It’s important to remember that not all cat food is created equal, and many “budget” brands are made with fillers, preservatives, dyes, and other undesirable ingredients. Not only do you need to get to know your cat’s lifestyle, but in order to choose the best cat food for your feline friend, you’ll need to know how to read cat food labels and the types of foods cats should and shouldn’t be eating.
Disclaimer: If your cat has specific dietary requirements or has struggled to transition foods in the past, talk to your veterinarian about other options. Also, please keep in mind that cats are obligate carnivores and require specific nutrients (i.e., taurine, arginine, etc.) that are only found in meat.
Reading Cat Food Labels
Like dog food, cat food companies use specific terminology and phrases on their labels. Knowing what particular phrases mean and what ingredients to look for can help you to make an educated decision when buying cat food. If you don’t already, start to get used to reading labels on all of your pet’s food. Over time, you will find the brands that are trustworthy and that produce healthy, well-balanced meals for your pet(s).
The first thing to take note of on cat food labels is whether or not the company distinguishes the kind of meat in the food. As mentioned before, cats are obligate carnivores, so be sure you are buying cat food with meat. Not only that, but the meat should be quality and at a high density. If a cat food company only states “meat” or “meat meal” as an ingredient, then any meat products or leftovers are being put into that food giving an unknown nutritional value.
If the label outright states it contains “animal byproducts,” avoid that cat food. Animal byproducts could be things like cartilage and organs which are okay for cats to eat, but they could also be things like feathers and beaks that serve almost no nutritional value whatsoever.
Look for distinct types of meat being identified by the company. The cat food should be made with turkey, chicken, salmon, etc. That way, you know what is being used in your cat’s food and that they are not only eating animal byproducts. Plus, make sure that the protein source is listed either first or second on the ingredient list to ensure a high percentage of the recipe actually contains meat.
See the chart below for other dos and don’ts of buying cat foods:
When it comes to reading labels, the more you can identify as whole foods, the better. If you can’t identify an ingredient, the chances are it is a preservative or unwanted dye. Finding cat food that is well-balanced with added vitamins, minerals, and probiotics is ideal. Just remember that the first ingredient should always be meat, avoid fillers, and look for whole foods to add nutritional value and natural sources of fiber.
Your Cat’s Age, Activity Level, and Dietary Needs
Beyond reading labels, your cat’s habits, age, and specific dietary needs will come into play. If your cat has a food allergy, this will limit the types of foods you can buy. You may need to discuss options with your veterinarian or even begin making your cat’s food at home.
If your cat has no known allergies, then the next basis for food selection is their age and activity level. If you have a young cat that plays for hours on end, goes for hikes with you, or even likes to swim, you will need a higher calorie food. This may take some trial and error to find the right balance of calories for your cat, but be on the lookout for any changes in weight when you change their food or adjust the amount you’re feeding them.
If you have a kitten, you’ll know that they are full of energy. To fulfill their needs as they grow, they will need specially formulated foods. Foods formulated for kittens will contain DHA (found in fish oil), folic acid, and other nutrients necessary for growth and development and likely have more calories.
Adult cats should eat according to their size and activity level, and senior cats will need foods that contain higher levels of calcium, vitamin E, vitamin C, and omega fatty acids. As your cat ages, their activity level may also decrease. Keep this in mind and alter the amount of food they get daily and the calorie density accordingly.
Dry or Wet Cat Food?
We recommend that you try to feed your cat a variety of foods. Many cat owners prefer the convenience of dry cat food because they can leave it out all day, but this can be problematic because cats often do not drink enough water. Wet cat food can be a great additional source of water for cats. With that in mind, it may be best to feed your cat a combination of both wet and dry foods.
Just as humans do, cats get bored if they are eating the same food every day. Having a few different dry and wet foods to rotate throughout the week will keep your cat interested, and they will likely be getting a better balance of nutrients.
If you feel you’ve found the best of the best cat food on the market, but you only feed your cat that one type of food every day, they may be getting too much or too little certain nutrients. A better option is to find two or three near-perfect cat foods that your cat likes to eat and alternate between them. That way they will be getting a larger range of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibers to keep them happy, healthy, and interested in the food.
Our Cat Food Recommendations
As mentioned above, we recommend feeding your cat a variety of foods. If your budget allows, try to feed your cat three or four types of foods on rotation (including wet and dry foods). However, if that isn’t a possibility, get a well-balanced dry cat food within your budget can be supplemented with high-quality wet cat food a few times a week or just as a meal topper.
Our Favorite Dry Cat Food
Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food is great all-around cat food for adult cats. They have multiple formulas with a wide variety of proteins to choose from, all with limited ingredients to ensure quality nutrition. One stand out thing about the Natural Balance Limited recipes is that the first two ingredients are always green peas and the protein source of that formula (chicken, duck, salmon, or venison).
All of the Limited recipes are grain-free and provide your cat’s daily nutrition of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Our Favorite Wet Cat Food
If you’re a lover of all things organic, Newman’s Own makes some of the best dry and wet cat foods. Newman’s Own Organic Turkey & Liver Dinner won out our favorite wet cat foods by being USDA certified and by having turkey listed as their first ingredient. You can rest assured that Newman’s Own flavors are a hit with cats and that their ingredients are top-notch. They also make sure to include other vital vitamins and minerals essential to cat health, such as the amino acid taurine (aids in heart function).
Best Cat Food for a Tight Budget
Let’s be honest, owning a pet can be expensive. Still, if you’re on a tight budget, you can find quality cat food! Rachel Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food is one of the more affordable cat food options that also will have trustworthy ingredients. You won’t have to worry about animal byproducts or unhealthy fillers like corn or wheat. This recipe does include rice, but rice is a far healthier carbohydrate for cats than other options. Their natural cat food recipes should all contain beet pulp, prebiotics, taurine, and have real meat at the first ingredient.
*As an Amazon and Chewy Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.