How to Choose or Select Best Cat Food – Guide

How do you choose or pick the best cat food? Picking the right one can be a daunting task if you don’t know what to look for in any specific brand. However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is WHy

Significance

Correct diet together with an unlimited amount of clean, drinking water, exercise, proper housing, and medical care, play critical roles in ensuring your cat’s optimum health, happiness, and by extension longevity.

Your cat’s food represents the most significant single expense, followed by veterinary care costs. If you invest in the right diets, you may reduce your vet expenses, mainly from food and lifestyle-related diseases like obesity, liver, heart, or kidney disease, among others.

Unfortunately, sustained market campaigns and labels such as premium, super-premium, all-natural, organic, human-grade, hypoallergenic, complete diet, novel proteins, hairball or urinary tract formulas, and so forth make choosing the right one so difficult. However, it shouldn’t if you know what to look for in any brand. Here is a complete guide!

Understand pet food labels

Besides net quantity (how much) manufacturers name and address, and feeding directions, expiry date, some of the critical things you need to pick from labels include:

1. Product name

How a cat food is named will give you a hint on what its main ingredients are and help you easily choose the right one.

Rule Meaning
95% ruleFor instance, Turkey for Cat or Chicken n turkey. It implies turkey or the combination of chicken and turkey must account for 95% of the ingredients without the water added during processing or 70%, including processing water.
5% Dinner ruleFor instance, chicken dinner cat food. The named ingredient must account for 25%, excluding processing water. If several ingredients, the mentioned one must be at least 3%. This rule also applies to Platter, Formula, Entrée, or Nuggets.
3% with ruleMust have at least 3% named ingredients, for example, Cat food with chicken. Chicken must account for 3% of ingredients.
Flavor ruleThe flavor must be detectable by an animal trained to have a flavor preference. The specific flavoring ingredient doesn’t have to be present, i.e., manufacturers may use similar flavoring substances.

2. Ingredient present

Ingredients are listed starting with the most predominant one, while those in small quantities such as preservatives and flavorings come last. You need to understand terms and their meaning as set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

a). Non-rendered ingredients

IngredientDefinition
MeatSlaughtered mammals’ muscle flesh with accompanying gristle (cartilage), and fats. It may include heart muscles and diaphragm (muscle tissue separating internal tissues from the lung) and may or may not have underlying skin portion, fat, nerve, blood vessel, or sinew that accompanies flesh without bones.
As a generic term, meat Implies cattle, pig, sheep, or goat. Some manufacture may specify such as beef, pork, etc. However, other meats need mentioning such as buffalo, venison, fish, and etcetera.
PoultryClean bird’s flesh, skin with or without accompanying bone. It should not have features, entrails, head, or feet. Some manufacturers may declare them as turkey, chicken, deboned, etc
Meat by-productsInclude clean parts from slaughtered mammal tissues beside meat such as lung, liver, spleen, brain, kidney, bone, intestines, and stomach without its content, etc., defatted in low temperatures. They are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats or as specified.
Poultry by-productsAre clean, non-rendered poultry head, viscera (without fecal matter), gizzard, liver, heart, and so on.

b). Rendering  ingredients

Rendering refers to cooked under heat and pressure to kill bacteria and to remove most fat and water and ground, hence the term meal. This process also reduces used antibiotics and synthetic growth promotants effect.

IngredientDescription
Meat mealRendered and ground mammal tissues from cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, or other animals, which manufacturers have to mention. These rendered mammal tissues are without hair, hoof, added blood, manure, hide trimming, horn, and rumen or stomach contents.
Meat and bone mealIt is a meat meal that has some bone; in other terms, it is what you will find in the whole mammal carcasses.
Animal by-product mealRendered whole carcasses with more by meat-products than those ordinarily found in entire carcasses. It shouldn’t have hoof, hair, hone, and hide trimmings, rumen or stomach contents or manure.
Poultry mealDry rendered clean flesh, skin with or without accompanying bone from a part or whole carcasses of poultry. It shouldn’t have head, entrails, or feet. In simpler terms, it is just poultry with most water and fats removed, making it higher in protein concentration.
Poultry by-product mealRendered poultry by-products like the neck, underdeveloped eggs, intestines, feet without feces. It is usually higher in protein.

c). Other ingredients

Besides the above, other common ingredients in cat food are as follows:

