What should my cat eat? What is the best brand of cat food out there? How to competently compare cat food? Is the nutrition profile of the cat food I am buying satisfying daily needs and nutritional requirements of my feline companion? There are many unknowns when embarking on a journey of ensuring your pet cat eats only the best and healthiest cat food. We all want what is best for our cats and kittens.
This is why it is important to do at least some basic research since our cats are part of our family, and we only want what’s best for them. We have compiled some guidelines and reviews of top cat food brands below so you can decide more easily.
Catienda Cat Food Advisor – Quick Look Best Cat Food Ranked Per Type
|Dry||Wellness CORE Dry Cat Food|
Grain-Free Chicken-Turkey Meal
|Wet||Nature’s Variety Instinct |
Grain-Free Chicken Cat Food
|Freeze-dried||The Honest Kitchen |
Grain-Free Dehydrated Cat Food
General Facts About Cat Nutrition
To become an expert at choosing healthy cat food, you need to understand what is considered healthy for cats. What kind of nutrients does the cat need daily to stay healthy and satisfied? When you know what makes a good cat nutrition, you can easily pick up any can or bag of cat food, read the label and immediately see if this is something that is good for your cat.
We have actually done this for you and you can also rely on our recommendations – the cat food adviser top list, regarding macro and micronutrients your cat needs to stay happy, healthy and active. Most of these foods we have tested on our own cats. This is where our passion to make this website comes from.
What should cats naturally eat?
Cats, like people have certain dietary requirements that will enable for them to lead healthy and happy lives. Even after thousands of years of domestication, cats are still very much unchanged. Our little hunters have kept their senses and abilities to catch their prey and munch it, just like big cats. They are carnivores which don’t really need vegetables in their diet. They require nutrients found exclusively in animal based diet. Also, cats get water mostly from food, so keep that in mind as we examine the types of cat food you can buy for your cat.
Which nutrients do cats need to be healthy – how much protein, fat or carbohydrates should cats eat?
With a strictly animal based diet, it is easy to have an idea of which macronutrients are pillars of cat diet. In this case, providing your cat with a lot of protein and fat is the way to go. Other than protein and fat, the third macronutrient are carbohydrates, or more popular carbs. We find them in leafy vegetables, starchy vegetables and in lot of human foods like bread and pasta.
Cats do not need carbs as other species, they have bodies that easily use fat and protein for energy since they can synthesise glucose from amino acid. Carbs can be beneficial, but non-essential, as fibers. Some would say cats are on keto diet, which has become popular in recent years. So, question is – how much of each type of nutrient do they need. We established they are not in great need of carbs, but how much fat and protein?
Protein for cats
Cats cannot decrease their level of protein digesting enzymes in the lower intestines according to the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, so they need a protein rich food. Enzymes are agents in body that aid with food digestion, by breaking down nutrients, like protein, into amino acids so they can be absorbed by the body.
Crude protein in cat food can come from various sources, but it is important that it has a complete profile of 10 essential amino acids which cats cannot create on their own. Amino acids are building blocks of protein, and as the protein is broken down in the body of a cat, various amino acids are utilized differently by the body. High quality animal protein will be the best source of amino acids for your cat. Deficiencies of the essential amino acids can cause health problems for cats.
National Research Council uses arginine as an example. It is one of amino acids and it is used by the cat’s body to remove ammonia. Deficiency of arginine will cause build-up of ammonia in the blood vessels. Similarly, deficiency of another amino acid, taurine, can lead to problems such as blindness, deafness or heart failure. It can be found in rodents and many fish, but not really in plants. This just highlights how important is to ensure your cat gets protein from good animal sources.
Fats and fatty acids in cat food
While in human world, fats have often undeservingly been vilified, fats are essential part of cat diet. First, they are a major energy supplier. One gram of fat carries twice as much energy than a gram of protein or carbohydrates. In addition to the energy they supply, fats also help to regulate hormone production and help with absorption of certain kinds of vitamins in the body of a cat.
