Cat food – A complete Guide to cat nutrition

Domestic cats have become dependent on their owners to feed them, no longer relying on their instincts to hunt and eat their prey, mostly hunting now just for the fun of it. 

Cats are born true carnivores and rely on the nutrients from animal meat to survive and thrive, therefore they have specific requirements for their diet, and, as we studied and learned more about our feline friends over the years, the pet food manufacturers developed more types of foods specifically formulated just for cats that meet all their nutritional needs.

cat foods in supermarket

Most commercial cat food that you can buy in stores is either kibble (dry cat food) or wet food that comes in cans or pouches. Recently cat owners prefer to feed their cats a raw diet and for this, more frozen raw or freeze-dried raw products are appearing on the market. Or, if you have the time and resources you can try and make homemade cat food, also cooked or raw. 

But what kind of cat food should you feed your cat when there is such a vast variety to choose from?

In this article, you will get all the answers you need about cat nutrition, and by following our table of content you will find all the information you need to know when it comes to cat food.

Kibble, wet, raw, or homemade?

different types of cat food

There has always been a debate among cat lovers of which type of food is the best for their cats, but there is no considerate evidence that just one type of food is superior to the other as all types have their pros and cons, but we are starting to believe that a canned cat food diet is key to a healthy feline life, and I will tell you why later.

Firstly, I am going to go ahead and explain to you every type of cat food out there, pointing out the pros and cons of them, so you can choose by yourself the cat food that is the healthiest for your cat and also good for your budget. 

But, if your cat suffers from any illness and requires a special kind of diet, it is always best to consult a vet about your cat’s particular dietary needs, although don’t let them serve you with some sponsored commercial cat foods.

To have an idea about cat nutrition, next I will explain what are the main nutrient groups needed in a cat’s diet and what roles they play in your cat’s nutrition.

And later on, in the ‘Reading the cat food label’ section of the article, I summarized all the essential nutrients in a cat’s diet, explained them one by one, and their necessary amount in cat food recommended by AAFCO.

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Understanding cat nutrition

There are plenty of things you need to consider when deciding which diet is the best for your cat but it is good to know that the most nutritious cat food will always have animal protein as the first and main ingredient, accompanied by lots of animal fats, minerals & vitamins, and less, or preferably no plant-based carbohydrates at all

  1. Protein – proteins are fundamental in a cat’s nutrition mandatory in the maintenance and support of muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. Proteins help the proper function of enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and plasma proteins. Proteins are made out of amino acids, about 30 in total, but only 11 are essential and must be always found in cat food and these are Taurine, Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. 
Piece of advice:
Good cat food should include the amino acids Taurine and Arginine, as cats can’t synthesize them and need to consume them from animal-based proteins (fresh meat). These are essential nutrients for your cat’s health and well-being and without them, cats can go blind or suffer heart damage and even death. 
  1. Water – water is the most important nutrient of all animal nutrition that sustains life and good overall body function. Water metabolizes nutrients and distributes them correctly in the body, helps eliminate toxins (through urine, perspiration), and maintains temperature. A cat’s body tissues consist of about 67% water and cats get most of the water intake they need from the food they consume, so foods with higher moisture content are more beneficial for your cat, as cats tend to don’t drink too much water. 
  1. Fatty acids – the fats are essential in providing energy in the feline body and so rendering carbohydrates unnecessary in cat nutrition. Fats maintain a cat’s body temperature, provide energy and absorb fat-soluble vitamins like D, E, A, and K carrying to the cells of the body. With foods not providing enough fatty acids cats will be more prone to infections, undergrowth, inactivity, and dry hair with possible flakiness (dandruff).  Healthy cat food should contain between 20-40% fat of the total daily caloric intake.
  1. Minerals – minerals are inorganic substances essential to all animals, just like vitamins, and they support the production of enzymes and the structure of tissues, transport oxygen to cells, regulate the pH balance (acid-base balance), and the careful utilization of nutrients in the body. Minerals considered essential to your cat’s health are Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, and Chloride, Phosphorus, Copper, Zinc, and Iodine.
  1. Vitamins – vitamins are organic essential micronutrients that a cat’s body needs for the proper functioning of its metabolism, supporting its growth and development, and boosting immunity. Cats cannot synthesize vitamins, either at all or not in an adequate amount so they must get it from their diet. 
Vitamin capsules

There are two types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins, D, E, A, and K,  are processed by the body and stored in fat cells, so they can be released in the body for a longer period of time. The water-soluble vitamins are the B Complex (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, B-12) and Vitamin C, these organic molecules must dissolve in water before they can be used by the body, and they can not be stored in the organism so they must be refilled more frequently than the fat-soluble vitamins. 

Cat food contains all the vitamin requirements either by using whole foods like meat and fish or by adding synthetic vitamins in the case of the kibble after the natural ones have been lost in the cooking process. 

CarbohydratesCarbs are not essential in a cat’s diet, but as added ingredients in many types of cat foods, the carb sources are normally pre-treated to ease digestion and absorption into the cat’s body. Carbs normally come from grains and vegetables, and the most used ones in cat foods are wheat, rice, potatoes, and other starchy legumes, so they are composed primarily of starches, which makes them more important for food processing as binding agents than for the actual nutrition of cats.

Did you know? Cats unlike other animals lack the enzymes needed to digest carbs, and diets with considerable amounts of carbohydrates often lead to feline diabetes and obesity, so a cat’s diet should be a high animal protein diet, with moderate fat and low carbohydrates.  

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Dry cat food

Cat dry food or kibble is a mix of crunchy little pieces of food your cat likes to munch on, no surprise as it contains food additives and taste enhancers that can make your cat addicted to it. It comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Dry food is said to provide your cat with the appropriate nutrition and is fed exclusively or combined with other types of cat food to millions of kitties around the world. 

