The almighty advertisement. With the divine power of opening up your wallet and slipping out those precious Jacksons. And the worst part? You do it willingly. What a travesty. Me, a victim of marketing? Never.
Corporate manipulation extends even to animal food; you can easily buy an inferior product due to a strong marketing campaign. Or worse, buy a good product at exploitative prices when there are more reasonable alternatives. We will avoid directly shaming the most egregious offenders to avoid litigation, even though they (probably) deserve it. Still, you should be aware that many brands promote their foods as superior products when they are impressively mediocre. Some companies even offer breed-specific foods to coax customers into buying them.
Unless you're feeding your cat a raw diet, then practically every brand is going to have a varied combination of ingredients. Many of these ingredients are not digestible by cats. Unfortunately, there's no cheap way to avoid these filler ingredients. But as good pet owners, we can do our due diligence to ensure that the food we choose is adequate for a cat's nutritional needs. This post helps you purchase the best pet foods and avoid low-quality products.
It's okay to be skeptical. But you know what you can trust? Numbers. They never lie - and neither do cats. You're going to have to look at the nutrition facts to get a good idea of the quality of any brand.
The percentage of macronutrients is the most critical aspect of cat food. The second is ingredient composition. In the United States, you can find the analysis of all cat food labeled on the product. This makes our job surprisingly easy; all you need to do is know what to look for. Below are our suggestions as to how you can select food for your cat.
In short, the ideal cat food has, at minimum, 32% protein and 12% fat. Higher quality cat foods will usually range from 34-40% protein. Products that fall below this range should be immediately disqualified. Remember, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they eat only meat - i.e., protein. Foods that fall below this range are likely inferior and not suitable for your cat.
Other metrics are also analyzed, including fiber, moisture, and various vitamins and minerals. These are generally not worth considering when selecting a dry food for your pet.
Once you find a food that meets these protein and fat expectations, the next step is to consider the ingredients used. Just like in the food we purchase for ourselves, the ingredients listed will be in a quantitative order, with the primary ingredients listed first and ingredients in lesser quantities listed after.
The first ingredient listed should be an animal protein. In high-quality pet food, the first ingredient will be a meat product, such as chicken or fish. Lower-quality foods will substitute this for an animal meal or a grain. Foods that do not have a true, singular protein as the primary ingredient should be avoided.
Looking further down the list of ingredients, you can expect to find items such as pea protein, rice, corn, etc. These are included to keep pet food at a reasonable price. It is okay to purchase foods with non-protein so long as they are not the primary ingredient and the product meets the minimum protein and fat percentage requirements. However, you will want foods with as few of these as possible.
It is important to distinguish between an animal meal and unrefined animal meat. Animal meal, most commonly chicken meal, is a processed and refined animal product made from a variety of parts from the animal, e.g., skin, meat, and bones. While this is not necessarily something to avoid entirely, it should not be the primary ingredient in pet food. Animal-by-product meal should be treated similarly. These two ingredients should only be used to supplement cat food further to meet the minimum protein requirements. Their primary benefit is to lower the cost of the food while avoiding indigestible fillers such as corn.
Any food purchased for kittens will follow the same formula as when selecting food for adult cats. The only caveat is that kittens require a higher protein content in their food. We recommend only buying kitten food with at least 36% protein. This is to ensure that kittens grow well during the formative stages of their life.
Most cats prefer wet food; for those of you who decide to feed your pet a wet diet, you'll find that our recommendations regarding protein percentage won't work. That's because wet food is just that. It's wet. The increased water content skews the analysis to reflect the increased moisture. Foods in this category have protein percentages around 10%, while moisture percentages may be as high as 85%. This makes the macronutrient analysis a poor metric when selecting wet food.
Our recommendation when purchasing wet food is to look primarily at the ingredients list. You will want to evaluate this entirely to ensure the only ingredients are animal products. Avoid wet food that contains grains. Additionally, cheaper options will often include the direct addition of water. More expensive brands will replace this with broth, which is ideal.
You will find that most wet foods are of higher quality than dry options. They're even more useful when you consider that the added water content helps provide you pet with their necessary daily hydration. While this makes them a preferable choice, their significantly increased cost may be unpalatable for a buyer. Cans of wet food may be priced as high as $1.50 per serving. For most pet owners, we recommend dry food simply because of the additional cost.
If your pet has kidney disease, they will need specific foods. This is tricky to manage, as cats are carnivores, and proteins are excreted in urine, which means that a high protein diet puts an additional burden on the kidneys, worsening renal failure. There is no workaround to this; you must select a food product that is tailored to protect the kidneys. The only way to do this is to choose a limited protein food that minimizes electrolyte waste. By reducing the workload on the kidneys, you limit disease progression. Unless you have a very fat wallet, long-term cat dialysis is not reasonable. Mismanagement of kidney disease will always lead to an extremely uncomfortable death. We advise consulting with your veterinarian regarding this.
It is relatively easy to find good food for your pet once you know what you're looking for. These suggestions will guide you into choosing a better quality cat food and avoid being misled by strategic advertising. Once you have the fundamentals as to how to select a good product, you will have great flexibility when purchasing pet food and can make informed decisions as to which brand is right for you.