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The truth about your cat’s food

Christine Bryant is a freelance writer based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She writes for SheKnows, as well as several other publications that include newspapers and magazines. She writes on topics such ...

What you need to know about the cat food you buy

Look down any pet food aisle and you'll see endless possibilities. When it comes to your cat's health, however, picking the right cat food can mean the difference between giving your pet the nutrients it needs and depriving it of much-needed vitamins and minerals. Here's what you need to know about commercial cat food and what you should be putting in your cat's food dish.
Cat with food | Sheknows.com

What you need to know about cat food

Look down any pet food aisle and you'll see endless possibilities. When it comes to your cat's health, however, picking the right cat food can mean the difference between giving your pet the nutrients it needs and depriving it of much-needed vitamins and minerals. Here's what you need to know about commercial cat food and what you should be putting in your cat's food dish.

While there's no shortage of cat food options on the store shelves, how do you know which food is best for your cat? Consumers should take note that some pet food may not suit the needs of your cat.

So how do you know which foods in that endless aisle of pet products are best for your favorite feline? Our experts weigh in on the dos and don'ts of feeding your cat.

The natural diet

Long before kitties were invited into the homes of their human counterparts, a cat's natural diet was true carnivore style — low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat, says Dr. Michael Salkin, a veterinary expert with Pearl.com. Naturally, cats require a higher level of protein than dogs.

"Because feline diets must provide proteins containing essential amino acids, for which cats have an absolute requirement, it's essential that dog food not be fed to cats," Salkin says.

The protein truth

Just because the protein level on the bag appears high, it doesn't mean all proteins are digestible. Look for highly digestible proteins such as chicken, beef and fish, and the order of ingredients matters.

"Ingredients are listed in order of relative amounts," says Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. "Cats are strict carnivores, and feeding them excess carbohydrates such as grains may lead to health problems including obesity and diabetes."

Read more about proteins in cat food here.

Owners should also be aware that pet foods labeled as being "gourmet," "premium" or "super" are not required to contain higher quality ingredients, Murray says.

The wet or dry choice

It's not physiologically appropriate for cats to nibble all day, as cats who eat dry food tend to do, Murray says. "Cats evolved to eat a high-protein prey meal, and then fast until the next meal," she says. "Cats who nibble dry food all day are forced to produce much more insulin than cats who eat only at mealtimes, contributing to the development of diabetes."

If your cat will only eat dry food, however, or your budget doesn't allow for wet food, Murray says don't despair. "Encourage your cat to eat non-dry food and look for dry food brands that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates," she says.

And don't forget to always discuss your cat's individual health needs with your own veterinarian.

The bottom line

Because it's very difficult to read and understand the ingredient lists on food labels, Murray suggests receiving help from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The best commercial foods have been tested by this organization, and that information will be stated on the label, she says.

Overall, it's important to select wholesome protein sources to feed a cat, and make sure your favorite kitty is getting much-needed vitamins including A and D, Salkin says. "That's best achieved by feeding an owner-prepared diet or the more expensive no grain/all meat protein foods."

If you choose to make your own pet food, Murray advises to do your research to make sure the diet is well-balanced. She suggests sites such as petdiets.com and balanceit.com to help with your research.

Tell us:

What do you feed your cats? Do you have a special diet your cat enjoys? Let us know in the comments below.

More cat food articles

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Understanding your cat's nutritional needs
Can your dog or cat become a vegetarian?

Photo credit: GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Photodisc/Getty Images
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