Giving the Best Cat Food to your Cat - A Complete Nutrition Guide

We are what we eat. Our pets too. However, this does not mean that we feed our cats just about anything that comes off our dining table. Cats have different nutritional needs from humans and as such, doing so may lead to health complications that are easily avoidable.

What then, is the best type of food for cats? The market is flooded with a huge array of cat food and the choices are mind-blowing. In order to know the best option for your cat, you first need to understand a few things.

A cat’s natural diet

There is little distinction between a wild cat and a domestic one. In fact, they only differ in their appearance. Therefore, the diet of a wild cat should pretty much be the same for a domestic one.

In the wild, cats hunt small animals and eat them raw. They are carnivores, relying purely on nutrients found only in animal products. Their prey contains high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat and a minimal amount of carbohydrates.

Sometimes you’ll see your pet cat nibble on certain plants and grass. Wild cats do the same thing to regulate their digestion and clean their teeth. However, they don’t rely on plants for nutrients.

The cat’s stage of life

The type of nutrition needed by your cat depends on its stage of life. A one-month-old kitten should obtain all that it needs from its mother’s milk. But if it is an orphaned kitten, you’ll need to get a milk replacement formula.

From its second month onwards, it will need to start on solids, preferably food that is protein-rich and energy-filled. Kitten food is usually very high in protein, calories and fats, which are all necessary to support healthy growth and body function.

An adult cat from 6 months old onwards will need less calories as it has stopped growing. When it exceeds 7 years of age, it is considered a senior cat and its dietary needs changes again to suit its lifestyle and health condition.

What nutrients do cats need?

Since cats are carnivores, they need a lot of protein and some fat from an animal source. While dogs and humans are able to process amino acids from plant sources, cats cannot do this. That is why felines are so dependent on meat.

These animal proteins have a complete amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Cats also require more than a dozen other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. The most critical nutrient for maintaining the health of their heart and brain is taurine, which comes only from animal protein.

Although cats need certain amounts of each specific nutrient to be healthy, more is not always better. This is particularly true of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, supplements are usually not necessary if you are giving them a balanced and complete diet.

The type and percentage of nutrients also depend on a cat’s stage of life, and whether it has any health issues.

What is the healthiest diet for cats?

The best cat food should mimic a cat’s natural diet. This means high protein and medium fat content from an animal source, not from plant matter.

The pet food should also have a very low percentage of carbohydrate. Studies have revealed that the natural diet of free ranging cats was 52% protein, 46% fat and only 2% from carbohydrates.

Cats have evolved to turn the fats in their diet into energy. That is why they do not have the enzyme pathways to digest and utilize dietary carbohydrates like other mammals do. Therefore, diets high in carbohydrates can lead to diseases such as diabetes, obesity and others.

The best cat food should also have a high moisture content. This is because cats do not have a very strong thirst drive when compared to other species. Prolonged dehydration often leads to kidney failure and other health problems.

What is the best protein for cats?

The best protein is undoubtedly from animal meat. As mentioned earlier, plant protein does not contain all the amino acids required to maintain a cat’s health.

Plant-based protein is also less digestible for cats. Therefore, high-quality cat food that follows a sound feline nutrition requirement protocol will only use unprocessed or minimally processed fish, poultry and meat.

Which is better for cats - wet or dry food?

Dry foods or cat kibble was created for the convenience of pet owners because this type of food can be stored in large quantities in one container and for a long period. It is also generally cheaper than wet food. However, it is not a natural option for cats.

In the wild, cats depend on their freshly killed prey for a bulk of their water needs. This is why sound feline nutrition includes a diet that is rich in unprocessed proteins and moisture.

Dry foods contain between 6 to 10 percent water. Since domesticated cats are accustomed to drinking water out of a bowl or some human-made source, this is not so much of a problem. However, some cats do not drink enough water on their own.

Wet foods have about 75 percent of moisture and most closely resemble a cat’s natural diet. It also tends to have a higher content of unprocessed protein. Wet foods usually come in small servings in cans, which can also be stored for a long period.

Whatever the case may be, it is always advisable to study the label on the packaging. Cat food brands whether wet or dry will carry different percentages of content.

The best wet cat food will come packed in small quantities at a time, so that the food can remain fresh and can be finished in a single sitting. Each cup of fresh wet food from PetCubes, for example, weighs only 85 grams: an amount any average-sized cat can handle.

Petcubes also offers different unprocessed meats (chicken, fish, wild kangaroo, beef, lamb, duck, venison) in a single pack so that your cat gets a variety of flavours and will never get bored. The meat is either organic or comes from free-range farms, and does not contain artificial flavours or preservatives.

As we all know, anything artificial is not good for health, be it for humans or for cats. It is even more critical to give your pet cat the best possible food because your cat can’t tell you when it is feeling poorly. Often, its ailments will only be noticeable when it becomes more serious.

Can cats live on dry food only?

Although dry cat foods are very popular among cat owners, they should be considered the second choice for cat food. This is because dry foods have a higher carbohydrate count than the optimal needs of a cat. High levels of carbohydrates in dry foods can lead to weight gain and digestive issues, especially in older and more sedentary cats.