IngredientDescription
Energy sourcesManufacturers may use corn, peas, barley, rice, lentils, potatoes, tapioca, and wheat. They also help in hodign kibbles of kibbles. Cats can metabolize them as they have amylase in their saliva, just like humans do. However, they should be in low amounts.
FiberTheir sources include dried beet pulp, dried chicory root, powdered cellulose, fructooligosaccharide, inulin, etcetera
Vegetable and animal fatsTheir leading roles is flavoring foods and as a source of energy.
MineralsHave various vital roles. They include calcium, copper, ferric or ferrous (iron), magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, zinc or compounds with iodide (iodine), selenite (selenium), dicalcium phosphate (calcium and phosphate)
Synthetic MineralsAdded because they are bioavailable. They are mainly metal amino complexes like Amino Acid Complex, metal amino acid chelates like Magnesium amino acid chelate, or metal polysaccharide complexes such as Zinc polysaccharide complex.
Amino acidsAdded to provide more amino acids and include taurine, DL-arginine, L-tyrosine, etc. They bear the name of amino acid.
PreservativesHelp increase shelf life. Any added preservatives must be listed. Some have limits and types of foods where manufacturers can use them.
Common ones include ascorbic acid, BHA (Butylated hydroxyl anisol), BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene), citric acid, sodium bisulfide, potassium sorbate, tocopherols, benzoic acid, etc.
OthersThey include emulsifiers, thickeners, flavors, conditioning agents (for visual appeal), sequestrants, binders, or seasons.
Guar gum, agar-agar, and sodium hexametaphosphate (minimizes tartar). Cat food shouldn’t have propylene glycol or carrageenan as they are unsafe.

d). What to choose

Cats evolved as hunters that consume foods high in proteins, moderate in fats, and low in carbs (found in prey’s entail) prey.

Therefore, ensure their diets have all the required nutrients, including protein, fats, taurine, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, arachidonic acid, and so on.

Since they are obligate carnivores, go for those with animal protein sources, not plants. Also, ensure you have highly digestible ingredients, and you know the specific meat.

Some of the high-quality protein sources include chicken, turkey, beef, pork, duck, salmon, tuna, basa, Pollock, whitefish, quails, boneless walleye, pheasant, basa, snapper, pork, goat, boars, and herring. Also, go for those with whole eggs, among other healthy meat, poultry, or fish.

Whole grains, including brown rice, barley, kasha, faro, oats, soybean meal, bulgur, and any other whole grains, are ok. However, they shouldn’t be the main ingredient, i.e., should be present in smaller quantities.

Go for those with natural preservatives like vitamin C, E (tocopherols)), oil of clove, rosemary, and other spices. Also, yucca will reduce odor from litter boxes, and prebiotics will aid in digestion.

For fats, choose natural sources like fish oil, sunflower, or soy oil, among others.

Not all by-products are worthless. Contrary to what many people assume, by-products are not useless. The neck, head, feet, and intestine are part of human food in many countries. It is how carefully they choose them that may affect food quality.

Furthermore, foods with added antioxidants will promote health while keeping diseases like kidney, cancers, or heart at bay.

Finally, the lesser the ingredients, the better as this will reduce the chances of allergies.

e). Avoid foods with

Avoid foods that have lots of carbohydrates, sugar, and fillers. Some dry foods may have over 50% grains. Cats are strict carnivores, and the same reason is why diets predominantly bone meal are not right.

Secondly, avoid foods with thickening agents like xanthan gum, carrageenan, and carrageenan gum. Similarly, don’t buy those with harmful chemicals like vitamin K3, BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, as well as sodium nitrate, and nitrate. Such foods may cause allergic reactions as well as GI problems, including loose stool, nausea, gas, and so forth.

Thirdly,  food colorings, including blue2, yellow 5, caramel coloring, and red 40, are not safe for cats.

Finally, Watch on foods with beef tallow, cornmeal filler, feathers, soy sugar, the fruit of pomace, animal digest, unspecified meats, among other ingredients.

3. Look at nutritional adequacy statement

Terms such as 100% nutritious, balanced or complete don’t accurately prove if a particular food is suitable for as a sole source of nourishment. Therefore, the terms “complete and balanced” must meet or exceed set standards for specific life stage(s), i.e., growing, reproducing, or adult maintenance.

All foods should have this nutritional adequacy state statement, “Food A is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages.”

Alternatively, if the food manufacturer conducts AAFCO Feeding Trial Protocol(s), the nutritional adequacy statement will be “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Food A provides complete and balanced nutrition for growing.”

Furthermore, Senior diets must meet specific needs for adult cats. Adult maintenance indicates normal adult cuts not overactive or indoor.

Finally, any food that is not complete should be referred to as either for supplemental or intermitted only unless identified as a treat, snack, or supplement.