But that does not make it ideal for your cat. From all the cat food types the kibble is considered the “junk food” of feline nutrition as it is not optimized for a cat’s healthy diet containing a big amount of carbohydrates that cats can not naturally digest and is often associated with health issues like obesity and diabetes.

Dry cat food

The main ingredients of dry cat food are meat, grains, vegetables, and starches, to which are added vitamins and minerals that are lost in the cooking process. 

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The ‘pros’ of dry cat food:

  • Nutritionally complete and balanced – your cat won’t die if it eats kibble and it’s okay if that’s what you can afford, just make sure you get the highest quality dry cat food your budget allows! You can find different varieties of kibbles refined just for kittens, senior cats, sterilized cats, cats with allergies, or certain health conditions ( diabetic, kidney problems, etc.), but a good dry cat food can normally be fed through all lifestages of a cat as it contains all the necessary nutrients and is high in protein.
  • It’s convenient – you can find it with ease in any supermarket – if it’s a commercial brand! If you are looking for high quality dry cat food you will more likely find it online or in pet shops!
  • Can have dental benefits? – MITH! – dry cat food, depending on the kibble texture can help reduce tartar and plaque by scraping off the teeth, but it might not reach all the tooth surfaces.” – Actually kibble is shaped so small that cats usually don’t even chew their dry food but rather swallow it whole, providing no dental benefits for your cat! Because so many companies are advertising dry food as a perfect way for cleaning a cats teeth many cat owners do not brush their cats teeth and the sugars added in the dry food provide an ideal enviroment for oral bacteria to grow.
  • Low prices – the cheapest of all other types of cat food, no wonder, as some dry cat foods barely contain the necessary amount of animal protein!
  • Allows free-feeding – the food can be left out for longer periods of time (some owners find this option good for their very busy lifestyle) but is very bad for cats as it is one of the main reasons for feline obesity.
  • Can be used in food dispensers and cat food puzzles.
  • Easy to store.
kibble cat food
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The cons of dry cat food:

  • Harder to digest – dry cat food is extremely high heat processed and it requires fillers (starches) to hold it together, and so it likely to contain less animal-based protein and more plant-based making it harder for your cat to digest
  • Can lead to diabetes – the high carbohydrate content in dry cat food fills your cat’s blood stream with unnecessary sugars that your cat would not get from a high-protein meat-based diet.
  • It can be addictive – if the dry food is sprayed with palatability enhancers (fats) your cat can get addicted to a type of kibble and it can be hard to switch it to another type of healthy cat food.
  • Causes obesity – dry food is dense in nutrients and fed too much of it, or using free feeding with your cats can make your cat gain more weight.
  • Cause dehydration – dry food contains less moisture (8 – 10%) and more sodium (salt) than other foods and cats that do not consume enough water on a dry food diet may develop urinary health problems.
  • Considered the “junk food” of feline nutrition.
water and kibble bowls
Piece of advice:
If you choose to feed your cat a dry food diet, make sure you get the best quality high protein kibble you can afford and provide fresh water for your cat daily. Glass bowls are always better as they do not retain smells like plastic ones, and also cats like to see the water level, that’s why they always paw their water before they drink it.

Felines also prefer to drink water away from their food source as in the wild if the water source would be close to their prey it could get contaminated from the dead animal.

For cats that like to drink water from moving sources like your kitchen or bathroom sink, it is beneficial to consider getting a cat water fountain to motivate your kitty to drink more water, preferably a glass or ceramic one.
cat facts water intake
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How is dry cat food made?

Depending on the pet food manufacturer, all the ingredients used in a cat’s dry food recipe (meat, grains, vegetables, and starches), both raw and dried (after grinding), are combined in a mixer with water and a preconditioner until they blend into a dough-like paste. The paste is then transferred to an extruder (a machine similar to a large meat grinder) and is cooked under high temperature and pressure. Once cooked the mixture is pushed through a shaping knife and cut into small pieces of different shapes. 

After extrusion and the cutting process, the kibbles still contain too much moisture so they are transferred to an oven to bake and dry. Once out of the oven the kibbles are coated with flavor enhancers and preservatives, including some vitamins and minerals vital for your cat’s health that are lost in the cooking process, ensuring that cats would not have nutritional deficiencies. Reducing the moisture is important in maintaining the kibble fresh and lasting longer in the packaging in which it will be stored, preventing spoilage. 

Certain nutrients, including many vitamins and amino acids, are degraded by the temperatures, pressures, and chemical treatments used during manufacture, and hence must be added after manufacture to avoid nutritional deficiency.

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Wet cat food

This type of cat food comes in a considerable variety of flavors, textures, and shapes and can be packaged in cans, pouches, and trays as pate, mouse, meat chunks, or shredded meat in sauces, gravies, and jelly. It can also be age-appropriate ( kitten or senior) and formulated for cats with special sensitivities. 

wet cat food - canned food for cats

Most cats like wet food more because its texture resembles what they would eat in the wild and also smells more appealing than dry food. 

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The pros of wet cat food:

  • More natural nutrition – wet food is less processed than kibble and cooked at lower temperatures retaining more nutrients naturally.
  • Higher quality ingredients – most canned foods are not made from by-products (rendered waste animal parts not used in human consumption like lungs, kidneys, etc.). In some manufacturer’s recipes, you can even see the real chunks of the chosen meat (chicken, duck, beef, fish, rabbit, and so on).
  • More animal-based protein – wet food doesn’t require starches or fillers to be held together so they contain fewer carbohydrates.
  • Helps the water intake – because it contains up to 6 times more moisture than kibble, your cat has a greater daily intake of water helping prevent bladder infections and other urinary tract issues especially in neutered cats. 
  • Lower in calories – an ideal type of food for cats that are considered overweight, helping with weight loss and weight control. 
  • Allows easy eating – kittens and senior cats who have lost some teeth and can’t chew properly, or cats with sensitive stomachs can benefit from the high moisture content of canned wet food and can consume it with ease. 
  • Helps with digestion –  the increased moisture content makes digestion easier than the dense kibble and also can reduce hairballs. 
wet cat food
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The cons of wet cat food:

