They Are What They Eat: Choosing Cat Food

Cats need a diet that has proteins, fat, water, carbs, and vitamins and minerals, just like we do. But how much of each? What should we look for on the labels? What should we keep in mind when buying cat food?

Cats need protein and depending on the type and brand of cat food, protein may come from animal or plant sources. Soy, chicken, lamb, turkey, and fish are examples of proteins. Cat food also contains by-products of these sources.

As carnivores, cats rely mainly on nutrients found in animals that contain high protein, moderate fat, and minimal carbohydrates. Their bodies are made to metabolize animal proteins and also need the amino acids that are found in animal-based protein such as taurine, arginine, and menthionine. Some cats have to eat prescription food if their bodies don’t make these in adequate amounts. Plant-based proteins in cat food are often balanced with other ingredients to include these amino acids. High quality cat food will have ingredients that are not “by products.”

Canned vs Dry

There’s been some controversy about dry food and wet food. It seems to be though, as long as the food is high-quality there is little difference. Some cats will benefit from higher moisture content found in wet food and have urine that is not as concentrated. Most cats do fine on dry food and you can add some water to it. Canned food may have more protein than dry that comes from animals and contain about 75% water while dry food may have only 10% of water. Keeping a bowl filled with water may not be enough for some cats. Having a diet that is both canned and dry food can create a nice balance between proteins, fats, and ensure that your cat is well hydrated.

When looking at the labels on food, protein should be top of the list. Look to see if the food has been AAFCO approved. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is a group of state and federal officials that regulate pet food. Some brands have the seal of approval from AAFCO on their labels. This helps you have a good guideline of what brands and types of food to buy and also know that the ratios of nutrients, fats, proteins, and fat are correct or meet the standards necessary for your cat.


Some people feed their cats once or twice a day and others free feed them. Some cats can regulate their diets and won’t be tubby while others may eat till they pop. Overall, to make sure your cat stays slim and in shape, portion control is the best.

It also helps the owners know if their cat is feeling ok or not. Cats who are sometimes hurt or feeling ill may not eat. It’s a good clearly visual indicator of how your cat is doing day to day.

When switching brands, mix the new food with the old food. You can start by adding a 1/4 of the new food to the old and slowly increase this amount until your cat is completely moved onto the new brand. Watch for any changes in their appetite and litter box in case the new food doesn’t settle well in their system.

As always, if you’re not sure if your cat needs more amino acids, less fat, or more protein, talk to your vet. There are so many brands of food out there from common brands to specialty holistic brands and it can be confusing to find what brand and type of food works best for your cat.


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