4. Calorie statement

Cat’s food calorie statements are on an as-fed basis and expressed in kilocalories (Kcal) per kilogram (Kg) as well as using familiar household items such as Kcal per cup.

5. Guaranteed analysis

A guaranteed analysis gives percentage maximum crude protein and fat as well as maximum fiber and moisture. Some manufacturers may include maximum ash as well as guaranteed mineral content like calcium, sodium, phosphorus as well as nutrients like linoleic acid, taurine and so on as fed or as is bases.

Moisture is often 10-12% for dry food 75-78% in wet foods. Since foods have different moisture content, compare the various guaranteed nutrients, do a dry matter analysis of each of these ingredients.

Determining % Dry matter of any ingredient

For instance, your wet food has protein 8% and moisture 75%. To calculate the percentage of protein on dry matter basis, deduct moisture content from 100 to get total dry matter, i.e., 100-75 = 25

% Dry matter of ingredient = (protein quantity divided by total dry matter) multiplied by 100 = (8/25)*100 = 32%.

Finally, note that guaranteed analysis doesn’t reveal information on the digestibility or source of the various nutrients.

Consider age and life stages and activity level

When choosing food, consider the age stage of your feline pal. Growing kitten, adult, mature and senior cats have a varying nutritional requirement. Ensure it is complete and balanced for the specific life stage.

Life stageFood requirement
Growth and reproductionKitten and reproducing queens need more protein, fats, calories, and other nutrients to promote growth, activity, and so on. Go for those with quality protein like chicken, lamb, tuna, chicken, or beef.
They also need DHA (in fish oil) for eye and brain development, folic acid for the healthy growth of cells. AAFCO has a nutritional guideline for growing cats.
Adults (1-6 years)Ideal adult diets (1-6 years old) should be high in protein, slightly lower in fats and carbs. They should have vitamin C and E to boost immunity and enough calcium. If your kitties are lazy or overweight, consider indoor diets.
Mature 7+ yearsThe should have easy to digest high-quality proteins, slightly lower amounts of fats and carbs than those for adults. Also, they should have added omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, ingredients that support brain function and healthy skin and shiny coat.
Seniors (11+ years)Diets for senior cats should have high-quality, easy to digest protein (produces fewer toxins), lower in fats, and low in carbs. Also, they need calcium (for joints and bones health), vitamin C, and E (boost immunity), and omega-3 fatty acids (good coat and healthy skin).
The food should also be lower in sodium and phosphorus to reduce strain on the aging kidney and are prone to cancer, obesity, diabetes, and kidney failure
Consider activity levelThe activity level influences the calorie requirement. Is your feline pal very active or not? Since don’t exercise much, go for formula indoor cats indoor formula, and if you have outdoor cats, choose those higher in calories as they are more active.

Put in mind your cat’s health status

Select your food by considering the overall health status of your cat. Is it obese, diabetic, having hypertension, fur ball problems, hyperthyroidism, allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease, and so on?

Begin by seeking a vet’s help as symptoms may be due to something else before settling on any specific brand. Common health issues include:

Health IssueWhat to look in a cat’s foo
Kidney problemsBest diets for renal problems should be moderate (28-35%) high quality, highly digestible, and bio-appropriate proteins. Avoid chicken, meat or fish meal, or corn gluten. Secondly, they should be low phosphorus (0.3-0.6%), low sodium (0.4% or less), have added omega-3 fatty acids (0.4-2.5%), vitamins C and E. finally, proper hydration is vital, a reason to buy wet foods.
Urinary tract problems (FLUTD)for cats with feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which includes urethral obstruction, urinary tract infections, and cystitis, go for urinary diets. They should be hydrating (wet cat foods) lower in magnesium, pH managing (acidifying to manage struvite stones), and manage calcium oxalates. Blueberry or cranberry may help with bacterial infection (stops attachment to the urinary walls) and have glycosaminoglycan (that is low in felines with idiopathic cystitis).
HyperthyroidismBest diets for hyperthyroidism should be high protein (50-70% with dispensable nitrogen help restore body weight loss and mass wasting). Also, they should be restricted iodine, have less than 10% carbs (often happens with subclinical diabetes), 30-40% fats and have no soy, BPA, or PBDEs.
Diabetic catsFoods for diabetic cats should be high in high-quality protein, low in carbs (prevent blood sugar level spike), highly palatable, and help in managing weight in obese felines. Ensure proper hydration that includes buying wet cat foods.
HypertensionCats with hypertension or high blood pressure require diets low in salt (sodium) and those that manage underlying causes like diabetes. Also for those with added natural vitamin C and E, omega-3 fatty acids (re-sensitizes insulin receptor and reduces blood pressure)
Weight loss dietsDiets for obese cats should be low in calories like wet foods, higher in fiber (for satiety), but nutritionally complete. Go for high-protein, high fiber, and low carb and fats diets and incorporate portion control with the help of your vet. Follow other slow but steady weight loss strategies, including exercise.
Heart diseaseBest cat diets for heart disease should be low in sodium (prevent fluid buildup), high in high-quality, highly digestible, have taurine, and omega-3 fatty acid (reduces inflammation). Ensure they also have a healthy weight.
IBD and allergiesfor allergies, sensitive stomachs, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, digestive issues, consider hypoallergenic cat foods with a novel protein source (what your feline has never eaten before like rabbit, duck or venison), hydrolyzed protein, fewer ingredients, and lesser allergens.
Hairball problemsHairball formula should be nutritionally complete but higher in fiber (like psyllium) and fatty acids (good for healthy skin and shiny coat)

