water (~190-200 °F) and leave it for 5-10 minutes to be warmed naturally.

Is wet or dry cat food better?

There is no correct answer to the question. The quality of both types of food depends on the ingredients used, so you should always read the label and contents attentively to make sure the food is safe and healthy.

As a rule, dry food is rich in proteins and contains all vitamins and minerals, this is why it’s optimal for daily nutrition. Wet foods often lack protein and nutrients, so they are usually combined with dry food. The best thing about morsels and pate-style food is that it contains a high amount of moisture, which contributes to better digestion. 

As for the choice of products, it should depend on what appeals to your cat: some pets like crunchy kibbles while others prefer soft pieces of meat.

We covered all the main pro’s and con’s of dry and wet food in a separate guide. Make sure to read it if you want to get a comprehensive understanding.

What cat food to avoid? 

All attention to the contents. What’s the best cat food? The one that does not contain dangerous ingredients, such as soy, grains, meat by-products, and vague formulations like ‘fish’ or ‘meat.’ The manufacturer should clearly state what the product is made of! Avoid the foods with GMO, artificial flavors and preservatives, colors, and certain chemical compounds like carrageenan. 

Also, read about the brand and its recall history. Prefer the brands with an untarnished reputation and check consumers’ reviews: this is the best source of objective information. 

What’s the difference between indoor and regular cat food?

Since indoor cats have a mostly sedentary way of life and spend much less energy than active outdoor cats, the formulas for such pets are lower in calories. The amount of nutrients stays the same, but the level of fats and carbs is usually lower. That means fewer fillers and more fiber. 

In addition, some indoor products may be formulated to address the typical health issues of domestic cats, for instance, kidney problems, diabetes, obesity, and so on. 

How is cat food made?

As a rule, dry cat food is made by mixing and grinding all the ingredients which are cooked by the extrusion process afterward under heat and pressure. During the process of cooking, fat can be sprayed over kibbles to make them more palatable. If vitamins and nutrients are destroyed during the process of cooking, they are added afterward.

Advanced manufacturers prefer the process of baking, which implies using lower temperatures: it helps to save all nutrients, not mentioning that kibbles acquire a special pleasant flavor. As for raw meat, it’s simply frozen, which also allows for preserving nutrients.

As for the wet food, in this cast, by-products are transported to the facilities in a fresh or frozen state. They can be cut and processed before being added to the recipe, and are often mixed with cereals and other ingredients. After that, the meat is formed into chunks of different sizes. Meat or fish broth is often added to the formula to compensate for the moisture volume.

What cat food is high in fiber?

The highest concentration of fiber (3% or more) is usually found in the foods rich in vegetables and fruits. Fiber is essential for digestion, so opt for the formulas that contain carrots, broccoli, blueberries, apples, asparagus, flaxseed, and other plant-based components. Please, note that tomato pomace is a highly allergic product!

Such sources of fiber as potato, grains, brown rice, and peas are highly questionable because they might put a strain on the cat’s digestive system. Serve them carefully: watch the cats’ health state and beware of allergic reactions. 

What do veterinarians think about cat food?

professional vets' opinion on best cat foods

When it comes to processed food for pets, not all vets recommend it and express the following opinions:

“There are many reasons why commercial pet foods have never been so close to a natural diet. Those reasons include the fact that they are based on grain, and that they are cooked. The sad truth is that prepared food helps provide patients for vets”.

Dr. Ian Billinghurst

“Dingoes and feral cats keep themselves healthy by eating whole carcasses. The closer you come to this ideal for pet dogs and cats, the better”.

Dr. Tom Lonsdale, B.Vet.Med.

The majority of vets would agree that feeding your cat natural meat is always a better idea. However, it’s not always possible, not mentioning that raw meat is expensive and might contain salmonella and other bacteria. Thus, the best thing pet owners can do is provide their feline friends with high-quality premium cat food. It will prevent health issues and support the cat’s body with all the essential nutrients.

Allergy vs. food intolerance: what’s the difference?

In their interview with Veterinary Practice News, many veterinarians agreed that corn, soy, and wheat are not always causing allergy in pets and even tend to be safe for the majority of cats. The real food allergy among pets is pretty rare and is often confused with food intolerance.

Some experts claim that the myth about hypoallergenic properties of grain-free food is being spread by smaller companies that want to compete with giants. 

