Hungry cat sitting next to bowl of food at home kitchen and looking at camera.

Cat owners know the difficulty of choosing the right cat food. Not only are cats sometimes fussy eaters, but what you feed your cat can affect how they act, how much they shed, their litter box habits and even how long they live. As obligate carnivores, cats need to consume certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids in their diet in order to be healthy. Next to veterinary care, the cat food you choose is one of the most important expenses cat parents will have. So how can you be sure you’re feeding the right food to your feline friend? We’ve got some tips to help your trip down the cat food aisle go smoothly. With any luck, you’ll be an expert at choosing cat food by the end of this post.

Tips on choosing cat food 

AAFCO approved cat food

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) proposes regulations for pet foods in the United States. AAFCO approved pet foods must meet certain nutritional and labeling standards. Choose an AAFCO approved cat food that is complete and balanced for all life stages so that you know your cat will be getting all of the vitamins and minerals they need in their diet.    

Named protein source in cat food

We already mentioned the importance of protein for carnivores like the cat. Take a look at the ingredients in the cat food you’re choosing to feed your cat. Only choose cat foods with named protein sources like chicken, turkey, duck, rabbit and pork. The ingredients are also listed by weight so the ingredients at the front of the list make up the largest part of the cat food while the ingredients at the end of the list make up the smallest part. 

Grain free cat food

Check for ingredients like corn, wheat, soybean or other grains or gluten meals in the cat food you choose. Remember when we said cats are carnivores? Do these sound like ingredients a carnivore would eat? Could you ever imagine your cat going into a cornfield and eating a cob of corn? Probably not. When you feed these ingredients to your cat you can expect them to have larger, more frequent, more stinky stools because their body can’t digest the ingredients so they just pass right through. They may make your cat feel full, but they serve no health purposes. Grain free, gluten free cat foods are the right choice. Because your cat can digest more of the ingredients their stools are smaller, more firm and less stinky.

Limited ingredient cat food

The amount of ingredients are just as important as the quality. Your cat doesn’t need 15 different ingredients in their diet and that really isn’t like the diet their body was naturally made to digest. For cats with food allergies or sensitivities, choosing limited ingredient cat food also makes it easier to determine what ingredients may not be settling right with your cat’s body so you can avoid those ingredients in the future. Less ingredients also makes it less likely for an allergy-triggering ingredient to be included in the cat food.

Cat food preservatives 

Check out what type of preservatives your cat food uses. Scientific studies indicate chemical preservatives like BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) may not be safe for cats in any amount. A good cat food will only have natural preservatives like Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) or Vitamin A (ascorbic acid).  

Kibble, canned, raw, frozen or freeze-dried? 

Cat food comes in so many different formats which definitely adds some confusion into the market. Every brand claims it’s the best so how do you choose? Here are a few pros and cons of each format.

Kibble Cat Food 

PRO: Convenient and easy to feed, you can buy it virtually anywhere including your local grocery store

CON: Packed with unhealthy ingredients, carbohydrates and artificial preservatives. Undergoes an extrusion process that removes much of the nutritional value.

Canned cat food

PRO: Higher moisture content which helps keep cats hydrated. Texture and flavor often entices cats to eat. 

CON: The rich ingredients can cause diarrhea and other stomach problems. Also contains higher sodium content and preservatives.

Raw cat food

PRO: By far the healthiest and most natural way to feed your cat. Cat’s only consume the ingredients they need rather than fillers.

CON: Can be difficult to make at home. Requires careful planning to ensure your cat is getting all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy.

Frozen cat food

PRO: Frozen cat food is closest to its natural state. Cats are drawn to the aroma and texture and it has numerous health benefits for cats. It also contains moisture to keep your cat hydrated.

CON: It takes up space in your freezer and you have to remember to take it out of the freezer and move it to your refrigerator to thaw it the day before feeding. 

Freeze-dried cat food

PRO: Super convenient and easy to feed. Certain varieties can be rehydrated with water, making it a great choice for cats who like a wet cat food. Can also be mixed with other cat foods to add the benefits of raw feeding into their regular diet. 

CON: A little more costly than kibble. Also, cats love it so much that they may annoy you in an effort to eat more! 

Ethical cat food brand

Do some research into the cat food brands you’re interested in supporting. Do they use ethically sourced and humanely harvested ingredients? Do they use sustainable production methods? Are they honest and transparent with their ingredients and production methods? Remember that the cat food you choose affects more than just your cat, it also affects the environment. 

When in doubt, consult an expert

If after reading all these tips you’re still unsure about what cat food is best to feed your cat, consult with a feline nutritionist. That’s what Vital Essentials does! Check out these podcasts with animal nutritionist Dr. Richard Patton and hear it straight from the expert’s mouth. 

Ready to try freeze-dried or frozen raw cat food?

Visit the Vital Essentials Store to shop online or check out the Store Locator to find a Vital Essentials retailer near you!