In addition, the protein choice in dry foods tends to be higher in plant-based protein rather than animal-based protein. High levels of plant protein can lead to insufficient nutrition.

Synthetic vitamins are usually added into dry foods to make up for the removal of natural ones during processing. In contrast, wet foods are generally more nutritious, with more naturally occurring vitamins and fatty acids.

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Wet foods, being moist, would hold vitamins more easily than dry foods.

Vitamins B (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, B-12) and C are water soluble. Cats need these vitamins to boost their immunity, support growth and development as well as help their organs function properly.

Apart from essential fatty acids linoleic and arachidonic which cats need for overall health, the fats in their diet provide much-needed vitamins D, E, A and K. High quality cat foods would contain between 20% to 40% fat (essential fatty acids) of total daily calorie intake.

It is also this fat that makes food tasty for cats. They are attracted to it since fat is their natural source of energy.

However, dry foods lack this type of oily fat, making them less palatable. That is why there are many dry foods coated with flavour enhancers to make them tastier for cats.

Do cats need wet food every day?

Cats are unique in their attachment to specific textures of their food. Once they are used to one form of food, it is difficult, but not impossible to get them to accept or to change to other forms of food.

For this reason, it is best to start kittens off on wet food or give them a mix of wet and dry food during the first year of their life.

So back to whether cats need wet food on a daily basis. It would depend on whether they are used to eating it. Of course, feeding your cats wet food daily will ensure they have all, if not most of their nutritional and moisture needs. Lack of water is one of the leading causes for common kidney and bladder problems among cats.

Can I mix wet and dry cat food?

Yes. Some cats don’t get enough water when they eat only dry foods because you simply can’t force a cat to drink water if it doesn’t want to.

Mixing wet food with your cat’s favorite dry food will ensure that it doesn’t become dehydrated.

However, you must be cautious about leaving this mix of wet and dry food exposed throughout the day. Wet food can become rancid after several hours, particularly in a warm climate.

Exposed wet food will also dry out and become less appetizing to a cat. Due to this, a cat might stop eating its food after the first feeding.

It is important to bear in mind that cats are small eaters. In the wild, they catch small prey throughout the day, many hours apart. Their stomachs have adapted to handling only small meals. That is why most cats don’t finish their food if they are given large quantities in a single sitting.

A mix of wet and dry food will provide a different shape, texture and aroma to your cat’s regular diet - something that might entice picky cats. A cat that refuses to eat can develop serious medical problems. But to be on the safe side, you should consult your veterinarian first especially if your cat is on a therapeutic diet.

How much should cats eat a day?

Physically active cats will probably need more food than sedentary ones due to higher energy expenditure. If you have a very lazy cat that hardly moves, it should eat an amount proportionate to its lack of activity.

Nevertheless, a kitten would eat more frequently throughout the day since they are still growing. Conversely, an aged cat would require much smaller quantities and less frequent meals for its energy needs, but higher quality foods to stay healthy.

There is no magic quantity for how much you should feed your cat. The best way to determine this is to consult your veterinarian who will help you determine the condition of your cat’s health and whether it is at a healthy weight.

Why is my cat so hungry all the time?

There are a few possible reasons for this:

  • Lack of nutrition/poor quality food.
  • Illnesses such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, bowel issues, pancreatic disease and parasitic infections.
  • Your cat is aging and compensating for certain deficiencies.
  • Food competition in multi-cat households.
  • Your cat is bored.
  • Your cat is requesting food to compensate for its hunting instincts.

What human food can cats eat?

The safest human food that you can give a cat is basically any kind of meat that is considered “unprocessed”. You shouldn’t give them 100% raw meat fresh off the butcher’s block because these might contain pathogens that could make your cat sick. Eggs are also fine since wild cats will consume eggs if they find them in the wild.

What about canned tuna then? Tuna is fine as long as it is not dipped in salty water or salty oil. In fact, tuna in sunflower oil can soothe tongue ulcers or improve your cat’s appetite when it is feeling unwell.

Certain fruits are feline friendly. Among these are apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries and seedless watermelon. However, you should avoid giving your cat citrus-type fruit, grapes, onion and garlic, as these are toxic to cats.

You should definitely not give your cat chocolate. Similar to dogs, the theobromine found in cocoa is highly toxic to cats and can cause liver failure.

Cow’s milk is also a no-no because cats are naturally lactose intolerant. As kittens they may be able to digest it but once they are weaned, their ability to produce lactose-digesting enzymes is greatly reduced. This goes without saying for cheese as well, a byproduct of milk.

Another popular question owners ask is, “Can cats eat bread?” Well, they can eat it but once again, bread consists mainly of carbohydrates and that is one thing you should keep to the most minimal level for cats.

Should cats eat the same food every day?

There is no harm in eating the same pet food every day, but your cat might become bored of it and stop eating enough to support its daily nutritional needs. There is also a risk of not getting enough nutrition since each type of meat and brand of pet food contains varying percentages of nutrients. Varying your cat’s diet will ensure that it gets all the nutrition it needs.

How can I boost my cat’s immune system?