Fatty acids make up chains we call fats. Short-chain fatty acids are used for energy, saturated fatty acids store energy, essential fatty acids are used for hormonal substances while polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids bring energy and create membrane structures of cells. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are the most popular fatty acids. While there’s little evidence Omega-3 brings benefits to cats, it can improve skin and coat condition of the fur. Omega-6 are used mainly for reproduction function.
Carbohydrates in cat nutrition
As mentioned, carbs are not essential for cats, however, they can be digested up to certain point. They can be used by cats as fuel or as dietary fiber source. Sugars, which are also carbohydrates can cause diarrhoea if ingested in excess. Cats can digest lactose when little, but the enzyme lactase, used for digestion disappears after they stop ingesting their mother’s milk. Fun fact: cats do not have functional taste receptors for sugar.
Vitamins and minerals essential for cat’s health
Vitamins come from vital “amine”, meaning vital for life. They influence all the systems in a body of a cat. Here is an overview of the vitamins and what are their key functions
Fat soluble vitamins can cause health issues if consumed in excess, unlike the water soluble vitamins. More common are deficiencies stemming from bad cat food which does not cover the requirements. One example is vitamin A deficiency, which can cause eye problems with cats, among others. Vitamin K deficiency can result in skin, nasal and cerebral bleeding since this vitamin enables blood clotting.
Minerals in cat food
The inorganic compounds like calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and others are also necessary for various functions in cat’s health – from skin and coat health, to bone strength and acidic balance.
Vegan or vegetarian cat food
Many owners would love to feed their cats vegan or vegetarian food, very often for ethical reasons. They must understand that cats require certain nutrients (like taurine) they cannot get from such food, so it is important they check food for supplementation. To read more about vegan and vegetarian food for cats, please scroll below to that section or see top 5 best vegan food options for cats. Please see table below to see micronutrients which are necessary for cats and their health in a balanced diet.
What do experts and veterinarians recommend?
The amount of crude protein cats should eat is at least 26% of the total food, as recommended by the vets and the AAFCO. The rest minimum recommended is crude fat – 9% on dry matter basis, water and micronutrients. For micronutrients, it is important you ensure most of them are listed, but it is impractical to follow the labels just to establish the amounts of each. Ensuring the source of the fat and protein as well as their amount, will for most be enough to reach the amino acid, fatty acid, vitamin and mineral targets.
Please note, that due to the fact that AAFCO recommendations are made on dry matter basis, to see if your food satisfies the requirement, it might involve a little calculation. But don’t worry, we did these, so you don’t have to. If you insist, the detailed procedure is below in te section on reading the nutritional labels.
What is AAFCO and Where Can You Find AAFCO Certified Cat Food?
AAFCO is Association of American Feed Control Officials. It is not some regulatory body that enforces rules on pet food, but a group with a goal to provide information to manufacturers on the regulatory environment and “assist them in creating proper labels for their products”, as it states on the website. All manufacturers are still obliged to respect the rules set by their respective states. AAFCO sets the standards for nutrients in the pet food.
AAFCO will not test the food, nor will they certify it. They have established standards and you as an informed buyer should still make sure to check if these are respected. You can find these standards in greater detail in their nutritional profiles publication. The manufacturer of the food will inform you on the packaging that the cat food meets AAFCO standards.
What is the best nutrition profile for kitten food?
Kittens are adorable and playful – and they need and like to chow. Your kitten will grow very fast. In the first several weeks it will rapidly add weight, somewhat slower after 6 – 7 months. Most kittens reach their mature weight at about a year, except with some big breeds like Maine Coon where it takes about 18 months. This means that kittens need even more food than grown cats. You have to give them enough fuel for growth and play.
- AAFCO recommends about 30% of dry matter in protein, which is more than with adult cats.
