Choosing the Best Cat Food

Determining the best cat food for many different cats can be a puzzle. Cat Food is the greatest cost, as well as the greatest concern for most cat owners - especially in a large multiple cat household. Not only do you have to buy a lot of it, but what if you have cats of varying ages, activity levels, or even special health needs? How do you know if you are feeding all of your cats the best cat food for each of them?

One way is to look at your cats. Are their eyes bright? Do they have shiny, soft, silky coats? Nicely formed stools? No coughing, sneezing, nasal drainage? Are they curious and energetic? If not, you may not be feeding your cats the best cat food.

After a trip to the vet to rule out serious illness - a diet change may be in order. Click here to learn how to properly and safely change your cat's diet.

The other way to know if you are feeding your cats the best cat food is to read the labels. Cat food is required to show its nutritional analysis on the label. This "guaranteed analysis" lists the maximum or minimum percentage of protein, fat, fiber, moisture, taurine and ash.

Part of the problem is that the moisture content varies greatly making it difficult to compare the various foods. And the percentage doesn't tell you the type of protein or the quality of the protein used. To us, the quantity, is not as important as the quality of the ingredients used. The percentage of ash can be an indicator of quality - more on this later.

There are 3 types of commercial food for cats - dry, canned and semi-moist. Over 1/2 of all cat owners feed their cats both dry and canned food. And there is good quality and poor quality in both types of foods.

varieties of cat food

So, how can you tell if the food you are giving your cats is a quality food and the best cat food to feed them?

A good place to start is to look for a statement indicating that the food meets AAFCO requirements. AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. The AAFCO establishes specific standards for animal feed.

This does not necessarily mean the food is safe - just safer than non-approved cat food. Certain levels of contaminates such as the mold toxins found in grains are allowed. The majority of foods involved in the most recent pet food recalls met AAFCO standards. While it's not perfect, meeting AAFCO standards is still better than not meeting standards.

The next thing to look for are the words "complete" or "balanced". Not all cat foods are formulated to meet the total nutritional needs of cats. Some foods are meant to be supplements only and if you feed only these types of foods, your cats are not getting a nutritionally balanced meal. The best cat food for any cat is always a nutritionally balanced cat food.

The next thing to check is the ingredient list. Cat food is required to list the ingredients and they are listed by amount with the greatest amount first and least amount last. Look for foods that lists a muscle meat such as chicken or turkey as the primary ingredient.

Meat by-products are the bone, intestines, and marrow of animals. It should also be listed near the beginning.These by-products may sound awful but they are a very important part of good cat nutrition. An important note here is that it is impossible to tell what type of by-products have been used in the food. By-products range from healthy, nutritious organ meats to diseased organs deemed "unfit for human consumption" - even animal feet. The Ash content may help with this.

Ash is an indicator of the quality of the meat used to make the food. It is the mineral content left over after cooking and consists of sodium, potassium and magnesium along with smaller amounts of other minerals. The better the quality of meat used, the lower the ash content will be.

The ash content is listed as a percentage in the analysis. An ash content of 2-3% or lower is good for canned foods. (Dry food often does not list an ash content.) With some generic brands of canned cat food we looked at, the ash content was as high as 8%. The best cat food will have a low percentage of ash.

Kittens and mom having a meal

Check for the percentage of taurine as well. It should always be added to cat food. Taurine is a nutrient vital to cat health. Cats must get it from the food they eat or they can suffer blindness and heart disease. The best cat food will always have added taurine. A good number is 0.02% or higher.

Dry cat food is a cereal based food mixed with meat and sometimes dairy products. The grains used to make dry cat foods are not a natural part of a cat's diet. Dry cat foods are not the best cat food for your cats.

During processing, the food is cooked to break down the starch in the cereals. They have to do this because cats lack the enzymes necessary to digest starch. Shouldn't this indicate to us that nature didn't intend for cats to eat cereal based foods? Cooking also removes most of the moisture from the food.

Vitamins lost during cooking are added back to the food. Fat is applied to the surface of the kibble to improve the taste. Fat spoils very quickly so preservatives are also added.

Despite the use of preservatives, the fats in dry foods still spoil over time. Dry cat foods sit in warm warehouses and stores before you finally buy it and feed it to your cats. This promotes fat spoilage, bacterial growth, mold growth and mold toxin formation.

Many pets have died from salmonella and botulism contamination in pet foods. The mold toxins found in the grains used to make cat food can cause liver failure leading to death or permanent liver damage.

People feed their cats dry cat food because it is cheaper and more convenient to use. Dry food can be left out all day for cats to nibble on. Dry food manufacturers tell us that dry foods also help to reduce tarter build up on the cats teeth.