“It may have been started by companies that wanted to distinguish themselves, to sell diets in a crowded marketplace. To say that these ingredients are ‘common causes of food allergies,’ as I’ve seen reported, is not very accurate.”

Cailin Heinze, assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary

As we know, food allergy is an abnormal immune response only to a protein, not to fat or carbohydrate. Protein is contained in any grain, be that corn (8%), rice (10%), or anything else. An allergic reaction will happen if an animal is repeatedly exposed to the allergic agent.

“But if an animal is allergic to the protein, it’s like a bee sting; any amount will trigger a reaction. The problem for vets is, you can have a food intolerance case in front of you, and the vomiting and diarrhea look the same. “True incidents of food allergy are about 10 percent of the animal population. Most ‘people’ cases of food allergic reaction are thought to be actually food intolerance.” 

Rebecca L. Remillard, DVM, Dipl. ACVN, of the North Carolina State University Nutrition Service

Thus, pet owners should not be tricked by ‘grain-free’ labels. Real food allergy is a rare occasion, and some cats (especially non-breed ones) do not develop allergic reactions to soy, grains, and potato at all. 

Food intolerance is not caused by antigenic components. It might be triggered by poor digestibility, or a component or a certain combination of components, or even by how food is prepared.

Compliance with AAFCO standards: A must or optional?

It’s not a secret that many pet owners rely on AAFCO guidelines when it comes to evaluating the quality of products. They look at the label on the foods. But is it an efficient approach to the choice of pet food?

NOTE: AAFCO does NOT certify companies and does not provide any licenses and documents. It only has a few standards according to which healthy pet food should be produced. Thus, such labels as ‘AAFCO-approved,’ ‘AAFCO-certified’ are a trick.

You can read more about cat food nutrient profiles here

Instead, the labels should say “Pet food” is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO cat Food Nutrient Profiles for (maintenance; or growth; or gestation/lactation; or all life stages).

As we have mentioned above, many small pet food companies claim that AAFCO trials are not enough, but do not provide any additional research to prove the safety and nutritional value of their foods. Meanwhile, bigger companies perform more trials than AAFCO requires. 

Dr. Kim Williams-VanDuzer (DVM and owner of Prettyboy Veterinary Hospital in Freeland, Maryland) doesn’t recommend any pet food without the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label. “Pet food is not regulated by the FDA, so this voluntary approval guarantees that if a problem is found with the food, a recall will be issued and announced to the public.”

Yet, we should distinguish between the nutritional value of pet food, and what it is made of. Even though compliance with AAFCO guidelines adds credibility to cat food, it does not guarantee the safety of the product.

The problem is that it’s too easy for industrial pet foods to pass the AAFCO “complete and balanced” standards. AAFCO keeps changing the standards and does not state that certain components (cellulose, fish meal, peanut hulls, animal by-products, vegetable oils) should NOT be included in cat or dog food. 

Always do your own research and read the contents label and consumer reviews!

Criteria to consider

When choosing cat food, owners should take into consideration the following aspects:

  • The contents and ingredients used. Artificial colors and preservatives should be avoided together with soy and animal by-products. Organic meat and fish, as well as vegetables, are the healthiest solution.
  • Protein and carbohydrate content. Those should not exceed the agreeable limits. Choose the food according to the cat’s weight and activity.
  • Way of cooking. If you’re choosing between baked and ‘extrusion’ kibbles, select the first option because it allows preserving nutrients.
  • Price. Although economy foods are cheaper, premium cat food lasts longer – cats need smaller portions of quality kibbles. Thus, the financial difference in premium and economy cat diet might be insignificant.
  • Customer reviews. This is what may reveal the strong and weak sides of the product. Ignore such comments as ‘my cat did not touch it,’ ‘it’s not as tasty as…’ – those are highly subjective opinions. Cats like different things. Instead, find out whether the product has any effect on the cats’ health and well-being. 
  • Recall history. When making the research of a certain brand, read about the recalls, and find the archive of news connected to it. That will help you decide whether the brand is trusted and reliable.

In a word 

The choice of cat food is crucial because the diet defines the health and development of your feline friend. When in search of worthy options, trust veterinarians, not advertisements. Of course, you can find a suitable product for a cat on your own, but a bit of professional guidance won’t hurt.

I recommend visiting a veterinary nutritionist and try the body-condition score chart to see if your cat is under- or overweight. Ask your vet about the best food options based on your cat’s age, breed, health, etc. The specialist will perform the examination and may ask your pet to pass a few medical tests. That will help you define a perfect formula for your cat.

