The Pros And Cons Of Different Types Of Cat Food

Feline nutrition is very important for general health. However, the plethora of dietary options, brands and formulas available to consumers can be confusing, when deciding which kind of cat food is best for your feline friend’s health and wellness.

Unlike humans and various other creatures (dogs included), cats’ evolutionary process has resulted in no dietary need for carbohydrates. Just like their undomesticated, and much larger relatives, domesticated cats’ bodies have adapted to a protein and fat rich, carbohydrate-poor diet. In the wild, cats use plants, primarily tall and short grass, for digestive regulation and dental support. However, wild cats do not consume vegetable or plant matter for the purpose of energy or nutrition.

High quality cat foods are formulated with this evolutionary platform, and feline nutrition requirements, in mind. The three main types of cat food are:

Kibble (dry)

  • Pros: Usually inexpensive, convenient
  • Cons: Higher in carbohydrates than desired

Canned (wet)

  • Pros: Convenient, usually more nutritious than kibble
  • Cons: Usually more expensive than kibble per serving

Fresh (uncooked/processed proteins)

  • Pros: Optimal wellness cat food diet
  • Cons: Most expensive option, most cats will not except the change to fresh

Cats are unique in their attachment to specific textures of their food and it is difficult to get them to accept/change to other forms of food. For this reason, we recommend that you try to feed kittens a mix of canned and dry with the hope that they will always accept both.

At Pleasant Hill Animal Hospital, we take pride in providing our patients and their human caretakers with all the information necessary to help cat owners make educated decisions about all facets of feline nutrition, cat foods included.

Kitten Food

For the first month of a cat’s life, The kittens nutrition comes soley from nursing its mother (or bottle feeding if an orphan). Once this initial period passes, kitten food can become a dietary staple in the following stages, amounts and frequency:

From 3-5 weeks of age, feeding kittens involves offering the milk-replacer formula mixed with small amounts of canned kitten food in a shallow dish to encourage weaning from a bottle 4-6 times a day.  As the kitten approaches 5 weeks old it should be getting gradually more solid food with less milk replacer mixed in.

By 5-8 weeks of age, your kitten should be able to chew its own kitten food, and you should provide a protein rich and energy filled diet, with feedings taking place 3-4 times daily. Typically we recommend canned kitten food because it will mimic the natural diet both in consistency and formulation. However, a good diet may also consist of a combination of canned and dry kitten foods. After 6 months of age, kittens can be fed 2 times per day.

Most quality kitten foods are high in protein, calories and fats, which are all necessary to support healthy growth and body function. Feeding the right kitten food in the right amounts, and at the right times throughout the day is essential for happy, growing cats. Our veterinary staff would be happy to discuss the best kitten food options for your feline friend, as well as a proper feeding schedule at your next veterinary appointment.

Cat Foods

Although dry cat foods are very popular among cat owners, they should be considered the second choice for cat food. This is because dry foods have a higher carbohydrate count than we consider optimal.  Dry foods are nutritionally dense, meaning a little food goes a long way.  Owners need to be careful not to overfeed their kitty.  In addition, the protein choice tends to be higher in plant and not animal based protein, which is less bio-available to a cat through normal digestion.

Dry food can be left out without spoiling to be nibbled on through the day.  It is usually coated with a highly palatable glaze to encourage cats to eat it well.  This can help if therappeutic diets (such as for allergies, kidney and bladder disease) are needed, or in households where the schedule can be variable.  The owner just needs to be aware, the high levels of carbohydrates and plant protein can lead to weight gain and digestive issues, especially in older and more sedentary cats. The amount to feed as reccommended on the bag may not be the right amount for your individual animal.  We are happy to discuss and reccomend feeding strategies specific for your cat.  

Wet cat foods can have a nutrient profile that mimics the kind of diet cats would choose in the wild. The protein in canned cat food is usually animal based, which means that canned cat food has a nutritional profile that compliments a cat’s evolutionary profile and physiological needs. Canned cat food also usually has a low carbohydrate count, and a high water amount. But if cats are not consistently fed canned food, they may develop a preference for the tasty glazed dry food.  So daily canned food is strongly encouraged.

Fresh cat foods are the same kind of foods a cat would consume in the wild. Fresh cat food diets are high in unprocessed proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and of course, water. They are also very low in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to get your cat to accept a change in food types and texture.

