It’s important to remember that cats are different from dogs and people in terms of what they need in their diet to maintain health. They have evolved as obligate carnivores, which means they need nutrients similar to those represented in the animal prey they consume in nature. You’ve heard of the Atkins Diet? Dr. Deborah Greco, a leading veterinary endocrinologist, coined the phrase “Catkins Diet” to describe the high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet most appropriate for feline health.
So how does this translate into what you should be buying at the pet store or grocery store? It’s easy to be overwhelmed, particularly with so many choices and influences of friends and all those people who want to sell you cat food! The truth is that there are plenty of good choices. One thing to remember is that the list of ingredients on a pet food label is a little different from the nutrient panel. Nutrients are things like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Balance is everything, and best left to the experts (who themselves don’t have a full understanding of what constitutes a “nutritionally complete” food for every cat!) An awful lot of assumptions are made as we continue to learn more.
How do you know whether all those tasty ingredients on the label provide the right balance of nutrients, are palatable and digestible? The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides a statement on foods found to be complete and balanced based on content analysis and feeding trials. The feeding trials are important to ensure that the contents are palatable and digestible. If you find the AAFCO statement on the label, the experts have weighed in (letting you off the hook!) Once you find an AAFCO approved diet that your cat enjoys, don’t add supplements! It’s too easy to throw that balance off.
Different life stages require different nutrients. Kittens require a different food than adults or geriatric cats. Never buy a food labeled for “all life stages.”
We know that dry cat foods are always higher in carbohydrates than canned cat foods due to the extrusion process. Cats that get too many carbohydrates are prone to obesity and diabetes. Cats that don’t get enough water are prone to bladder issues. Canned cat foods are preferred to dry nowadays, and free-feeding dry food should be a thing of the past!
- AAFCO on the label
- Choose the right life stage
- Don’t supplement a balanced cat food
- Choose canned over dry food
- Don’t home-cook without consulting your veterinarian