good news. Your cat needs you. They also need the right cat food, not just a separate bowl of dog food. Like dog food, there are many options on the market when it comes to cat food. “Cats are often viewed and fed as smaller dogs,” says Tim Julian, DVM, chief medical officer of Buzz Veterinary in Austin, Texas. “It turns out that cats are not small dogs. Cats are obligate, or strict, carnivores and have a low ability to digest and use carbohydrates.”
So what is the best cat food for your carnivore? We consulted experts on how to find the right cat food for you and your cat, as well as round up some of the best cat food options.
Skip ahead the best cat food
How to shop for the best cat food
You should approach buying cat food the same way you would look at breakfast: start with a nutritionally balanced diet. “You need complete, balanced, and appropriate food for your cat’s life stage,” says Bruce Kornreich, DVM, director of the Cornell Fellin Health Center in Ithaca, New York.
Kornreich recommends looking for a nutritional adequacy label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a nonprofit organization that evaluates what’s in pet foods and animal feeds. Since cats are omnivores, meat is an essential component of achieving a balanced diet that Kornreich emphasizes.
“If meat and meat products are among the first ingredients listed, this indicates that the food likely contains sufficient animal components to provide essential amino acids and fatty acids,” Kornreich says. But cats cannot live on meat alone.
“Cats should get nutrients like calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D from other ingredients,” says Shelly Ferris, DVM, Petco Regional Director of Veterinary Services.
She recommends looking for a cat food that contains “whole natural ingredients such as fruits and vegetables and high-quality carbohydrates such as rice, oats or potatoes.”
As for what to avoid, Paz Veterinary’s Julian meddles with ingredients that are “more about sentiment and marketing than nutrition.” He points to dyes that make food appear more attractive to people (cats see color differently) and “exotic” ingredients like kangaroo and lentils, which “have been less studied in cats.”
Types of cat food to consider
The cat food aisle is spacious and the shopping possibilities don’t end at the registry. Subscription services and farm-to-bowl companies now ship cat food directly to your home.
Dry cat food versus wet or canned cat food
Dry cat food is a popular choice because it is more convenient than wet cat food. “Dry food is cost-effective, odorless, and can be stored for long periods without spoiling,” Ferriss says.
But Julian points out that dry cat food can also be higher in carbohydrates than wet cat food. Just as you think about all the sourdough you’ve been eating while baking at home, you should also consider your cat’s carbohydrate intake. “Active cats can use carbohydrates as an energy source,” Julian says, adding that “a sedentary cat — aka an indoor cat — will store excess carbohydrates as fat.”
Wet food takes more effort—it needs to be refrigerated once the can or bag is opened—and can be more expensive. But it may also help cats get more water in their diet (and the smell may tempt a picky cat to eat). “Canned or wet food has higher levels of protein and fat, which makes it a great choice for cats of all lifestyles and ages,” says Kornreich.
Kitten, adult or old?
Cats are roughly divided into three age groups – kitten, senior and senior – when it comes to cat food.
Although you may have a good idea of which bucket your cat is in, Julian recommends consulting your vet about your cat’s specific nutritional needs along with age, and getting an expert read about the needs or limitations your cat may display. “Cats need more energy-producing nutrients — such as proteins and fats — and more vitamins, minerals, and water than do adult cats,” Ferriss says. “Forms made specifically for cats provide these nutrients in the right amounts.”
Most cats switch from kitten food to adult food by their first birthday. Ferris tells pet owners that it’s important to gradually work on new food over the course of a week to help avoid upsetting your feline friend’s stomach. Adult cat food will likely contain fewer calories than cat food, while older cat food (which usually makes sense for 10-year-old cats) is more likely to be geared toward your cat’s specific health – they may have difficulty chewing or a reduced ability to smell and taste.
Top-rated cat food for shopping
1. Purina Pro Plan LiveClear with Probiotic Chicken and Rice Formula
Chicken and rice are the first two ingredients in this dry food designed for healthy cover and digestion. The dried egg product, the sixth ingredient, is meant to help reduce cat allergens.
2. Purina Cat Chow Complete Dry Cat Food
Chicken by-meal and ground yellow corn are the first two ingredients by weight in this dry food mix that contains 25 vitamins and minerals.
3. Iams Proactive Health Inner Weight & Hair Ball Care
Dry food for kittens of at least 12 months of age, chicken meal, chicken and corn kernels are the first three ingredients.
4. Hills Diet Recipe Kidney Care Chicken and Vegetable Soup
This wet food was created to help your cat’s kidneys stay healthy. Mix chicken pieces into the soup with carrots, spinach and pea protein.
5. PetGuard Organic Chicken & Vegetable Formula
Organic chicken, water, organic turkey, and organic brown rice are the first four ingredients in this moist canned food. It’s also full of fruits and vegetables: organic carrots, cranberries, and apples.
6. Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers Ocean White Fish & Tuna Feast. 6. Fancy Feast broth for ocean, whitefish and tuna lovers
Water is just as important to cats as humans. The first ingredient to this wet food is fish broth, followed by ocean white fish and wheat gluten. It can be used as a meal or as an addition to dry food.
7. Hell’s Science Diet Adult Indoor Chicken Recipe
Chicken is the number one ingredient in this dry food for adult cats between one and six years of age. Dried beet pulp provides fiber to help keep your feline friend regular.
8. Chicken Pate Classic Platter from Friskies
Pate is a soft and tender food with a consistent texture. Friskies lists turkey and poultry as the first two ingredients in this wet food designed to provide more water for your cat’s diet.
9. Royal Canin cat food
Small fillets are made from chicken by-products, chicken, chicken liver and pork liver for kittens less than 12 months old. “It’s important to find a food that your cat finds delicious,” notes Ferris, “cat food is very easy to digest so they don’t experience discomfort because their digestive system is weaker.”
10. Open Farm Homestead Turkey Rustic Mix
The farm-to-pot movement includes companies like Open Farm, which combine human-grade ground turkey, cranberries, and dandelion greens for this moist food. It can be used as a cover for dry food or as a dinner.
11. Smalls Fresh Ground Beef
Part of the new trend of in-house subscription services, Smalls lets you take a test to determine the best wet and dry food (or a combination of both) for your feline friend. Then the online cat food company sends this mix of wet food, for example, from lean beef (the first ingredient), beef liver, green beans, and beef, directly to your home.
revision (September 10, 2020, 1 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article mistakenly linked Purina Pro Plan LiveClear Cat Food to a potential allergy. It helps relieve allergies in general, not just skin-related allergies.
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