  • It goes bad quickly–  once opened, depending on the preservatives used by the manufacturer, wet cat food usually spoils easily and can’t be consumed if left out more than thirty minutes or it can upset your cat’s stomach.
  • Leftovers must be refrigerated or frozen to keep fresh – if you open a can of wet cat food, all the leftovers must be refrigerated as instructed or transferred to a small food container and frozen, but most cats don’t find warmed up wet food appealing and will not eat it (to warm up refrigerated wet food you can stir in some hot water, or if the leftovers are frozen you can place the container/bag in lukewarm water).
  • More expensive – costs more than dry food. 
  • Provides less energy per portion – wet food is not as calorie-dense as kibble so kitties on a wet food-only diet will have to eat more to have the same energy levels as a cat on a dry food diet.
Piece of advice:
When you choose your wet cat food take into consideration your cat’s meat preferences and the texture they like to chew on more. Some cats might like pate over chunks in gravy. 

Also, be aware of the gravy-based recipes as they might contain starches to form the gravy.
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How is wet cat food made?

Wet cat food is made by mixing all the ingredients and then put in their designed packaging items, either cans, trays, or pouches. The animal-based protein ingredients can be fresh or frozen and depending on the recipe, they may be chopped and added directly or minced, mixed with dry ingredients ( cereals), formed into ribbons, and then cut into chunks of different shapes. Other ingredients used in wet cat food can be fats, vitamins and minerals, grains and vegetables, and of course water. During the mixing process, thickening agents and extra flavors will also be added for the forming of gravy or jelly. Once the desired packaging (can, tray or pouches) in which the recipe is transferred is hermetically sealed it enters the cooking process that varies in temperature and time of cooking from recipe to recipe. 

Yes, you’ve read that right, the wet food is cooked inside the can, tray, or pouch that it will be stored in! This process prevents losing important minerals in the cooking process, avoids fast spoilage of the content, stores more moisture, and also optimizes the taste of the wet food. After cooking, the products are cooled and for the cans, a label is added, as they do not have the label imprinted on them before the cooking process as trays and pouches do.  

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Raw cat food 

Raw cat food is unprocessed and fed uncooked or partially cooked to your cat, mimicking the prey that she would eat if caught in the wild. There are two types of commercial complete and balanced raw cat foods, frozen raw or freeze-dried raw and it comes in sausage-like tubes, patties, medallions, and nuggets.

cat eating raw meat

The frozen raw diet is mainly made of ground raw meat and is the highest in the protein of all cat foods that you can buy, ideal for the little carnivores, especially because it has intercellular moisture proven so healthy for cats. 

The freeze-dried raw diet is easier to store than the raw frozen food and provides almost as many benefits as the frozen raw type. The only thing that is missing is the intercellular moisture, so you should rehydrate it in water or bone broth before feeding it to your cat.

The raw foods are frozen or freeze-dried to reduce pathogenic bacteria and some add ground bone or bone meal for more calcium intake. 

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The pros of raw cat food:

  • High moisture content – contains natural intercellular moisture that helps with urinary tract problems and the overall daily water intake.
  • More natural nutrients – because it is minimally unprocessed raw diets provide more natural nutrients that are usually lost in making kibble and even wet food.
  • Helps with stool odor and volume –  who doesn’t want less smelly poops right?
  • Less quantity of food needed –  kitties on raw food diets eat 10-30% less than on a wet diet to maintain an ideal weight.
  • Improves digestion – raw cat food is more digestible because it contains almost no carbohydrates, and we know cats do not have enough enzymes to properly digest carbs.
  • Helps with weight loss in overweight cats.
  • Increases energy – on a raw diet even lazy cats find their playfulness again, eat good, feel good!.
raw mean and dry cat food
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The cons of raw cat food:

  • Needs thawing before feeding 
  • Freeze-dried raw food needs additional hydration (water/broth)
  • Spoils faster – Can not be left out for a long period of time, not suitable for free-feeding
  • Risk of containing bacteria and parasites – make sure the raw cat food manufacturer is trusted and at least approved under the guidelines of by AAFCO, or uses a High-Pressure Processing (HPP) to sterilize the raw food without cooking it, thus eliminating the bacteria, or your cat will be at risk of getting some bacterial contamination like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, E. coli, or other raw meat pathogens, some transmissible also to humans. 
making cat raw food
Piece of advice:
Before feeding your cat a raw diet make sure she has good teeth and can chew the meat chunks in the food. Take your kitty to see the vet and check her teeth along with any other potential health issues you might not be aware of! 
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How is raw cat food made?

Freezing is a widely accepted process of preserving raw meat, reducing the temperature of the product below its freezing point of 32°F (0°C), so the water inside the raw meat will turn into ice. It also helps kill pathogens like bacteria, yeast, and parasites from food products. 

Freeze-drying is a technique used on frozen foods to make them more shelf-stable at room temperatures for longer periods of time. After the food has been frozen it is transferred into a vacuum where the frozen water in the meat will turn to vapor, and so all moisture from the food will be removed. The final product will then be sealed in air-tight packaging and ready to be sold in stores.

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Homemade cat food

Choosing to prepare cat food at home you should first consult a veterinarian that specializes in nutrition, especially if your cat has any medical conditions easily affected by the cat’s diet. You must follow approved complete and balanced recipes and always follow recipes recommended by trusted sources and not just anything you might find on the internet. 

Homemade cat food can be raw or cooked, or a combination of the two. And they will all require animal meat and organs, bones or bone meal, fats, water, egg yolks, and supplements

homemade cat food ingredients

From all cat food types, homemade food is the least cost-effective as you can not prepare it in such large industrial batches as a pet food manufacturer, and you might even need to buy additional tools you’ll need for the preparation of homemade cat food, in case you don’t already have them. To make cat food at home you will need a high-quality meat grinder that can grind bones and your cat doesn’t choke on big pieces; sharp knives and a meat cleaver; poultry shears if you decide to buy chicken; a kitchen scale and large cutting boards. You also need some mixing bowls, latex gloves, freezable containers or bags, and of course freezer space to store the food!