Senior Cat Food

 In the normal process of aging, cats transition from adulthood to the mature/senior stages of life around 7 years of life. This transition can causes health changes affecting a cat’s:

  • Weight
  • Skin
  • Joints
  • Teeth
  • Internal organs

Many pet food companies make maintenance senior cat foods which are specially formulated to deliver ingredients, joint supplements, and ontioxidants that are more easily digested and absorbed than standard adult cat foods. For older cats with an identified disease condition such as diabetes or kidney insufficiency, there are specific therapeutic diets to slow the course of the disease and decrease it negative effect overall.

Your veterinarian can help you choose the best cat food for your senior cat by taking pre-existing medical conditions, current health status and overall lifestyle (indoor, outdoor, sedentary, active, etc.) into account.

Understanding Feline Nutritional Requirements

Cats, like all living creatures, require six classes of nutrients:

Water: The single most important nutrient for sustaining healthy cell and overall body function. Cats lose water through their:

  • Lungs
  • Skin
  • Urine
  • Milk
  • Feces

Cats also have evolved to receive the majority of the water in their diets through the consumption of food. This is why sound feline nutrition includes a diet that is rich in unprocessed proteins and water. Canned cat foods are high in water content, often up to 80%.  Many cats on a prdominantly canned diet are not seen drinking from a water bowl as oftern

Protein: Cat's are the only true carnivores, meaning protein is absolutely essential for their health.  They are unable to manufacture several amino acids and can only acquire them through the food they eat.  Protein is the component of feline nutrition that is necessary for the maintenance cat’s:

  • Muscle and tendons
  • Bones and ligaments
  • blood components
  • organs such as brain, heat and kidneys
  • hormones and neurotransmitters

Genreally animal -origin proteins, like fish and chicken, are more available for use in the cat's body than plant origin proteins. Lack of esential amino acids- building blocks of proteins -lead to heart muscle disease.  So a good quality cat food will be very high, up to 50%, animal- origin protein, and fortified with essential amino acids, such as taurine and carnitine.

Essential fatty acids: Essential Fatty Acids, also known simply as fats, provide the most concentrated source of energy of any feline nutrition requirement.  Unlike other species, that can use carbohydrates for energy,  cats lack enzymes tha help in digestion of carbohydrates. So, for cats, fats provide energy, making carbohydrates unnecessary.This energy is consumed in all metabolic, cellular and mechanical ( exercise and activity) functions in the cats body.  In adition to providing energy, fats transport the fat soluble vitamins: D, E, A and K.from the intestines into the blood stream, where they are put to good use.  The molecules of fats are used to make hormones, walls of the cells, the covering of the brain and spinal cord and the structure of the skin.

Cats that have fat deficiencies can display the following symptoms:

  • Stunted growth
  • Dry hair/dandruff
  • Listlessness
  • Infection Susceptibility

A high quality cat food will contain between 20-40% fat (essential fatty acids) of total daily calorie intake.

Vitamins: Vitamins are organic substances (made by plants or animals) that are very important feline nutrition components because they help regulate various body processes, including:

  • Boosting immunity
  • Support growth and development
  • Help cells and organs properly function

There are two types of vitamins, fat soluble and water soluble. While fat soluble vitamins are efficiently stored in the cat's bady, water soluble vitamins need to be provided on a regular basis.albeit in small quantities.

The water soluble vitamins are:

  • The B Vitamins: Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, B-12
  • Vitamin C

A raw or minimally processed cat food diet usually fulfills vitamin requirements naturally through the use of whole foods like chicken, meat and fish. Dry foods usually add synthetic vitamins to make up for the removal of natural ones during processing. 

Minerals: Minerals are inorganic substances that are produced in soil or water, and that are consumed by plants or animals to regulate its bodiy's functions.

Just like vitamins, there is no universally accepted mineral intake requirement for cats, but volumes of data exist indicating the need of the following minerals to help facilitate healthy body functioning:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Iodine

The overall balance of a cat’s diet is affected not only by the levels of each individual minerals, but also by the interactions between them. For this reason, we recommend consulting a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist about mineral amounts and balance when choosing cat food, or cat food supplementation. 

Foods our office reccomends come from companies that we know devote extensive resources to research feline nutrition needs and the best food sources and to impose strict quality control measures in the production of their food lines.

Schedule A Cat Nutrition Consultation Today

Make an appointment today and let one of our veterinarians help you make the right nutritional choices for your cat.