Although there are many similarities between dog and cat foods, cats have more complicated dietary needs. While high-quality ingredients are extremely important for a healthy feline diet, there are additional considerations that should be made for cats.
Many cat owners use just one qualifier when selecting their pet’s food, like life stage. They’ll grab the mature cat food for their mature cat. And while it is important to feed cats a diet that’s age-appropriate, there are a lot of other important metrics to use when selecting the best cat food. For example, cats are prone to kidney stones and other renal health issues, as well as unpleasant side effects like hairballs, and the right cat food can help cut down on some of these issues.
According to Anna Shoveller, Assistant Professor from the Department of Animal Biosciences at Ontario Agricultural College, “for cats, diets need to have several ingredients that only animal-based ingredients can supply, and not just meat; organs are often better in this respect (yes, by-product!). Also, cats need a certain supply of minerals to help them avoid urinary tract crystals and stones. Overall, you need to first think about what your cat needs and then look for diets that help you meet that.”
Cat food also needs to provide the right amount of moisture. Unlike dogs, cats often don’t drink enough water on their own and their diet frequently needs to be supplemented with formulas that produce extra hydration. Whereas a dog can easily live on just kibble, many veterinary professionals recommend that cats consume both wet and dry food regularly.
The Importance of Digestibility
Quality ingredients are a key component of the best cat food, but if those high-quality nutrients aren’t actually being absorbed by your cat, the benefits of the superior ingredients are lost. Enter digestibility: the percentage of foodstuff taken into the digestive tract that is actually absorbed into the body and it’s an important characteristic to consider when selecting a cat food.
Generally speaking, high-quality ingredients are more digestible than low-quality ingredients. But beyond just ingredients, it’s important to note that:
·The digestibility percentage is generated by testing conducted by the cat food manufacturer. There are no third-party companies that independently verify these digestibility claims.
·Manufacturers are not required to report digestibility percentage. Consequently, not all companies are willing to pay for the necessary testing, and unfortunately for consumers, this information can be difficult to track down.
Despite the absence of third-party accountability and the fact that the digestibility percentage is yet to become a universal standard, it is still an important factor that should be considered when selecting a cat food. Check the label for high-quality ingredients and if possible, review the digestibility percentage to ensure your cat gets and absorbs the nutrients it needs.
The Great Carb Debate: What Does Your Cat Really Need?
Cats need a diet high in protein. In domestic cats, a diet that contains high-quality protein sources is also considered important; amino acids like taurine and arginine that naturally occur in animal products are essential for healthy skin, coats, and organ function. However, there’s an ongoing debate about exactly how much protein cats need, and not a lot of conclusive science to back up either side. Carbohydrates are even more hotly contested.
Though carbs aren’t required for their diet, most cats do consume some carbs, often in the form of wheat, rice, or beet pulp. In small amounts, these ingredients aren’t harmful for cats, and may even provide an acceptable source of energy. Some argue that carbohydrates can also help cats digest their food better and retain more nutrients.
Some experts advocate for high-carb diets, while others consider carbohydrates almost always superfluous, and advise pet owners to always opt for a high-protein, low-carb diet. Which means for pet owners, it’s really about what you (and your veterinary professional) feel most comfortable feeding your pet.
It’s unlikely that the great carbohydrate debate will be settled any time soon, which as a pet owner can be frustrating. Your best course of action, then, is to read the research for yourself and ask your veterinarian.
Low-Quality Ingredients Lead to Health Problems
Regardless of where you fall in the debate over carbohydrates, it’s a known fact that high-quality ingredients matter for a healthy cat. Processed ingredients and additives not only don’t offer the same nutrients as whole meats and fish, but also may be contaminated with bacteria and other harmful agents.
Rendered fat is a common additive in pet foods because it easily increases the necessary fat content. However, it is ripe for bacteria and mould growth, so it can be unsafe for your pet to eat. Not only that, but also it doesn’t offer the same health benefits as the whole fats that come from real fish and meat.
Other additives, like artificial colours and flavours, may be considered known carcinogens; caramel colour, BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin are all considered to be dangerous for both people and pets.