For the food supplements, depending on the recipe you might also need to purchase additional Taurine, Fish oils, vitamin E, The B Complex Vitamins, and Iodine.

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The pros of homemade cat food:

  • You chose the ingredients – some commercial cat foods will include unnecessary carbs like grains, vegetables, and fruits in their food recipes, which starches are used as binders in keeping the food together, so you can choose the ingredients with the most beneficial nutrients for your cat. 
  • Can freeze large amounts – You can prepare one-time food that will last for months! ( do not keep cat food longer than 4 months in the freezer though as some nutrients deteriorate over time. 
  • Prevents obesity and diabetes – as commercial raw foods, homemade cat foods contain fewer carbohydrates which help maintain the weight and the sugar levels of your cat. 
  • High moisture content – your cat will get adequate hydration from raw food
  • More natural proteins – because it is raw or partially cooked, the protein choice of homemade cat foods will be more beneficial for your cat’s health
  • Promotes dental health – lowers plaque buildup, tooth loss, and gum disease
  • Plus all of the other benefits of commercial raw cat foods
cats eating kibble and raw food
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The cons of homemade cat food:

  • Takes more time – preparing homemade cat food will cost you more time than just opening a bag/can of commercial health approved cat food.
  • More expensive than other commercial cat foods.
  • Risk of nutritional deficiency – If not properly balanced, homemade cat foods can be more harmful for your cat than just feeding it commercial cat foods.
  • Risks of bacterial contamination
  • Spoils faster – you can not leave it out for a long time
  • You need more storage space in the freezer

Piece of advice: When making homemade cat food make sure to always clean and disinfect all the food preparation areas, and wash your hands after handling the ingredients. Also after you are finished, carefully clean all the tools and equipment used as raw meat can lead to bacterial contamination. 

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How do you make homemade cat food?

To make homemade cat food you need to follow a recipe and get all the ingredients needed to prepare a balanced and complete food. Normally the meats can be used in raw form, but some that are already minced might need cooking to avoid any bacterial issues, and some meats, especially poultry like chicken and turkey need pre-cooking for the same reasons. To cook or pre-cook the meat you can boil it or roast it in the oven, then add to cold water to stop the cooking process. The raw meat can be cut into chunks and minced. If you use eggs in the recipe, the egg white should be boiled.

Then all the meat, by-products, egg whites cut to small bits and fat bits are mixed in one big bowl and the mixture is normally put in the fridge while you need to mix up the supplements. For the supplement mix you need to combine the water, egg yolks, vitamin E, The B Complex of vitamins, Taurine, salt (for Iodine), bone meal ( or you can grind bones yourself), and the chosen fish oil. Then pour the supplement mix over the protein mix from the fridge and stir it very well. And that’s it, then portion the mixture into containers and freeze it.

To thaw the food you can use a microwave and warm it for a maximum of 15 seconds at a time, then stir it, and repeat the process until the food comes to a body temperature (not hot if you touch it with your finger). The homemade food should normally be in the fridge in a thawed state only for 48 hours, maximum of 72 hours after it has been taken out of the freezer. 

You can find and choose a good homemade cat food recipe here.

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What about cat treats?

Cat treats are just that, treats, and should not be given to your cat instead of a normal complete meal because they are not a complete and balanced food and your cat will be at risk of not getting the necessary nutrients it needs.

It is okay to give your cat treats from time to time, but not in addition to its normal complete diet every day, or the extra calories will support a gradual weight gain.

cat eating treats

Whether they are commercial or homemade, treats should be allowed in moderation, because they are rich in fats and calories to be delicious for your cat’s taste buds, but treats added up should be less than 10% of the daily food consumption of your kitty. 

Make sure, the cat treats are high protein and contain less to no vegetable carbs.

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Cat food ingredients – Reading the cat food label!

When purchasing commercial cat food it is important to read the label and verify if the product has been approved by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and features the legal label “complete and balanced” acquired under the AAFCO guidelines regarding the safe nutrition for cats. 

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the other pet food regulator besides AAFCO, if the name on the cat food label starts with a protein for example ‘Chicken cat food’ or, ‘Beef cat food’, the food must contain at least 95% of that protein. If the food name states two protein sources (chicken and liver), combined, they must comprise 95% of the total weight. And all ingredients are required to be listed in order of predominance by weight.

Cat food should ideally contain proteins with more than 10 essential amino acids, fats, minerals, and vitamins to help with the growth of a cat, maintaining health and weight, or aiding the aging process. 

Many of us cat parents have picked up a bag of dry cat food, or a can of wet food and wondered what that food is made out of, only to realize that we have no idea what most of the ingredients listed on the label are, especially when written in their scientific chemical terms. 

