We all want our pets to live healthy lives, and the best way to do that is to talk with your veterinarian about how to find a balanced, nutritious diet that will keep your cat happy and healthy for many years.
Many cat owners have questions about all the different kinds of food that are available. And no wonder. There’s canned food, kibble, raw food, freeze-dried food, and more. Veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists have good science to recommend some of these options over others.
How do you find a diet that is right for your cat? And what are some tips for sorting out the marketing claims from the truth?
Cat Food Options
For many pet parents, the cost of pet food is a factor in their choice. Canned (or wet) food tends to be more expensive than dry kibble, and “premium” foods cost more than those you get from a supermarket.
The most expensive cat foods are freeze-dried, raw, or fresh. These foods are costly, and there is also conflicting evidence about whether they are actually good for your pet.
Don’t feel like you need to steer away from feeding your cat a popular brand of food. Commercial pet food companies that work with veterinary nutritionists make high-quality pet food. Sometimes these companies sell more affordable pet food brands because they manufacture their own pet food.
The Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has a good resource to help you understand what the ingredient list means. On a pet food package, you should look for the AAFCO statement that says the product is “formulated to meet AAFCO standards” for the life stage of your pet: puppy or kitten, adult, pregnant, lactating (nursing puppies or kittens), or senior dog or cat.
Your cat’s preferences, weight, activity level, and health issues all figure into the equation.
Do You Want to Cook for Your Cat?
Most of us don’t have time to cook special meals for our cats. But if you are interested in learning about it, the American Kennel Club has some recommendations here, including warnings about inadequate or dangerous recipes that show up on the internet. The website Balance It is run by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. The site helps you customize and create pet recipes if you are determined to be a cat chef.
Is My Cat Overweight or Obese?
An estimated 60% of cats in the US are overweight or obese, so there is a real danger in overfeeding those fur babies. Cats that are at an ideal body weight live longer and have less risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
When you go to the clinic, your vet will get your cat on the scale and tell you if they think they are above their ideal weight. A good way to tell at home is that you should be able to feel their ribs, and when you look at your cat from above, you should see an hourglass shape. This can be a challenge if your cat has a long fur coat, like my cat Pearl. If your cat is extra fluffy, you should be able to feel the rib bones when running your fingers on their sides, just behind their front legs.
Because the calories in cat food vary widely, you’ll need to consult the label and work out with your vet how much to feed your cat. Sometimes households with multiple cats have to work out elaborate systems to make sure that cats with big appetites don’t eat everyone else’s food.
Most vets will say that an occasional healthy cat treat is fine, but you can also reward your cat with catnip (zero calories) and by paying attention to them and playing with them. A great way to keep your cat healthy and happy is by helping them exercise.Find affordable ideas for DIY cat enrichment here.
Even though lots of ads will tell you that your cat needs supplements to stay healthy, the American College of Veterinary Nutrition says that most animals do not need supplements, including vitamins, if they are eating "complete and balanced commercially available pet food.” The exception, of course, is if your veterinarian prescribes a supplement for a particular health problem.
Healthy, Happy Cats
Being a cat parent is a lot of fun, but pet food can get expensive. Luckily, some of the best cat food diets are the less expensive ones. As always, your veterinarian will be happy to discuss your cat’s overall health, including their weight and the right kind of food (and amount) to feed them.
Even though fat cats can be pretty cute, we know they’ll live longer if they regain that hourglass figure.