How to choose the right food for your cat

How to choose the right food for your cat

If you have a cat, congratulations on your cat’s discriminating taste. You must be an exceptional person because cats only choose the finest people to serve them. We’ll try to help you select the right foods for your cat so you can retain your position.

All joking aside, cats do have a reputation of being harder to please than dogs. There are not nearly as many choices when it comes to premium quality cat foods compared to dog foods. There has probably been more research into canine nutrition than feline nutrition but that’s quickly changing. In the last few years cat lovers have had more and better choices of foods for their cats which is good to see.

A cat’s diet

When it comes to picking the right food for your cat there are some things you need to know about cats and their diet.

  1. Cats are obligate carnivores meaning they must have meat in their diet. Dogs need meat protein, too, but cats really have to have it because they cannot convert some nutrients in their body. They have to come from meat.
  2. Cats have to have some nutrients such as taurine, vitamin A, arachidonic acid and other things added to their food (unless they are eating a raw diet) because they cannot synthesize or convert these nutrients in their body. Any cat food labeled “complete and balanced” should contain these ingredients.
  3. Cats cannot tolerate the higher levels of carbohydrates that are found in dog foods. They are lacking the genetic adaptations to digest starches that dogs have evolved. Good cat foods should have few carbohydrates.


You can see a good comparison of the cat and dog digestive systems (with diagrams) on this Waltham site.


There are a few other things you should know before you try to select a good cat food. The powers that be at AAFCO (Association of American Food Control Officials) (Table 4) who set the recommended percentages for various nutrients recommend that adult cats have a minimum of 26 percent protein; kittens should have a minimum of 30 percent protein. They suggest that both adult cats and kittens should have a minimum of 9 percent fat in their diet. You should check for these figures on any cat food you are considering. Most experts recommend a higher protein percentage that is closer to what a cat would eat if he were catching his own food. This would place the protein percentage from approximately 40 to 55 percent (dry matter basis – figured with the moisture content removed). Likewise, the fat percentage would also be a little higher.

Questions before choosing your cat’s food

Before deciding on your cat’s food there are a few questions you need to consider.

choose the right cat food

Wet or dry?

Believe it or not, this is an important, serious question if you have a cat. If you have a dog, feeding canned or dry food usually comes down to a matter of cost. It can be very expensive to feed a big dog canned food. With cats, this can be a health question. Many experts today recommend that cat lovers feed their cats canned/wet food instead of dry because wet food contains much more moisture. Cats fed a dry food may not get enough water in their diet. Many cats can be prone to forming crystals in their urine and urinary tract stones. They are more apt to form these crystals and stones with a dry diet than with a wet food that has more moisture to flush their system. Dry cat food is still popular but if you feed a dry food you need to make very sure that your cat is getting plenty of water.

How to pick the right food for your cat

How old is your cat?

AAFCO has nutritional adequacy statements for foods that pass their minimum standards. These statements say that a food is for growth, maintenance, or all life stages. You should choose a food that is appropriate for your cat’s age. If you have a kitten, buy a food for growth or an all life stage food. If you have an adult cat, choose a maintenance food or an all life stage food. These are minimum nutritional standards and some people dislike AAFCO but this is the best system we have. (Note that if you have a senior cat you should choose food carefully. Some foods have lower protein for seniors when a senior cat may need higher protein. Likewise for fat. Choose food for your senior cat on an individual basis.)

Sick cat at vet

Does your cat have any special needs or health problems?

If so, you may need to talk to your veterinarian. Your vet can advise you about foods needed for some health conditions. In some cases a cat may need a prescription diet. These foods tend to be expensive. Your vet may be able to recommend a commercial food that you could feed instead or advise you on how you could make a similar diet for your cat yourself.


To sum up, cats really are different than dogs. Consider the following when choosing a food for your cat:

  • Foods that are high in meat proteins;
  • Foods that are low in carbohydrates;
  • Look for the nutritional adequacy statement for your cat’s life stage (kitten, adult, all life stages)
  • Make sure the food is “complete and balanced”
  • Think about choosing canned/wet food;
  • If you choose dry food, make extra sure that your cat drinks plenty of water;
  • Talk to your vet if your cat has any health problems or special needs.


If you follow these suggestions, your cat should appreciate your efforts.



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