Home Cats Food & Diet Golden Rules of Thumb for Choosing the Best Cat Food

Golden Rules of Thumb for Choosing the Best Cat Food

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Person talking to a cat

Have you wandered along the cat food aisle, confused by all the choice?

Selecting the best cat food for your feline-friend can be daunting, especially when the labels all look so appealing. But the secret to finding a good cat food is to draw up a ‘wish list’ before you leave home. That way you target what to look for and study the labels to hone in on a healthy, wholesome dinner for your cat.

Drawing Up a Wish List

Start your wish list by recognizing the basics the food must supply. For example, look at your cat’s needs.

  • Life stage: Is the cat a kitten (requiring a ‘growth’ food), adult (an ‘adult maintenance’ food) or over the age of seven years (a ‘senior’ food)?
  • Body Condition: Is your cat underweight and requires building up, a normal weight, or overweight and could do with losing? Foods exist that fill each of those niches, so don’t be afraid to get picky.
  • Medical History: Does your cat have medical issues such as dental disease or urinary problems? You may wish to look for a food that’s proven to clean teeth or aid urinary health. Going a step further, there are also prescription diets (retailed through vets) to help control kidney disease, thyroid problems, and the like.
  • Preferences: Some cats are hooked on wet food, others on dry.

For example, if your fur-friend is an overweight adult cat prone to cystitis and likes canned food, your wish list looks like this:

  • Adult cat life stage
  • Reduced calorie
  • A food balanced for urinary health
  • Wet food

Then move onto your needs, in terms of:

  • Budget
  • Storage (tins take up more space than dry kibble.)

So far so good, but perhaps this hasn’t narrowed the choice enough and you’re still bewildered. Your next decision is therefore based on what’s in the food by reading the pet food label.

To better understand the label, it’s helpful to know the basics of cat physiology.

What Cats Eat 101

Cats have to eat meat, in other words they are ‘obligate carnivores’. This is because cats are unable to manufacture certain vital amino acids in the way people or dogs can. The upshot is that a cat needs good quality protein and plenty of it, specifically in the form of meat.

So guess what you want a good cat food should mainly contain? Yep, meat!

This is where it helps to understand not all proteins are created equal. Some proteins are easier to digest than others. Indeed, there’s a rating scale for how digestible proteins are and it’s called the foods ‘biological value’.

Take a look at how these foods are ranked.

Egg                  100 % biological value.

(Eggs are the gold standard against which other proteins are measured.)

Beef                78 %

Soybean          67 %

Meat meal       50 %

Corn meal       45 %

The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot that meat meal (a common ingredient in cat food) comes out lower than soy. This doesn’t mean you should choose soy over meat meal, but rather shows just how tricky interpreting a label can be.

Indeed, rather than meat meal OR soy, you should looked for a named meat (such as beef, salmon, or chicken) ranking in the first four ingredients listed.

OK, so you pick up a bag of cat food and read the label but still feel non-the-wiser. What to do now?  Let’s simplify things with some helpful pointers.

 Golden Rules of Thumb

Ditch indecision by decoding the ingredient label. Here’s what to look for…and avoid.

  1. Named Meat First: The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, with the main ingredient first. Look for a named meat at the top of the list. Ideally, look for meat or meat by-products among the first four items.
  2. Meat by-products are OK: These are the organs and offal, and do represent good biological value. These are preferred to meat meal, the quality and digestibility of which can vary.
  3. Avoid Corn or Soy Fillers: Cats struggle to digest vegetable protein or fillers, which are also linked to allergies in cats, so cross these off the shopping list.
  4. AAFCO Approved: Look for foods with the Association of American Food Control Officers seal of approval as a sign the food is nutritionally balanced to supply everything your cat requires.

And finally, when selecting the best cat food for your fur-friend, spare a moment to think about wet vs dry foods. A wet food may be 80% water, whilst a dry kibble contains as little as 6% water. This makes wet food an expensive way to supply your cat with water. However, wet food is considered better for the cat’s bladder and kidney health. So in an ideal world, this is the better option.

However, modern dry kibbles are healthier than they were years ago. The recipes are lower in the minerals that earned biscuits a bad reputation for forming bladder stones. Whilst the convenience of dry food which doesn’t spoil when left out all day, means it does have a place for healthy cats.

And finally, if your cat has a health problem, speak to your vet about what to feed and what to avoid. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” and this holds true for cats just as much as people.