Dry vs. wet cat food

Another crucial decision to make is to decide whether you want wet or dry food. We have comprehensive coverage on dry vs. wet cat foods – benefits and cons.

However, to quickly guide you, wet cat foods tend to be more palatable and enticing, have higher moisture, and come in a wide variety. Also, they tend to be higher in protein and have more fats, and so forth. However, they are expensive, have a lower calorie and nutrient density, and quickly spoil once you open them.

On the other side, dry foods like Meow Mix Original Choice Dry Cat Food are cheaper, more economical (calorie and nutrient-dense), suitable for free feeding (don’t spoil quickly), may help reduce dental tartar but only to a small extent.

On the downside, they are less palatable, tend to be higher in carbs, and have little moisture content.

Do research

The food label may not have all the information you need. See what experts are saying, look at their website, and talk to the consumer relationship department, among other ways. All reputed companies will be happy to assist you.

Choose a responsive brand

Choose a brand that values its customers and tries to win their trust. Such a brand communicates to them, responds fast to recall, quickly corrects any issues, tests continue to improve on quality, amongst other things.

Trial and error

Since you may not know with certainty what your feline pal likes, try various brands, both dry and wet ones that meet the required criteria.

Some felines are finicky, and you may not know what they like. Unlike humans, they don’t make their food. Therefore, if the specific company offers, request for free samples.

Cost of food

Conduct a comparison of price per specific amount and not package.  Expensive is not always better, but some low-cost feline diets may be having lots of fillers and junk that may not benefit your pet most.

While they may seem expensive, the best quality foods are nutrient-rich, more digestible, and cats need a smaller portion to meet their nutrient and calorie requirement. Furthermore, your kitties will have fewer feces and boost their overall health.

Also, they have added vitamins, antioxidants, essential amino acids, and they don’t have any artificial preservatives, dyes, or flavors.

Ensure you check through ingredients to ensure they have high-quality protein sources from meat, poultry, or fish and not by-products.

Some by-products may cause allergies, dull coat digestive problems, vomiting, loose stool, or make your cats weak. Furthermore, long-term use of such foods may predispose your cats to kidney, liver, or heart disease as well as obesity or poor weight gain, growth, and development.

Finally, buying in bulk, asking bulk discounts, using coupon code, free-shipping, is an excellent way to make a saving. However, all this shouldn’t compromise on quality.

Don’t be moved by non-AAFCO specified terms

Besides all-natural, diets for specific health status, age, activity level, and environment, some terms shouldn’t win you over.

Natural implies that the source of all ingredients is from animals, plants, or mined that may have or not undergone processing, rendering, purification, hydrolysis, fermentation, or enzymolysis. They don’t have any chemically synthesized or ingredients, including preservatives, flavors, or colors.

Terms such as premium, super-premium, dental care, ultra-premium, holistic, popular pet food, organic, grain-free, no-grain, a novel protein, are not AAFCO specific. Buy them after a vet’s recommendation.

Similarly, terms such as gourmet, pate, gravy, savory, broth, mousse, flaked, or shredded, and so forth shouldn’t move you. They tell you more about the nature or appearance of the food and not ingredients, including their sources.

Talk to your vet

A vet will become handy in cases where you are unable to decide on which food you should buy for your feline pal, or you want general health examination and diet recommendation.

While you can adjust meals by taking your cat’s weight or seeing if you can feel ribs or not and changing their diet, underlying conditions may cause weight gain or loss.

Where to buy cat food

Once you have decided on which brand you need, there are many places to buy your food, including vet clinics, supermarkets, online stores, direct from manufacturers, discount stores, and so on. Note that some brands may not be available in pet stores, supermarkets, or discount shops.

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