- Overall more calories – feed your kitten calorie dense food for growing cats
- Ensure they have omega fatty acids, DHA, also
- Vitamins like vitamin E and selenium for immunity
- Minerals like calcium and phosphorus for bone growth
You want to feed your kitten wet food. Slowly introduce dry foods as they grow for them to get used to variety of food. Don’t add supplements to a diet that is already labelled as complete and balanced. Consistently giving your grown cat kitten food can make it fat due to simple fact that it is more calorie dense.
How much should my cat eat to stay healthy?
APOP – Association for Pet Obesity Prevention recommends about 180-200 kcal for active cats. These are just approximate figures and the true maintenance levels depend generally on activity, genetics, environment. Read our article about the cat food for obese pets to find out if your cat needs a special cat food and diet.
Read the instructions on the packaging to see how to feed your cat using the product you bought.
How many times per day should I feed my cat?
Cats eat several times per day so you can divide their meals to up to 6 times a day. Especially kittens will require several meals per day.
Indoor vs Outdoor Cat Nutrition
Indoor cats usually get less activity so the owners must take greater care to either track their weight and preferably set a daily activity program. This is crucial so your favorite feline does not become a giant ball of fur, lazily slouching on the couch. Spending time with your cat has been proven to benefit humans as well – it can lower stress.
Cats that have access to the garden and are free to roam around are more likely to engage in activity like hunting or playing simply by taking part in the natural environment. They require more energy and will probably need more food than indoor cats. In any case, there is less need to monitor calories with pets that play outside. however, be mindful of their diet and other risks that lurk in the nature.
Check these infographics in order to try to assess your cat’s body condition
AAFCO Approved Cat Food: How to choose the best food for your cat?
Now you have an idea what constitutes good diet for felines. You have learnt they need a lot of protein and fat. The nutrients have to come from animal sources preferably because they are more likely to include everything your cat needs. Cats also get most of their water from the moisture in the food. This indicates that you have to be mindful of supplying water in case your cat prefers dry food. There are AAFCO guidelines to follow, they seem to be the standard in the industry. We have already mentioned – one can find a note “AAFCO statement” on the products saying that the food is complete and balanced, that it fulfills AAFCO standards and how it was tested.
To read more about types of tests to confirm AAFCO standards on the food and understand which one is the best, read the AAFCO Standards cat food test guide.
General guidelines when choosing the best, healthiest and most nutritious cat food
Based on the info we collected we have compiled a quick checklist to improve your cat food choosing skills
- wet foods might be easier since they are closer to the natural food and include moisture
- choose food with high content of meat – animal protein
- carbs are not required in the cat diet so you can skip food that includes grains – go grain free
- the same goes for other carbohydrates in cat food
- try to choose one that is labelled as “complete and balanced” according to guidelines from AAFCO
- skim the nutrition label to recognize some important micronutrients such as Vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids and minerals
- avoid giving your cats food that contains onions, chocolate, dog food
- if using vegan cat food make sure nutritional needs are fulfilled
- if you cook/prepare homemade cat food, make sure to use receipts from a veterinary nutritionist
For more information read the article written by Sherry Lynn Sanderson , BS, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, from University of Georgia. Below, we will go deeper in the questions that concern reading the cat food label correctly, assessing the best cat brands and ultimately deciding which food to buy.
Overall, what is important to note about the cat food overall is that the Federal Drug and Cosmetic Act requires it to be wholesome and without harmful substances. It has to be labelled in a way that is truthful and not misleading.
How to read the nutritional label on the pet food?
Now that you have at least an idea of the nutrients cats need and some general guidelines regarding selecting the best food for your cat, its time to actually try to decipher how it looks in the real life. You do want to be able to select the cat food that will ensure your cat is healthy and avoids deficiencies, while staying normal weight.