So I decided to enlighten you on the matter and shortly explain some of the confusing terms:

  1. Proteins – proteins are the most important ingredient in cat food, the main source of energy for cats. Proteins also help in the maintenance of blood glucose levels and are essential for the maintenance and building of body tissues and muscle in the body. The protein in commercial cat foods comes from a variety of meat like poultry, beef, lamb, fish, rabbit, and so on, or from “by-products” also called “meal” and should be about 30% per kilogram of food, or a minimum of  26%, recommended by AAFCO. 
  • By-products – this is an ingredient you will see often on pet food labels and it is not harmful to your cat, they are simply parts of an animal not used in the human food industry like lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, blood, bone, fatty tissues, stomach or intestines and do not include any hair, horns, hoofs, hide trimmings or stomach contents. Also, they do not include “the 4 D’s” – dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals, and if you are not sure about the manufacturer just call the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and ask! By-products are always animal-based and are a good source of animal protein to sustain your cat’s needs, better than any plant-based fillers and starches.
  1. Ash – ash is the inorganic mineral content left over when an organic portion of the cat food has been burned off, used more as a form of measurement indicating the amount of nutrients available in the cat food. To calculate ash levels, the pet food is burned destroying the organic materials like protein, fats, and carbs, revealing the inorganic materials such as phosphorus, calcium, zinc, and iron. The normal ash content is 5-8% for poultry, or 8-9.5% for proteins with more minerals like lamb or salmon, although a cat requires just about 2% to meet their mineral needs.
  1. Taurine –  the most important essential amino acid that is not produced by the feline body, vital in cat food contents, and is exclusively found in animal-based proteins. Taurine helps your cat’s vision, digestion, and the function of the heart muscles, plus it maintains a healthy immune system. Taurine deficiency can lead to feline central retinal degeneration or even feline heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy (weakening of the muscle cells in the heart). AAFCO recommends a minimum of 0.20mg Taurine per kg of wet cat food and only 0.10mg/kg for kibble.
  1. Arginine – this is the second essential amino acid cats require and can’t produce by themselves. Arginine is used for the normal synthesis of protein and is also an essential component of the urea cycle helping convert large amounts of toxic ammonia (colorless gas with a bad smell)  to non-toxic urea that is excreted from the cat’s body (mostly through urine and sweat). In cats, Arginine deficiencies can lead to excessive amounts of ammonia (pungent urine smell), which can cause drooling, lethargy, vomiting, and convulsions. The indicated amount of Arginine in cat food by AAFCO is 1.04% per kg, but if your cat is still growing the amount should be a minimum of 1.25% per kg. 
  1. Histidine – also one of the 11 essential amino acids for cats, Histidine is a structural component of proteins playing a key role in oxygen exchange in the lungs and other tissues. Histidine is present at high concentrations in hemoglobin and helps with your cat’s immune system. The lack of Histidine in your cat’s diet can lead to weight loss, cataracts, and lower hemoglobin concentrations. The sanctioned amount of Histidine by AAFCO is 0.31% per kg of cat food
  1. Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine (the BCAAs) – these are branched amino acids needed for growth and development in cats and dogs, being involved in the biosynthesis of protein by increasing the level of insulin in the blood, and ensuring all other amino acids are efficiently utilized in growth, reproduction, and maintenance. To meet your cat’s nutritional needs, according to AAFCO cat food should have 1.25% Leucine, 0.52% Isoleucine, and 0.62% Valine per kg of food. 
  1. Lysine –  an amino acid that cats need to combat viral infections. Lysine helps cats produce antibodies and enzymes which support their immune system and it also helps calcium absorption needed for strong bones and healthy skin. The endorsed dosage of Lysine by AAFCO is 1.20% per kg of cat food.
  1. Methionine and Cystine – methionine is a neutral amino acid, while Cysteine is a basic amino acid synthesized from Methionine, which in production cuts in half the amount of Methionine requirement in the diet of a cat. Both are sulfur-containing amino acids required for normal growth. When deficient, the lack of Methionine results in weight loss, lethargy, and abnormal ocular secretions, and without Cysteine supplementation in the food  Deficient methionine intake with adequate cysteine supplementation intake in kittens also can cause severe perioral (a red rash that circles the mouth) and jelly beans (paw pads) lesions. The recommended amount by AAFCO is 1.10% per kg of diet, with the minimum 0.62% per kg extra Methionine for all cat classes.
  1. Phenylalanine and Tyrosine – These are aromatic amino acids considered together in the daily amount required as only phenylalanine is an essential amino acid for your cat, but is converted to Tyrosine, so to don’t lose half the Phenylalanine in the process some extra Phenylalanine is needed in the cat’s diet. They are both needed in regular growth and the regulation of hormones. The consequences of not having these two amino acids in your cat’s diet are weight loss. The desired amount by AAFCO is 0.88% per kg of food for both, and an extra 0.42% of Phenylalanine.
  1. Threonine –  is a part of fundamental proteins that helps regulate the functions of many other proteins and enzymes, including the insulin release in the body. It also helps maintain the connective tissue’s elasticity and keeps the muscles strong. When deficient it can cause decreased food intake and weight loss, cerebellar dysfunction, tremors, and incoordination. Cat food should contain 0.73% Threonine per kilogram
  1. Tryptophan – Tryptophan is creating Niacin which is important for the production of the hormone Serotonin, which naturally helps reduce aggression and stress in cats, and controls your furbaby’s moods and sleep. Without a diet containing Tryptophan, your cat will feel drowsy and light-headed, weak and lacking coordination, can have headaches, dry mouth, heartburn, blurred vision, vomiting, diarrhea, and even sexual problems. The needed amount in cat food is 0.25% per kg of diet, advised by AAFCO. 
