Thankfully, these days there are plenty of excellent choices when it comes to commercial canned food e.g. Nature's Variety Instinct, Wellness and Merrick grain-free, By Nature's Organics, etc. There is no excuse for feeding psychedelic or even monochromatic kibble to cats. It's wrong on so many levels. Please do not feed your cat dry food, period; here's why.
Stick to canned food, and among canned foods, if you look for brands that contain human-grade (as opposed to feed-grade stock) meats that's as good as it gets in the realm of commercial cat diets.
Note: Some of the premium brands do have one shortcoming - they contain vegetable gums such as Locust Bean, Guar, and Carrageenan, all of which are highly fermentable. This can cause some cats problems such as stomach pain (they will assume a very still and compact or what is referred to in cat circles as "meatloaf" position right after eating), upchucking, and/or the trots. Even if your cat is fine with these gums, make any food changes gradually to give the digestive system time to adapt.
Ideally superior commercial foods should have none of the following:
- Grains of any kind, not even rice. Yes, rice is a grain. And no brown rice isn't any better than white when it comes to cats. It's all unnecessary and in many cases, harmful. We've had cats on the list with projectile vomiting and other types of abdominal distress from brown rice and other grains.
- Fruits - cats have not evolved eating fruits yet some brands include apples, persimmons and other fruits. A few even contain tomatoes, which unless very ripe can be downright harmful to cats. Certain medicinal herbs are also often added by manufacturers to purportedly confer health benefits e.g. cranberries and blueberries for bladder health. There is no evidence that cats derive any such benefit from various additions. They're at best unnecessary.
- Whether inclusion of fruits and herbs e.g. garlic, alfalfa, cranberries, take a brand out of the running is a judgment call. If the amount is very small, and the rest of the ingredients are good, write to the manufacturer asking for it to be removed, and/or feed it in rotation.
- Fillers such as powdered cellulose, peanut hulls, and grain sorghum which have no nutritional value.
- Non-meat proteins such as potato protein, soy protein isolate, corn gluten, or the infamous rice gluten and wheat gluten part of the recent pet food recall. These all artificially boost protein levels on paper but lack the amino acid profile of meat, and thus are useless, not to mention detrimental to cats' health. For example, soy protein has been implicated in hyperthyroidism, and also shown to increase the excretion of taurine by cats' bodies.
- Dyes/colorings e.g. Caramel color, titanium dioxide, and red dyes #2 and 40, flavoring, or synthetic preservatives such as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin.
Okay to have these in small quantities:
- Vegetables only if less than 10% of the formula, and if cat isn't allergic
- Fish, but only if the manufacturer specifies it is "human-grade". Also look for fish lower on the food chain e.g. sardines, as opposed to tuna. Reports such as this one from the FDA can be used as a guide: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html
What superior cat food should contain:
- Meat (preferably human-grade, even better if it is organic) as the first ingredient, not "byproducts" which can mean just about anything other than muscle meat. Sometimes this means offal and other times who knows:<
- A specific meat source preferably not just for muscle meat but also for organs e.g. stating they are from animal x or y, not "poultry" which could refer to a number of different meats.
- Small amount of organ meat such as kidneys or liver, since they have a different nutrient profile than muscle meat
Bottom line - the shorter the ingredient list, the better, as long as meat from a known source is the predominant ingredient.
There should not be much else added besides a calcium source, and vitamins and minerals lost during the cooking process.
To keep up with the latest in cat nutrition, and for help with your choices as well as transitioning your cat to a better diet, join us at the Holisticat Forum.
If you'd like personalized help designing a diet for your cat (or a health or behavioral issue for that matter), click here for a consult.
- Last Updated: 15 November 2013