Nutritional labels on pet food have several key information areas to focus on. Before you dive into the nutrition, just be observant of the label and the weight. In order to make comparisons between different foods, you need to make them on some unit of weight. Then compare against the price.
General packaging of pet food
Don’t forget, while the general labelling of the product and the design are marketing activities with goal of luring you into buying that brand of cat food, they still cannot write misleading statement. Here are some general practices in cat food packaging labels if:
- the product packaging states the cat food is made with beef, then that ingredient has to be 95% of the dry mass of the food.
- more ingredients are listed, then these ingredients have to be the ones with the biggest share of the dry food mass.
- the product name on the package states it’s a “Turkey formula” or “Salmon Entrée” or something similar, then Turkey and salmon respectively have to be the 25% of the formulation at least.
- the food is not “complete and balanced” then it will be labelled differently – like if it was a supplement
What else can you find on the cat food packaging (from FDA):
- Product Name
- Net Quantity Statement
- Manufacturer’s Name and Address
- Ingredient List
- Guaranteed Analysis
- Nutritional Adequacy Statement
- Feeding Directions
- Calorie Statement
- Other Label Claims
Reading the ingredients list on the cat food
List of ingredients usually is next to the guaranteed analysis on the package. It shows the main ingredients, starting with the ingredient with the biggest share and progressing to the one with the least share.
You would want to see meat in the top since then you know most of your cat food is derived from animal sources. This is good indication, but does not guarantee the best nutritional values since its preferred to compare foods by the dry matter basis.
Other than “food-like” substances, ingredients can include artificial coloring, stabilizes and preservatives. All these are GRAS or “Generally recognized as safe”. The weird sounding chemical names are in many case vitamins and minerals so don’t listen to uneducated organic bloggers claiming “everything you cannot pronounce you should not eat”. Its just not true.
See example of list of ingredients on the picture. Read our in depth article about ingredients in cat food.
Reading the Cat Food Nutritional Label – the Guaranteed Analysis
Guaranteed analysis is probably the most important part of the food labelling system. This is the information you want to check to see if it complies to the standards we outlined before. Remember, you are interesting to providing the best source (seen in ingredients list) of protein and fat for your cat.
But you also want to have the correct amounts and also to assess how large are the shares of other nutrients like carbs or fiber. You also want to see the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Guaranteed analysis will show you this.
Here’s an example of one nutrition label for a cat food – a guaranteed analysis showing minimum or maximum amounts of certain nutrients as estimated by the manufacturer.
Now you can see the nutrient profile of the cat food product. How can you assess if the product has at least 26% dry matter protein share and at least 9% of the same?
The guaranteed analysis lists products “as is”. Not like AAFCO. So if you do not see the AAFCO Statement below (meanwhile all the food has it) and you want your cats to have best nutritional profile possible (most protein and fat + vitamins and minerals), you will need to calculate shares based on dry matter yourself.
Calculating dry matter shares is not hard.
You need to divide protein (40%) with (100% – 12% moisture) to get dry matter share.
So, its 40 / (100-12) = 45.45% protein share which is pretty good.
Now to calculate the fat: 16 / (100/12) = 18.18%
This is pretty good. We also see little fiber – meaning carbs, but that is not much.
Next we see linoleic acid, phosphorus, vitamins and taurine. So far so good – all ingredients you want in your food and only a little carbs.
How to compare nutrition labels on dry vs. wet food for cats
From the share of the moisture, we would conclude this is dry food. Wet food will have a much larger share of moisture. In this case, don’t get fooled by potentially low share of protein and fat. The big share of moisture, the total dry matter mass will be lower, so the share of proteins in it might be much higher. This is important to remember when comparing best dry cat food to best wet cat food.
Does cat food nutrition differ among cat breeds?
You will encounter many cat food products that claim to be specifically curated nutritionally for certain cat breeds. In many cases this is just a marketing ploy. While one cannot state that there are no differences among breeds, all cat foods must conform to the minimal standards and all breed nutrition will not harm your Siamese cat because its not a breed-specific formula.