The best way to boost your cat’s immune system is to make sure it gets all the nutrients it needs through foods that are high quality with high moisture content. Ensure that it always has access to fresh water as well.

Aside from diet, keep your cat’s environment stress-free yet stimulating so that it doesn’t become bored or irritable. A happy cat is a healthy cat.

Best cat food for indoor cats

Indoor cats need a diet that is suitable for their needs as they are not as active as compared to outdoor cats. As such, they should not be fed too many calories. Feeding a fresh wet diet can still be used for indoor cats, however care must be given to the portions given. The high protein wet diets can help to make the cat feel full. Reduction in carbohydrates means an increase of protein and/or fat which will help the cat feel full. There is no need for an “indoor” diet if feeding a wet diet made of fresh whole ingredients.

Best cat food for sensitive stomach

It can be worrisome when your cat has a sensitive stomach. Frequent vomiting, diarrhea and coughing up hairballs are some of the signs that your cat has gastrointestinal issues. Here’s how you can find the best cat food if kitty is suffering from a sensitive stomach:

  • Start a trial diet - The aim of a diet trial is to find the food that your cat is sensitive or allergic to. Because different cats are sensitive to different foods, you will have to reduce your cat’s diet to one or two ingredients. Once you are sure that your cat is not sensitive to the particular food, you can add on other foods. It is best to work with your vet for this.
  • Try a hypoallergenic diet - Because protein is most likely the source of allergies and food sensitivities in cats, you can try feeding your cat a limited ingredient diet, a novel protein diet or a hydrolyzed protein diet. Petcubes’ premium raw venison and wild kangaroo are novel proteins that may help if your cat has a sensitive stomach.

Finding the best cat foods for sensitive stomachs might take some time - as long as up to 4 months, especially if your cat is going on a trial diet. However, do keep at it as prolonged food sensitivities can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease in cats.

Best cat food for older cats

Your cat’s nutritional requirements change when they grow older. For example, older cats may be less active and spend more time lazing around. While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ food for senior cats, here are some pointers in choosing the best cat food for your senior cat:

  • Older cats are more easily fatigued and as such, less likely to look for fresh water. This can cause dehydration. As such, wet cat food is recommended due to its higher water content.
  • Wet food is also recommended for older cats because it is easier to chew and kinder on their teeth. The aroma of wet cat food may also help older cats who have lost their appetite to eat.
  • Older cats may also start to have issues with digestion. If your cat seems to have trouble with digestion, food with slightly higher fiber content can help.
  • Foods that are lower in fat content can also help senior cats with digestive issues. Additionally, food with lower fat content is also recommended for senior cats who are less active as it will help them maintain a healthy weight.

Best cat food for kittens

It’s important to feed kittens a healthy and balanced diet as doing so will help to ensure they grow into strong and healthy adult cats. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to kitten food. However, because kittens have small teeth that are not yet able to properly chew dry food, it is best to introduce wet kitten food before dry kitten food. Wet food can also help to keep your kitten hydrated

In addition to the usual commercial kitten food, kittens can also be given some human grade raw meat. Ensure that it is fresh and do check that they do not contain preservatives. Dicing up the meat can help them chew it better.

Best cat food for urinary health

Urinary tract issues or UTIs occur when there is bacterial infection in the cat’s bladder or urethra. The type of food that your cat eats influences their risk of UTIs. For example foods that are high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus can increase the risk of your cat developing urinary stones.

The best ‘food’ for your cat’s urinary health is actually plain water. Water will dilute the excess minerals and prevent urinary crystals from forming. As for solid food, good quality canned food, or wet food is generally better for urinary health when compared with dry cat food. That being said, there are dry cat foods that have good pH balance. However, wet cat food and water will always be the best cat food for urinary health.

Conclusion

To sum it up, here’s how you choose the best food for your cat:

  1. Take into consideration your cat’s age. Look for age-specific feed from a trusted brand that has been verified by a veterinarian.
  2. The ingredients in the label should list animal protein first. Industry standards require the highest percentage of content to be listed first followed by the rest. This way, you would know the type of protein (must be animal source) and whether it is high in protein. Aim for diets higher than 60% protein (on dry matter basis).
  3. Pick wet over dry foods. This ensures your cat automatically gets a lot of moisture when it eats; in case it doesn’t drink enough water. For tips to ensure that your cat stays hydrated, check out our article ‘Why is My Cat Not Drinking Water: Reasons and Tips to Keep It Hydrated
  4. Go natural. Wet food made from minimally cooked or raw meat from organic farms contains the highest amount of nutrients. These might also be safer than 100% raw meat from the market.
  5. Have variety. Each animal contains different types and percentages of nutrients. Feeding your cat different meats will give it a more complete range of nutritional needs.

Reviewed by: 

Dr Francis is one of the top wildlife nutritionists in Asia. Originating from Montreal, Canada, he left at 21 to pursue his Masters and subsequently a PhD in wildlife nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. Instead of taking the path of common animal science to learn about farm animals, or through the veterinarian space and taking a certificate in nutrition, he took the road less travelled to dive deep into the world of animal ecology, metabolism and nutrition.

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