You want to keep your feline healthy and frisky and you know that good nutrition is essential. But what makes a cat food healthy? And of all the brands on the market, is there one that’s best for your pet?
Cats are meat eaters. They require two to three times the protein that omnivores, such as dogs or humans, do.
As strict carnivores, cats rely mainly on nutrients found in animals -- high protein, moderate fat, and minimal carbohydrates -- to meet their nutritional needs. Cats’ bodies are adapted for metabolizing animal protein and fats. And animal-based proteins also contain complete amino acids -- such as taurine, arginine, cysteine, and methionine. These are essential for cats, whose bodies don't make them in adequate amounts.
Although carbohydrates provide energy, cats use them less efficiently as an energy source. Their bodies need a steady release of glucose from protein.
Fat, the most concentrated form of energy, helps cats absorb fat-soluble vitamins and provides essential fatty acids that cats can't make well. These include omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
For good nutrition, cats also need vitamins, such as A, B, D, E, and K, as well as minerals, including calcium and phosphorus.
In general, store-bought cat food consists of water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. . In addition, cat food often contains byproducts of animals or plants, the parts that people don’t normally eat. But how close your cat’s diet comes to that of its feral cousins depends on what formula the manufacturer uses.
Which is better, dry cat food or canned?
Controversy surrounds cat nutrition, just as it does human nutrition. And few topics garner more attention than the canned vs. dry food debate.
Jennifer Larsen is a nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. She says that a high-quality brand of cat food -- either wet or dry -- can be nutritionally complete. However, Larsen says, "Some cats benefit from the higher moisture content of wet food, which makes their urine more dilute. But most cats do fine on dry. It’s an issue of personal preference."
Other veterinarians draw a line in the sand on this subject. Among them is Lisa A. Pierson, a practicing veterinarian in Lomita, Calif.
Pierson has three concerns about dry food -- moisture, carbohydrates, and type of protein. "By and large, the canned food is going to have more meat, more protein from animals," Pierson says. "In the dry food, a lot is often coming from plants."
Mindy Bough, a certified veterinary technician, says you should avoid foods with very high percentages of carbohydrates because they may lack necessary fats and proteins.