Especially avoid cat food that claims that the ingredients are coming from where the cat breed originated. Blueberry pancakes might not be the best selection for your Maine Coon, no matter how she might be missing “the old country”. You can stick to regular cat food provided you follow the advice we outlined above in our cat food guidelines.
Many cat breeds suffer from various types of illnesses, so while their diet does not have to differ from the general guidelines by AAFCO, in certain cases, if genetic disorders or health complications surface, its best to consult your veterinarian about which food is appropria
Best cat food brands with the highest quality ingredients
Armed with the knowledge about appropriate nutrient profiles, you are ready to check any type of cat food and choose the best for your pet. As mentioned, we have done this for you. Consider us your cat food advisor, sifting through brands, seeing how our own cats respond to the products and giving rating for the best and worst cat food out there.
There are thousands of pet food products on the market. Considering the fact that cats are the most popular pets, it’s easy to understand that cat food likely makes huge chunk of that pet food market in the US, but also around the globe. Global pet food market size is projected to hit almost $99 billion by 2022. One has to have the tools to compare and choose healthy and nutritious food brands and products for their little or big felines.
Types of Cat Food on The Market
Two main categories of cat food products are fairly obvious – its dry and wet food. Most people will choose between these two categories first. Other types of cat food mostly include sub-categories that target specific needs, or just seem like the best marketing technique to sell cat food. On the other hand, some types of food are favored, like grain-free cat food, because cats don’t require carbs, remember?
Dry Cat Food Brands – How to Pick the Quality Brands and Products
Dry cat food usually comes in form of the dry kibble. It is very popular because it is durable and practical, for the owners. This type of cat food products contains about 8 – 12% moisture. This is why it’s called “dry” – since its produced in a process which removes moisture from the food.
Take a look at our cat food advisor quality dry foods for cats list to spend less time researching:
|Blue Buffalo Wilderness Indoor |
Chicken Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
|42%||16%||magnesium, taurine, omega 3|
omega 6, 7% fibre
|Cat Chow Naturals Indoor with |
Chicken & Turkey Dry Cat Food
|43%||10%||taurine, linoleic acid, calcium, |
phosphorus, vitamin A and E
|Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Adult |
Chicken Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
|35%||15%||magnesium, taurine, omega 3|
omega 6, 7% fibre
Dry food is made when prepared ingredients are heated to thicken and then are run through a process called extrusion. You can see example of extrusion machine here. It’s the process of producing the dry kibble.
In many cases dry cat food will have more additional ingredients which are used to achieve its consistency as we know it. These additional ingredients can be starch ingredients, proteinaceous adhesives and others. This can increase the amount of carbohydrates, so make sure to carefully check the guaranteed analysis when shopping for the premium dry food. It should obviously have less of these additional ingredients and more of protein and animal fat.
Remember your cat gets the water from the food, so, while dry food might be practical for you, your cat might miss water. Make sure to add a plate with water next to the food, especially if you have an indoor cat which does not roam around and get a chance to drink water in the nature. Read more in our article about dry food and how to choose the best dry kibble.
Wet Cat Food – How to Pick the Quality Brands and Products
Wet cat food differs from the dry type of cat food by having more moisture. The moisture in wet cat food reaches 78% and thus provides water for your cat. This type of cat food is usually the type of canned food, but new technologies have enabled it to be packaged in other types of containers, like pouches or trays. Ingredients are mixed and added to the container which is eventually sealed.
The regulatory requirements for wet food packaging are the same as for human food. Unlike dry food, you have to be careful with wet foods. They can spoil after they are opened once so make sure to keep them in a cool place and leave just enough for your cat so that the food does not go bad in the bowl. Many owners prefer wet cat food since it contains moisture and feels less processed than the dry food which is technically correct.
