Food for Thought

Its important to choose the right food to meet all your cats nutritional needs.

The pet food aisle in the average grocery store is enough to make any cat start to salivate. Dry food? The selections are endless. Moist food? There are lots of varieties. Wet food? Yep, theyve got that, too. With all these choices, how can a cat lover choose just the right food thats both tasty and nutritious for their beloved pet?


First and foremost, you want to make sure the pet food label carries a nutritional guarantee, states Dr. Francis Kallfelz, James Law professor of Veterinary Nutrition at Cornell Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established the Model Pet Food Regulations as an industry standard for most pet food on the market today. Any guarantee that a pet food product meets the nutritional needs of a particular life stage (for example: growth, adult maintenance or senior) should be based on its meeting the AAFCO recommended protocols.

What to Look for In a Can or Bag
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they are meat eaters and require certain nutrients that are available only from animal sources. Cats cannot live on a vegetarian diet unless it is supplemented with several essential nutrients that are naturally found only in animal source ingredients. So be sure that the product you are considering has meat listed as one of the main ingredients.

Foods made predominantly from corn, wheat, rice and other grains may not provide adequate nutrition unless they are supplemented with several essential nutrients. Just as we humans cannot manufacture vitamin C in our bodies, cats cannot manufacture certain essential nutrients and, therefore, must receive these nutrients from their food.

Look at labels to make sure your cats food includes these essential nutrients:

Taurine: Cats require taurine to aid in healthy functioning of the heart, retina and reproductive system. Because cats cannot make their own taurine, they must receive it in their diet. This amino acid is found in meat and fish.

Vitamin A: Also called retinol, vitamin A is found only in animal tissues.

Wet Food vs. Dry Food
Should you feed your cat only wet food, or only dry food, or is it better to feed a combination of both? Veterinarians have differing opinions on this subject. Dr. Kallfelz believes that, as long as a cat is healthy, it can be fed wet or dry food exclusively, ora combination of both.

If your cat is experiencing a health problem or weight issue, it may be necessary to change its diet. Introducing your cat to a new food can be challenging, but these tips can make it a little easier:

(1) Over a period of four or five days, try mixing the old food with the new food. Gradually increase the amount of the new food while reducing the amount of the old food.

(2) Add some smelly foods such as anchovy paste or the liquid from a can of tuna to encourage your cat to eat the new food.

(3) Try warming wet food slightly in the microwave. Cats prefer warm food.

Other Considerations
For many owners, the cost of cat food is a factor in the selection process. Canned food tends to be more expensive than dry food; however, dry food can be left out all day, while wet food will spoil. Allowing your cat to free-feed on dry food can lead to overeating; your cat can become overweight if he eats too much. If your cat is a particularly finicky eater, try different flavors of both wet and dry food until you find a combination she enjoys.

Veterinarians see firsthand how a good diet plays a crucial role in extending the quality and quantity of a cats life. 

In my practice, I have a lot of older cats that dont know that theyre old, says Dr. Bud Stuart, a veterinarian with Fairview Pet Clinic in Santa Barbara, California. We are not only extending a cats life with a good diet, we are making it a better quality of life too.

The Best Dishes to Use
Use ceramic, pyrex or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic to feed your cat. Plastic can retain the smell of cleaning products and previous meals, which can discourage your cat from eating. Detergents or bleach you use to clean your cats food and water dishes should be thoroughly rinsed away.

Have an older kitty? Many senior cats have arthritis or other health problems that can make eating difficult. Consider elevating the dishes off the floor to reach nose level so your cat can get to the food more easily. Some cats dont like it when their whiskers hit the side of a bowl, so try feeding from a saucer or a bowl with low sides.

Provide enough dishes or bowls in a multicat household, and always have plenty of fresh water available.