Don’t have much money to spare on cat’s food? There is a huge array of premium foods available at a reasonable price. For example, Purina and Royal Canin offer decent products while retaining a democratic pricing policy. Besides, you can save a pretty penny when buying 6-, 12-, or 24-packs, or large packages of kibbles: many sellers offer such options on Amazon. 

Hopefully, these reviews of Top-20 cat foods will help you make an informed decision. The above-mentioned foods contain the necessary amount of proteins, carbs, and vitamins to keep your cat well-fed and happy. Pick the one that meets your requirements and watch your beloved pet thrive and develop.

I am Claudine, a College of Veterinary Medicine alumni and cat health & lifestyle specialist. In this blog, I share my personal experience and recommendations on improving cat’s diet, behavior, and both physical and psychological state.

28 Comments

  • Debbie Morrow

    Hey Claudine!

    This guide is huge! I can’t imagine how much time you spent writing this one! Bravo!

    Got a quick question which I’d like to be answered specifically by you:

    How to stop my cat from begging for food? Mr Frogster keeps meowing and begging for food no matter how much food he’s eaten 5 min ago!!!

    He’s eating the best high quality food we can afford (Weruva Mack&Jack from your list).

    • Claudine Sievert

      Hi Debbie!

      The reasons can be both physical and psychological. You mentioned that you feed your cat with Weruva – good choice! But how much food and how frequently do you feed?

      Also how ofter do you spend time to play with your cat? Do you train him/her?

    • Claudine Sievert

      Purina True Nature is a well-balanced formula with natural ingredients and a perfect taste. I do believe that it’s worth every penny.

  • Ferris Galton

    Hey Claudine!
    Thank you very much for your review!
    Is Purina True Nature a good recipe for picky eaters?

    • Claudine Sievert

      Hello Ferris,
      Thanks for your kind words!
      My cat loves it and everybody says that it’s the best cat food available when it comes to taste.
      You definitely should try this recipe if your cat is a picky eater.

  • Jane Morrison

    Great guide! Didn’t know that by-products can be so dangerous for a cat’s health, thanks for this useful info!

  • Juliette

    Thanks for the amazing review! My cat loves Acana and Royal Canin. I’ll test other brands as well. Is there any wet food in the Blue Buffalo range?

  • Mary Webster

    Nice guide! I’ve been trying to find the top list of the best-rated cat food for ages. Thanks for the detailed info, didn’t know that cats need so many vitamins. By the way, I’ve heard that cats do need some wheat in their diet. Do you know anything about that?

  • Kittythecat4

    Nice review, love the detailed description of reach cat food. However, I’d love to read the list of special diet recipes as well. Would be great if you write the guide.

  • Lora Mason

    Two weeks ago I adopted a shelter cat. Since then I’ve been searching for the best cat food on the market. It turned out to be a difficult task. Thankfully, I came across this article!

  • Ginger Roberts

    So many nice cat food. Seems like our pets have even more delicious dinners than we do!:) But seriously, thank you for your time, it’s very useful information. My friend tried ZIWI Peak, I can tell it’s 100% great! Rachael Ray is one of my favs though.

  • Gigi Kittens

    purina pro plan true nature with beef&liver is my favorite one. Well, not mine, but my cat’s.) Will there be any more flavors this year?

  • Becky McFall

    Enjoyed reading the review! Didn’t know that there are so many top products on the market today. I personally bought Purina and Tiki Cat. They are expensive but veeeery good.

  • Miss CatFan

    The Solid gold lamb and brown rice receipt is top of the tops.I’ve heard that it has a special flavor. But my cat loves it to bits. Besides, it contains a lot of vitamins and minerals. Will try Royal Canin and Buffalo as well.

  • Maggie007

    Fabulous overview! Great that you mentioned that wet and dry food issue. There’s been a lot of disputes about the topic.

  • Kittenfan

    Just bought the lotus oven-baked cat food. Quite an expensive thing, hah? Still, my cat loves it. Besides, it has vegetables and fruits in it, my vet says it’s crucially important.

  • Lorie Smaulders

    I just read the article. Firstly, thanks for such an informative review. I also want to mention that I personally bought 5 brands out of 20 mentioned in the article. And only Solid Gold didn’t match my cat’s taste. However, you mentioned that the flavor is specific so that’s okay.

  • BebeLove

    That was a nice one! I read a lot about human grade cat food. Seems like all these products are human edible.

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