Good cat nutrition is very important, but the cat food aisle is very crowded these days - how to tell if the food you picked is the right one for your cat? I can help you read the ingredients and the cat nutrition chart to narrow your decision.
First, think of the requirements of your pet:
Is your cat a kitten? A new mom? Overweight? A senior? Does your cat have health issues? Are they a boy or a girl?
Premium cat food will be available in "life stages". This becomes more important if your cat is a kitten or a senior.
Kittens need kitten food - it has a higher fat content and usually more carbs for an energetic kitten.
However, this is also the reason adult cats and senior cats should not eat kitten food - it is just too easy for adults to gain weight on the extra fat and carbs of kitten food.
The exception to this is cats who are new moms - when breastfeeding a litter the mother cat is using up her body's fat and energy. If you feel your breastfeeding cat is lacking in energy and is getting too slim, feeding her kitten food while she is producing milk is fine. Transition her back to adult food when the kittens are weaned.
We all need a little more fibre as we age, and senior cats are no
different. Premium cat food for older cats will have more fibre in it
to help keep them regular.
Weight control food also has more fibre in it to help cats control their eating habits. Some cats will lose weight on a diet food, but some may need a regular food with a high protein content to lose the weight. If your cat has been on one for a while with no change, this may be the way to go.
Some brands also have an indoor cat formula.
It usually has a bit more fibre and can have chlorophyll in it to mimic the grass outdoor cats would eat to pass hairballs. Check the fat content on indoor cat food before giving it to a senior cat, though. Some have too much fat for a slower senior cat.
If a bag says "good for all life stages", pass on it. It is not possible for one food to have extra carbs for kittens, less carbs and fats for adults, and more fibre for seniors. Something will be lacking that your pet needs.
To tell a premium food from a lesser quality food, look at the ingredient list. The list on the side is the same as people food - the first item on the list is the main ingredient, there is less of the second, still less of the third, and so on. The first item on the list should be a meat protein - chicken, beef, fish or lamb.
If the first ingredient is corn or corn gluten it is not a premium food. Corn or corn gluten should not be in the first two ingredients of adult cat food. It has very little nutritional value to the cat and is there to add bulk to the food.
While premium food may cost a bit more per bag, it is because the meat protein amount is higher. Corn (and corn gluten) costs less than meat, so some foods have more of it to entice pet owners with price. However, if the long run you will end up spending more with the lesser quality food. The cat will feel full on the lesser quality food, but corn passes straight through them so they feel hungry more often. They need to eat more of this food to meet their cat nutrition needs. The extra bulk of the corn ends up in the litter.
Your cat will need to eat less of the premium cat food to meet their needs, and with less food consumed the bag will last longer. Your cat will also have smaller stools because more of the food is being used by their body so less ends up as waste.
For information on how a high quality diet can help your cat's skin,
read our cat dry skin advice.
If you have a male cat, compare the cat nutrition charts to find a food with lower ash and magnesium. Male cats can develop a urinary tract problem called cat cystitis, sometimes a food lower in ash and magnesium can help with this problem. Note down which foods you are considering and ask your vet before switching - they may have heard feedback from other clients about the brands. If your cat has had severe cystitis or keeps having flare ups of the problem, your vet may recommend a prescription urinary tract diet.
We have a multi cat household of two boys and two girls. We feed a lower ash/magnesium food to everyone - it will benefit the boys and is fine for the girls to have (We currently feed Wellness Core Grain Free kibble to all four, supplemented by wet food a few times a week).
Be careful also when comparing labels - some companies list nutrients and fats in minimum percentages and some list maximum percentages!
Some cat owners may decide to make their own cat food -
read our pros and cons of making your own cat food
before you decide.
Skip to our Cat Dry Skin page for help with food allergies and dandruff