  1. Linoleic Acid and Arachidonic Acid – are both essential Omega-6 fatty acids that can not be synthesized by cats and are taken from eating animal tissues. Linoleic Acid (LA) is found in the skin and coat of your cat improving their quality and also making the fur more water-resistant. Arachidonic Acid (AA)is incorporated into all cell membranes and aids the management of inflammatory conditions. Without them, cats will not grow normally, have skin and coat abnormalities and reproductive problems. Their recommended amounts by AAFCO in cat food are 0.5% of LA per kg and respectively 0.02% AA per kg of diet.
  1. Calcium – Calcium is the first mineral considered essential for cats categorized as an electrolyte that helps regulate the fluid in your cat’s cells, aids blood coagulation, conducts neurotransmitters ( impulses) within the body and contracts the muscles (including heartbeats), and helps the formation of bones and teeth. Calcium deficiency can cause Rickets (soft and fragile bones), muscle twitching, restlessness, stiffness, lethargy, panting, and convulsions. The approved amount by AAFCO is 1.0% per kg of diet for growing cats and just 0.6% per kg of food for maintenance. 
  1. Phosphorus –  A mineral necessary in the regulation of many critical metabolic processes in the body such as muscle and nerve activity. It also bonds with Calcium in the formation of healthy bones and teeth. When deficient, Phosphorus can cause poor appetite, weight loss, muscle weakness, and lethargy. The recommended amount regulated by AAFCO is 0.8% per kg of food.
  1. Potassium – a necessary electrolyte that activates blood clotting in case your cat gets injured and is a crucial help in protecting your cat from harm, required by the normal function of muscles and bodily systems. Without Potassium your cat can get low blood potassium (hypokalemia) that shows extreme muscle weakness, difficulty walking or holding up the weight of its head. Symptoms of low Potassium are also lethargy, weakness, lack of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea, poor growth, loss of muscle mass and weight loss in general, respiratory failure and trouble breathing, an irregular heartbeat, and poor coat quality. On pet food labels, it can also be found with the names of Potassium Citrate, Potassium Chloride, or Potassium Sulfate and the amount approved by AAFCO is 0.6mg/kg of cat food.
  1. Sodium Chloride – Sodium is necessary for all your cat’s cells in the body to function properly and the salt level in cat foods is appropriate for healthy cats and balanced with other nutrients with no cause for concern. Found in the blood and the liquid that surrounds the cells, Sodium helps the cells move nutrients through the body and prevents cells from swelling and dehydrating. It also maintains the proper function of nerves and muscles and helps digestion. A lack of Sodium in the diet, although not common, when the concentration of Sodium in the body falls slowly, your cat will become lethargic, fuzzy in the brain, and will not respond as she should, on the other hand, if the levels of Sodium fall rapidly, these signs may progress to head tremors, seizures, possibly coma and then death. The endorsed amount of Sodium in cat food by AAFCO is 0.2% per kg of food.
  1. Magnesium – Magnesium is an essential mineral for energy and protein production, proper muscle function, the secretion of hormones, the function of enzymes, and the growth of bones and teeth. A cat deficient in Magnesium will have problems absorbing Sodium, Calcium, Potassium, and vitamins C and E, and will show muscle twitching, convulsions, lack of coordination, weakness, depression, severe pain, irregular heartbeat, and get urinary tract stones. To avoid deficiencies, AAFCO recommends 0.08% Mg per kilogram of food.
  1. Iron – Iron is an essential mineral that is part of hemoglobin helping in carrying oxygen in red blood cells and muscles. It helps maintain the normal immunity of the body and aids enzyme function. Iron deficiencies can make your cat very weak, cause diarrhea, poor growth, and lead to anemia. The advised amount by AAFCO is 80mg/kg of diet. 
  1. Cupric Hydroxide – One of the supplement sources of Copper. Copper is a mineral with an antioxidant function that helps a cat’s body create collagen, bones, and connective tissues. It also aids the absorption of Iron, the development of red blood cells, and the pigment in hairs (melanin). It is recommended 5mg per kg of food by AAFCO. Other supplement sources for this mineral can be found as Cupric Carbonate, Cupric Chloride, Cupric Sulfate, but it should not be in a form of Copper Oxide.
  1. Zinc – Zinc is a mineral with many essential functions, needed for optimum growth and development of all cells in your cat’s body. Zinc maintains a healthy immune system, fertility, synthesis of DNA, heals wounds, and aids enzyme function and protein metabolism. If not provided in required amounts, your cat may suffer from Zinc deficiency with signs as nausea, diarrhea, slow hair growth, and scaly skin, decreased appetite, decreased sexual function, and low sperm counts, and if the deficiency is prolonged, your cat will lose weight, develop keratitis (inflammatory condition of the eye cornea), conjunctivitis, alopecia, and if wounded your kitty will not heal quickly. The sanctioned amount by AAFCO is 75mg/ kg of food. 
  1. Manganous Oxide – A source of the mineral Manganese, which is essential in reproduction, the proper body use of protein and carbohydrate, and the good function of the enzymes producing energy and making fatty acids in the body. As well it improves the repair of bones and aids with neurological functions. On the cat food labels, it can also be found under the name of Manganese Carbonate, Manganous Chloride, or Manganese/Manganous Sulfate. AAFCO suggests 5% per kg of cat food.
  1. Selenium – On the pet food labels found in the form of the inorganic compounds Sodium Selenite or Sodium Selenate, or an organic source like Selenomethionine. Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant combined with vitamin E, keeping your kitties healthy and boosting their immune system by helping combat chemicals in the body known as free radicals, chemicals that can cause lots of health issues and damage to a cat’s body’s DNA, its proteins and fats. 

