What You Need to Know About Feeding Your Cat
Which is better, dry cat food or canned? continued...
According to Pierson, no more than 10% of the calories in a cat’s diet should come from carbohydrates. She also believes the high-starch, energy-dense nature of dry foods may contribute to obesity in cats.
"The worst culprit is free feeding dry food," Pierson says. "It’s like setting out a bowl of Doritos for your child to chomp on all day."
And, Pierson says, dry cat foods typically contain between 5% and 10% water, while canned foods are about 78% water. Water is a critical nutrient that helps with digestion, circulation, and other bodily processes.
So why not just keep the water bowl filled up? Although there isn’t 100% agreement on this, some studies show that cats are less sensitive to thirst and dehydration. Cats fed a diet of dry food may ultimately consume about half the water that cats eating wet food do. This can contribute to concentration of minerals in urine leading to serious problems with the urinary tract.
What ingredients should I look for in my cat's food?
It’s important to keep in mind that ingredients will have different levels of nutrients. How well those nutrients can be absorbed may also differ, Larsen says. "Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to judge quality by the label."
You can glean some information from the label, because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. "Out of all of the important nutrients, protein should top the list," says Bough.
Pierson feeds the cats in her care a grain-free, meat-based diet. "Many high-quality foods have ingredients like carrots, blueberries, peas, and apples to appeal to people, although those are not necessary ingredients in cat food," she says. However, in small amounts, they are not harmful.
It can be challenging to make cat food comparisons, but Pierson suggests asking food manufacturers about the percentages of calories that come from different types of nutrients. Or you can look for web sites that provide information about the nutritional content of cat food.
"The manufacturer’s reputation and experience are really important," Larsen says. "And I strongly prefer foods that have been through AAFCO feeding tests." The Association of American Feed Control Officials is a group of state and federal officials who regulate pet food to ensure that nutrients exist in correct amounts and ratios.
What is natural or “holistic” cat food?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows a product can to carry a "natural" claim if it has been minimally processed and contains no:
- Artificial flavor
- Coloring ingredients
- Chemical preservatives
- Other artificial or synthetic ingredients
No regulatory definition exists for "holistic" cat food. "It’s used as a marketing term," Larsen says, "and every company has a different definition for it, so it’s not particularly useful."
If you’re looking into cat foods with these kinds of claims, talking with your veterinarian may be useful, Bough says. It’s helpful to keep in mind that high-quality, more expensive brands -- whether natural or not -- are sometimes a better deal in the long run. That’s because, with more nutrients readily absorbed, she says, pets may not have to eat as much food per serving.