In our experience as cat owners, we have had bot cats which prefered dry food to wet food, and also cats which preferred the wet food. Cats are creatures of habit and as you may read in many places, sometimes they can be picky eaters.
Best vegan / vegetarian cat food
Vegan and vegetarian cat food does exist despite the fact that cats are exclusive carnivores. Protein in such foods can come from plant sources, same as fats. Where the issues mostly lie are deficient micronutrients like amino acids which are only available in the meat. If you are choosing the most nutritious and healthy vegan cat food, you must pay attention to these and other nutrients which are not available in the plant based diet. Many vegans have made mistake of trying to create homemade vegan food for their cats. Our advice is to avoid this and make sure to buy vegan and vegetarian cat food that ensures complete and balanced nutrition according to AAFCO.
While your cat’s natural meat-based nutrition might not conform to your ethical beliefs, you can rest assured that you can provide nourishment to your cat without violating what you believe in. We have compiled best vegan/ vegetarian cat food list so you can immediately find high quality product here
Best Organic Cat Food
Organic cat food is also available. AAFCO uses the USDA certification to identify the sourcing of the ingredients ensuring they are all organic. Organic labeling is not just some marketing ploy since it is heavily regulated and requires certification and oversight. Now, nothing is stopping you from providing the healthiest and highest quality organic cat food to your cat anymore.
We have found a list of brands which provide not just high end organic food for cats, but are also affordable.
Best Raw Cat Food
Raw cat food makes sense by simply examining the natural diet of cats. They are carnivore hunters. We also know that cats have gone little changed since they essentially domesticated themselves some thousands of years ago. This means that raw food is their natural food. You can’t really imagine cats cooking rodents and other prey after they catch them, unless it’s a very brutal cartoon.
Even with this info, you should be careful when trying to move your cat to raw food. It can be that it just is not used to it and it might take some time. Have patience. Knowing about their eating habits, it can also happen your cat refuses such food simply because it does not like the taste. There are also risks of the food carrying pathogens which in some cases can be more dangerous to human family members than cats themselves.
The so called BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) are available from commercial sources and are usually frozen or dry frozen to minimize the risks we mentioned. It can be somewhat more expensive than other types of cat food, but as long as it keeps your cat happy and healthy, you might want to consider it.
_Below you can find a list of best raw cat food brands we have selected
Homemade raw cat food
While you will find may recipes online on the homemade cat food, especially if you want to serve it quality raw food, many cat food advisors agree sticking with the commercial offers. Some reasons include time, nutrient requirements and generally management of the food. Nutritional value was top of our concern when issuing the recommendation not to make your own food. A study was conducted which analysed BARF recipes and found that most of them are not nutritionally balanced, usually not including or including too much of vitamins and minerals.
Best cat food for smelly poop
With cats the smell can really be an issue. Many pet owners believe that they can influence the smells by using the food they serve to their cats. The issue of excrement is the issue of what is digested and how, and what is not digested. So the food can be a big factor. Lowest hanging fruit that worked for us was switching from dry to wet food. It seems introducing more moisture in the food eases the digestion. Dry food farts our cats were making were like nuclear disaster in the house. Something had to be done!
Best High Protein Cat Food
We have spent more than enough space in this article to explain the importance of protein for cats. This fact has lead many manufacturers to create high protein foods for cats. The aim is to avoid any type of deficiency that might occur due to the fact that the cat is not getting enough protein or that the amino acid profile is incomplete. For these kind of food make sure to check ingredients (how is protein sourced) and the amoino acid profile, to make sure all the important amino acids are there.
Other resources about cat food
Read our articles which detail cat food and nutrition facts and the science behind feeding your cat properly. We have been cat owners for more than 15 years and have had several cats during that time. They all have their own character and in many cases their own feeding habits. While picking any of the rcommended foods from our lists will suffice, read the following articles to dig deeper and find out more. Always observe and “listen” to your cat in order to provide it with the food it finds tasty, too!