Print Choosing Cat Food: What You Should Know

Good nutrition is as important to your cat's health as it is to your own. But her nutritional needs are quite different from yours. While a human diet should be high-fiber and low fat, a cat needs a high-fat diet—for energy and a thick, luxurious coat—and less fiber—for good intestinal health. Even if you prefer a vegetarian diet, cats will not thrive on meatless meals. Domestic cats are carnivores, just like their big cat cousins, and require animal protein and animal fat for a healthy digestive tract. Cats also need carbohydrates for energy.

Match Cats’ Life Stage and Lifestyle to Their Cat Food

With thousands of different pet foods available, how do you pick the one that's right for your cat?

Start by identifying the cat's life stage and lifestyle. Kittens, nursing mothers, and senior pets are examples of life stages. And each life stage has different nutritional requirements. All cat foods must state which life stage they are recommended for.

Nutritional needs also vary depending on lifestyle. A cat whose primary activity is guarding the couch doesn't need as much energy as one who prowls the neighborhood.

Finally, it is important to take into account any special medical condition your cat may have, such as food allergies, that requires a special diet recommended by your veterinarian.

Dry or Canned Cat Food?

Once you've determined your cat's life stage and lifestyle needs, you need to decide whether to feed dry or canned food. Most cats thrive eating only dry food. Dry foods promote oral hygiene for healthy teeth and gums through abrasive action. Some cats, especially finicky eaters, enjoy canned food with its smooth and wet texture.

It's important to remember that while dry food can be left in a bowl all day, canned food should be thrown away after 30 minutes if not consumed. Therefore, dry food is the best choice for busy people who are not normally home during the day.

Once you know your pet's nutritional needs and your pet's preference, you are ready to go shopping.

Comparing Cat Food Labels

Ingredients are listed in descending order, according to weight. Because cats need meat, it's best to pick a food in which the first ingredient is an animal-based protein source, such as chicken and chicken by-product meal, lamb, lamb meal, fish meal, or egg. These ingredients contain a full complement of essential amino acids, such as taurine, which isn't found in vegetable-based protein sources such as soybean meal or corn gluten meal.

Scientific studies show that using a combination of carbohydrates in the diet, such as corn meal or barley and grain sorghum, offers optimal carbohydrate digestibility and helps maintain energy levels.

Scientific studies also show that beet pulp—the material remaining after sugar is extracted from sugar beets—is an excellent fiber source and promotes a healthy digestive tract.

For a soft, luminous coat and healthy skin, your pet needs an adjusted ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Good fat sources include chicken fat and fish meal.

Choose a Quality Cat Food

Cat food labels provide limited information regarding the nutritional value of the food because labeling regulations do not allow manufacturers to describe the quality of ingredients on the package.

Price Comparison for Cat Food Isn’t Always Valuable

Low price may indicate inexpensive ingredients, or ingredients that change as market prices fluctuate.

In addition, many lower-priced products require higher daily portions to provide the same amount of nutrition found in a high-quality diet. To get a better representation of cost, it is the cost per feeding, not the total cost, that counts.

To figure cost per feeding, divide the total cost by the number of days the product lasts. For example, a 20-lb bag of food costs $18.99 and lasts 30 days. The cost to feed is $0.63 per day. A 20-lb bag of food that costs $15.99 and lasts 20 days costs $0.80 per day. Therefore, when costs are analyzed properly, high-quality pet foods compare quite favorably to other brands while offering outstanding nutrition.

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