Some of the common health problems caused by low-quality ingredients include:
·Kidney disease. Kidney disease (renal failure) is the leading cause of mortality in domestic cats. Your cat’s kidneys work to extract toxins from the blood system including nitrates, which are produced by proteins. Talk with your vet about steps you can take to help prevent kidney disease in your cat and learn the signs of kidney failure, which can include: weight loss/appetite reduction, dry coat, ulcers in the tongue or gums, bad breath, and vomiting or diarrhoea.
·Obesity. In the US, 58 percent of cats are overweight or obese. To keep your cat’s weight in check, look for a diet that’s highly digestible and includes rich sources of protein, like real meats. Increasing the proportion of canned and raw foods has also been shown to help cats lose weight.
Know the Origins of Your Cat’s Food
Recalls are often traced back to manufacturers, not specific ingredients, which means that as a pet owner, it’s important to pay close attention to who has a history of recalls and how they responded.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid cat food that uses ingredients from a rendering facility. Rendering facilities take extra animal products from other sources, like slaughterhouses and even animal shelters, and turn them into products labelled “meat meal” or “bone meal.” This “meal” can contain extremely unhealthy extras, like antibiotics, bacteria, or steroids. To avoid feeding this kind of low-quality rendered material to your pet, opt for food products where the source and origin are clear.
When It Comes to the Best Type of Cat Food, There’s No Clear Winner
Dry cat food is often touted as being better for dental health than wet food, but there’s very little conclusive evidence to support this. Cats don’t chew their food particularly thoroughly, which means that it’s unlikely that a dry food can scrape plaque from their teeth. Dry food is generally less expensive and it’s more convenient because you can buy it in a big bag and leave it out without it spoiling.
Some veterinarians recommend a diet that’s primarily dry food, but others caution that its ingredients can be relatively suspect. Dry cat food tends to be more processed, and its low water content may lead to dehydration.
Conversely, wet food may offer some additional health benefits. Cats typically get crucial hydration from the food they eat, and wet cat food’s high water content plays a key role in that. It’s also often less processed and contains a more optimal balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The expense and inconvenience of canned food, though, are considerations for some cat owners.
For many cat owners, the appeal of raw is that it closely approximates a cat’s native diet. Cats in the wild eat their prey whole and have teeth that are naturally able to tear through meat. Fresh, unprocessed foods are at the heart of a raw diet, enabling cats to get the vitamins and nutrients they need, while avoiding potentially harmful preservatives like BHA and BHT.
Meat from your local grocery store is not meant to be consumed raw and may contain harmful or dangerous bacteria, and owners must be careful when handling raw ingredients. Raw food can also be harder for cats to break down and digest relative to food that’s been cooked. In addition, it can be expensive and harder to obtain.
Dehydrated food is made by removing moisture from the ingredients. Because it’s not cooked, it remains nutrient-rich and maintains its natural colour and flavour. Dehydrated food has many of the benefits of raw, but without some of the risks that come with handling and preparing raw foods.
However, if you do choose to put your cat on a diet based primarily on dehydrated food, hydration can become a concern. Make sure cats who eat mostly dehydrated food are drinking enough water to stave off kidney problems.
Some cat owners choose to prepare fully homemade meals for their cat from human-grade foods. This can be incredibly time-consuming, but it does give owners complete confidence in knowing the exact ingredients of their cat’s food.
Homemade foods may not be ideal, though, if the owner does not take special precautions about food safety. The American Animal Hospital Association warns against homemade raw diets, because the meats may be contaminated with pathogens. Cat owners who choose a fully homemade diet should be sure to consult their veterinarian about necessary nutrients and how to achieve the right balance of fats and proteins to ensure their cat’s diet is truly complete.
If you’re looking for more information on some healthy and safe cat food options, the team at Reviews.com recently spent over six weeks analysing over 1,700 cat food formulas in order to find the best options out there. Their team surveyed 97 veterinary professionals and 437 devoted cat owners, and read through dozens of research articles and studies, and ultimately found 163 formulas that they recommend due to their high quality and risk-free ingredients.
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