However, many cats swallow the kibble whole which defeats the teeth cleaning purpose of the food. Also, a cat's teeth are made for tearing and shredding - not grinding. The shape of the teeth tends to push the pieces of dry food up into the gum line and it gets stuck between their teeth. The benefit of dry food for cat dental health is questionable.

Another problem with dry cat foods is that the average dry food contains 35-50% carbohydrates. Cats only need about 3-6%. Too many carbohydrates can make cats ill and predispose them to obesity and diabetes.

Also, many cats have sensitivities or even outright allergies to corn, wheat and soy - common grains used in cat foods. There is less of a problem with rice, oats and barley but some cats can have a problem with these also.

Licking cans

We care for many rescued cats, often with various health problems. Diet is important to their recovery and continued good health. For the reasons mentioned above, we do not feed our cats dry cat food. We do not believe it to be the best cat food to feed our cats despite the convenience and lower cost.

If you choose to feed your cats dry foods, look for those that do not list grains as one of the first 3 ingredients. At the very least, try to avoid those made with corn, wheat and soy.

UPDATE - We have recently started giving our cats dry cat food. Click here to read about why we started and what dry food we chose.

Canned cat foods vary in quality but are still the best cat food to give your cats when compared with the other choices of commercial cat foods available. Canned food provides water with the food which is important in keeping your cats well hydrated.

Cats do not have a very strong thirst drive and can become easily dehydrated. Indeed, cats fed only dry cat food often develop chronic dehydration despite access to water.

The protein in canned food mostly comes from meat sources not plant sources. While many canned foods have some grains added, they are still lower in carbohydrates overall than dry foods.

For a more in depth scientific discussion of the nutritional analysis of cat food and how to calculate the percentages of protein, fat, etc., click here. (This will open a new window)

Canned cat food is pasteurized for sterility and can be stored unopened for long periods. Once opened however, it can spoil quickly. Canned food should not be left out for more than an hour or so.

Specialty gourmet canned foods come in very small tins and are usually very expensive compared to other canned cat food. These foods are not nutritionally balanced. They are meant as a supplement only. Cats usually just love these and can easily become addicted to them - refusing to eat anything else. These are not the best cat food to feed your cats. Feed these as an occasional treat only.


The least common type of cat food is semi-moist. Semi-moist cat food seems to be made more to please people than cats. Many cats don't like the texture. It is typically quite expensive and contains lots of dye which makes a stain from vomit almost impossible to get out. Some actually contain preservatives that are harmful to cats. Given all of the types of foods available, we don't believe this is the best cat food choice. We tried a semi-moist cat food once when they first hit the market - not a single cat would touch it!

Currently we feed our cats various flavors of canned Friskies and Fancy Feast which are good examples of a mid-level quality cat food. We also feed Avoderm Select cuts which is a high quality, grain-free cat food. We also feed our own homemade cat food.

Homemade cat food has greatly benefited many cats intolerant of commercial cat foods. If you're not sure you want to go with commercially prepared cat foods - try making it yourself! The Homemade Cat Food recipe we use is nutritionally balanced and the majority of our cats love it! Many prefer the homemade cat food to any of the commercial canned foods.

Whatever you decide to feed your cats, the best cat foods are those that list a muscle meat - chicken, turkey, etc. as the primary ingredient and avoid corn, wheat and soy cereals. We also recommend avoiding dry cat food.

Since we stopped feeding the dry cat foods, we noted there was less random vomiting, less problems with diarrhea, better illness recovery and improved overall health with all the cats. And the additional cost of the canned foods is balanced out by fewer trips to the vet, and healthier cats. Well worth it!

UPDATE - We have recently started giving our cats dry cat food. Click here to learn why we started feeding dry food again and what food we chose.

In addition to providing good, nutritious food for your cats, check out some of the great ideas, suggestions, and tried and true methods to help maintain your sanity during mealtime by clicking here. .

With all the good food you're feeding your cats, you'll also want to keep your cats from developing poor eating habits and getting finicky or overweight. Click here to learn how to avoid these common problems.

Ultimately, the best cat food to feed your cat is made from quality ingredients, provides well balanced nutrition, helps keep your cats healthy and full of vitality, and has a taste they love! They'll be happy and so will you!

Go to Cat Feeding - To learn how to set up Cat Feeding Stations.
Go to Cat Nutrition - To learn the basics of good Cat Nutrition.
Go to Homemade Cat Food - To learn how to make your own Homemade Cat Food.
Go to Feeding Your Cat - To learn how to avoid common mistakes when feeding your cats.
Go to Cat Diet - To learn about special cat foods and how to change a Cat Diet easily and safely.
Go to Dry Cat Food Update

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