❗ Felines need selenium in small amounts or it can also become toxic and lead to health issues (heart disease, thyroid issues, heart, and skeletal muscle issues, cataracts, cancer, and red blood cell disorders), so the recommended dosage by AAFCO was 0.1mg/kg and later increased to 0.5mg/kg of food as cats would consume meats that contain almost 30% organic selenium in the wild.   

  1. Vitamin A – This fat-soluble vitamin is crucial for a strong immune system and the healthy vision of your cat. And when a cat is deficient in Vitamin A she will be weak, have a poor coat and unhealthy skin, and might suffer muscle deterioration and night blindness. AAFCO recommends that adult cat food provide 9000 IU of Vitamin A per kilogram of food.
  1. Vitamin D – This vital fat-soluble vitamin balances and retains Calcium and Phosphorus in your cat’s body, aiding in the proper functioning of bones, nerves, and muscles. Insufficient vitamin D levels in a cat’s diet can lead to heart diseases and eventually failure, softening of bones (disorders like osteomalacia and rickets) and also an increased risk of cancer. The necessary amount of Vitamin D in a cat’s diet suggested by AAFCO is 750 IU/kg of food. 
  1. Vitamin E – this fat-soluble vitamin is an antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting cells from free radicals. It also helps your cat;s body develop strong and healthy muscles, and maintains a healthy circulatory and immune systems.Signs that your cat is deficient in Vitamin E include muscle weakness leading to heart dysfunctions and liver hepatitis. AAFCO approves of 30 IU/kg of cat food for cats in all stages of life. 
  1. Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex – also known as  Vitamin K3, a synthetic form of the Vitamin K and the only one approved source of Vitamin K by AAFCO, as the majority of pet foods does not require supplementation of vitamin K in any natural form. Vitamin K3 should be found preferably more in fish based cat foods, with the amount of 0.1mg/ kg of food recommended by AAFCO. 
Piece of advice:
Big amounts of fat-soluble vitamins in your cat’s diet can be toxic, so do not supplement your cat with them without consulting a vet first!
  1. Thiamine – This is Vitamin B1. Thiamine aids the metabolism of a cat by helping with the production of nucleotides (essential molecules that provide energy throughout the cells of the body), nerve functioning, and is incorporated into important cofactors for an enzyme’s activity as a catalyst. Cats can not make thiamine on their own, and they get it naturally from animal sources. Without Vitamin B1 in their diet cats can start showing deficiency signs like gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, excessive drooling, not a great appetite, and neurological problems. The AAFCO approved amount in cat food to avoid Vitamin B1 deficiencies is 5mg/kg of food.
  1. Riboflavin – Under its common name Vitamin B2, riboflavin works as a coenzyme in protein, fats and carbs in a cat’s metabolism, helps the growth and development of muscles, and also keeps a cat’s skin and coat healthy. A Vitamin B2 deficiency can cause anorexia, weight loss, alopecia (hair loss) especially on the head and neck, and testicular atrophy. Cat foods should have 4mg/kg of diet, approved by AAFCO for all cat classes. 
  1. Niacin – on cat food labels found under the name of Nicotinamide Riboside and Nicotinamide (Niacinamide), is actually just Vitamin B3, and as Vitamin B1, and Taurine, cat’s can’t synthesize Vitamin B3 either so they must consume it in their food. This vitamin is involved in the cat’s metabolism of carbs, amino acids, and ketone bodies and it helps the synthesis of cholesterol and lipids (fatty acids and their derivatives). Vitamin B3 is also essential for the health of bones, joints, skin, digestive and nervous systems of a cat. When deficient, and not supplemented in time, Vitamin B3 can cause weight loss to the point of anorexia, retarded growth, poor coat quality, digestive disorders, sore mouth disease, or even death. The recommended amount of Niacin is 60mg/kg of food by AAFCO since 2007. 
  1. Pantothenic AcidPantothenate or Vitamin B5, helps in synthesizing and metabolizing fats, carbs, and proteins, but also being part of the coenzyme-A it helps the oxidation of glucose and fatty acids in synthesizing hemoglobin (red blood cells), cholesterol, fatty acids, vitamin D, and ketone bodies (molecules produced by the liver from fatty acids when the body doesn’t make enough insulin to transform the glucose in energy). A deficiency of Vitamin B5 will mainly alter the liver and the intestinal tract of a cat. Although needed mostly by kittens, AAFCO recommends 5mg per kg of cat food for all cats.
  1. Pyridoxine Hydrochloride – more commonly known as Vitamin B6. This vitamin aids the enzymes that release and process glucose from glycogen, helps in the synthesis of niacin, the formation of antibodies, and the regulation of hormones as well as activating genes, in other words, good for the metabolic process, promoting healthy function of amino acids in the body. It is a key nutrient for cats with insulin resistance, diabetes, or Cushing’s disease. Cat food should have 2.4mg of B6 per kilogram of diet for all cats including kittens. 
  1. Folic acid – Folate or Vitamin B9 helps the synthesis and the repairing of the DNA by rapidly dividing cells busting the growth of kittens. It also aids the creation of red blood cells, Also, it helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and nucleoproteins. When a cat has a Vitamin B9 deficiency, although very rare, it will show signs of stunted growth, cataract, depression, low cholesterol, and anemia. To manage deficiencies AAFCO recommended 0.8 mg/kg of cat food. 
  1. Biotin – also referred to as Vitamin B7, and added in cat food helps maintain the healthy skin and fur of your cat, working as a coenzyme in the protein, fats, and carbs metabolism, supporting the adrenal and thyroid glands, and the nervous and reproductive systems. Although not really an essential ingredient, it’s always good to be in cat food. AAFCO recommends 0.07mg/kg of food for any cat class (kitten, growing, adult, senior)
  1. CobalaminVitamin B12, is the last of the 6 vitamins of the B Complex. This vitamin not only works together with the folic acid in metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and proteins as enzyme cofactors, but also maintains the health of red blood cells and of the nervous and digestive systems of your cat all whilst boosting your cat’s appetite! To prevent deficiencies AAFCO advises a dosage of 0.02mg/kg of food for all cats.
  1. Choline Chloride – Choline is a water-soluble vitamin and an essential nutrient for feline nutrition as it helps the liver function used in detoxification pathways, the function of the nervous system, the proper development of the brain, and the movement of muscles. Not having Choline in a food source can cause weight loss, vomiting, fatty liver, and even death in cats. The suggested amount by AAFCO is 2,400mg/ kg of food. 

❗ ❗ ❗ The nutrient requirements above are indicated on a dry-matter basis and are per kg of food, NOT per kg of body weight of a cat!

Here you can see the full table of Nutrient Requirements for cats by AAFCO.

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A healthy diet is key to a thriving life!

We all know that dry cat food is always the most popular choice for cat owners in general, and although your cat can supposedly get ‘all its necessary nutrients from just dry cat food’, she will most definitely not have enough hydration if she is not drinking ample amounts of water, and also could develop health issues like obesity and feline diabetis, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease sooner than expected. On the other hand, your cat could have all the hydration it needs from just high-quality wet canned food.

Many other vets, cat experts, and cat parents recommend a nutritionally balanced diet of dry and wet cat food as being better for your cat’s health in general, and so making sure your cat will get ‘all the needed nutrition from both types of cat food’.

But I will disagree. Stop feeding your cat dry food! Most importantly STOP feeding commercial brands! There are plenty of affordable good cat food brands out there if you just take the time to find them! Did you ever read the cat food label or just fell for the fancy advertisement of a ‘known’ brand?

I must confess I didn’t, I straight up fell for the commercial cat food and fed my cats Whiskas, because it’s everywhere and considered ‘a good brand’. Big mistake! Dobby and Dot got addicted to it to the point where they would just lick the gravy or jelly from the pouch and leave the ‘meat’ content in their food bowl! Dobby would eat around 6 pouches per night, in about 6 hours waking me up through the night to feed him pouches, and they were additional to the kibble he would eat in the daytime! When I offered them healthy cat food, grain-free, with more than 70% meat protein, gently prepared with no added sugars and packed with all the nutrients cat’s diet needs, as close as it can get to the meat they would eat in the wild, THEY TRIED TO COVER IT UP LIKE IT WAS SOME 💩! No surprise, it was like giving a child broccoli after you’ve fed them McDonald’s all the time…

Dry cat food, even if it’s stated to be grain-free still contains a lot of vegetable carbohydrates. So, your cat will be the healthiest on a canned food diet, but not just commercial wet cat food! I can’t stress this enough, please start reading the labels!

Choose between wet cat food, raw cat food, dehydrated raw cat food, or gently cooked cat food!

THE BEST CAT FOOD!
A healthy choice of canned cat food should be high protein and grain-free! The best options will have the meat protein listed first on the label, preferably not containing by-products and if it does, they should be mentioned (for example it should not just state chicken, but mention which part of the chicken has been used like liver, kidneys, hearts, and so on; not specifying what part of the chicken was used in the cat food can include any part of the chicken like feathers and stuff…) and more than 70% of the protein choice!
No fillers, no additives, no sugars!

Ideally, try to avoid fish-based recipes no matter how much your cat loves them. The fish used in cat food can be whole, including intestines and bones, which can increase thiamine and phosphorous levels in your cat’s system causing health issues, but also it can be contaminated with common water pollutants and heavy metals like mercury.

dry and wet cat food
Piece of advice:
If you decide to change your cat’s diet from kibble to wet or raw, please do it gradually over several days ( at least 7 days), to prevent the cat from having any digestive problems. 
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Feeding solutions for cats

Now that you know what is best for your cat nutritionally speaking, and you already chose a cat food to feed your furbaby, I bet you are wondering how much of this food you should feed to your cat daily.

Most commercial cat foods have feeding instructions written on the label and they vary from brand to brand according to the nutrients in the recipe and the net weight of your cat, the life stage your cat finds itself in (kitten, growing, adult, or senior), or if your cat has any other issues (lactating, sterilized, diabetic and so on).

There are three general methods of feeding our cat:

  1. Portion Control – For this feeding method, the food is measured and offered as a meal in accordance with your cat’s body weight, to avoid overfeeding in cats that like to munch a lot, controlling their ideal weight. 
  2. Free-choice – This method has food available at all times and allows your cat to eat when she feels it needs to, but it is good only with dry cat food as it can be left out for longer periods of time without spoilage. Not recommended for cats that don’t know when to stop eating!
  3. Timed feeding – This method implies making food available to your cat for a limited amount of time, then picking it up after 30 minutes. 

It is recommended to feed your cat twice per day, using the portion control feeding method. To do so you need to divide the amount suggested on the cat food label into two meals and give it to your cat every 8 to 12 hours. It gets even better when you know your cat’s ideal daily amount. 

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Did you know? – The origins of commercial cat food

The suggestion of giving a cat particular food instead of just letting it fend and hunt for herself started during the 19th century and was pointed out more as a need by the medical doctor Gordon Stables in his book “The Domestic cat” in 1876. 

He suggested that cats should have sufficient food and be fed at least two regular meals a day, preferably in the morning and in the evening, if the cat was to be more valuable as a vermin-killer. Gordon indicated that the food provided has to vary in quality and quantity. An excellent breakfast could be oatmeal porridge and milk, or white bread soaked in warm milk with little sugar added, but for the dinner, they must always have meat, preferably boiled lights (lungs) rather than just horse-meat, and also fish from time to time. 

Spratt, an established company already selling dog biscuits at the time, took Gordon’s suggestion and manufactured the first food for domestic cats, called Spratt’s Patent Cat Food, and started selling in 1876, and so it appears it became the first commercial producer of cat food in London, with the specific food reviewed and acknowledged as appropriate by the doctor Stables himself after he had tried it with his cats and some of his friend’s and it’s very handy to have. 

With time, as people studied and learned more about cats, cat food evolved and now meets the dietary needs of a feline and contains all the nutrients a cat requires daily to avoid any nutritional deficiencies and keep your cat healthy and happy. 

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Conclusion

As we established above, when choosing cat food it is always best to choose the brands that keep the vegetable and rice ingredients to a minimum. 

As long as the cat food is labeled “Complete and balanced” according to AAFCO regulations and standards, your cat can live on dry food only, but make sure you provide your kitty with fresh water every day!

However wet cat foods provide extra water and more protein for a cat’s diet, so it is more beneficial for your cat to feed it with both dry and wet cat food. You can also offer some raw cat food besides just kibble from time to time, or choose to make homemade cat food yourself, but in the end, it all depends also on your budget and lifestyle.

different types of cat food

Keep in mind that is up to you to provide your cat with a safe and nutritious diet to always keep it healthy and thriving!

Please let us know in the comments what is your favorite choice of cat food and why, maybe we have missed it and we should add to our best cat foods articles to inspire even more thoughtful cat parents like us.

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