Diet is the foundation of good health. We can’t control our cats’ genetics, but we can control what we feed them. A species-appropriate diet will help your cat thrive and prevent future potentially serious health issues. The better educated you are about feeding your cat, the healthier your cat will be.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat in their diet not only to survive, but to thrive. The optimal diet for a cat is a properly formulated raw, home-cooked or grain-free canned diet.
Why you shouldn’t feed dry food
Commercial cat food was created with convenience and profit in mind. We know from human nutrition that whole foods are better for our health than processed foods. This also applies to feline diets. The less processed, the more readily available nutrients are.
Dry food is the equivalent of junk food for cats. Think about it as similar to feeding kids an exclusive diet of sugary cereals. Dry foods, even the premium varieties, are too low in protein and contain too many fillers. Cat cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.
A high carb feline diet can lead to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Dry food is the leading cause of most urinary tract problems, and it is responsible for the obesity problem among cats.
Contrary to what you believe, and what some veterinarians sadly still tell their clients, dry food does not clean your cat’s teeth. Cats tend to not chew their food long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. It also just doesn’t make sense. If you dentist told you that all you need do to keep your teeth clean was to chew on hard pretzels or crackers, you would change dentists, wouldn’t you? Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.
Feeding your cat: raw, home-cooked or canned?
When it comes to feeding your cat, the choices can be overwhelming, but there are really only three types of cat food: raw (fresh, frozen or freeze-dried,) home-cooked, canned and dry. I already covered why you should never feed dry food. While a raw diet is the least processed of all the feline diets, I realize that raw feeding is not for everyone. If you’ve never considered it, I do encourage you to educate yourself about raw feeding and to give it a try.
The next best thing to a raw diet is a gently cooked diet. There are currently few fresh cooked diets available, but I’m hoping that will change.
If you don’t want to feed raw or a cooked diet, your next best choice is a premium canned diet.
What about making your own cat food?
Feeding your own raw or gently cooked food can be an economical option and it’s not as hard as you might think, but you do need to sure that the diet is properly formulated. There are many recipes available online, one that I trust is this recipe for a cooked diet by Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant Jodi Ziskin. For a home-made raw diet, I recommend Dr. Lisa Pierson’s recipe.
What I look for in a commercial cat food
- Protein is listed the first ingredient on the label
- The meat used is human grade, which means it’s fit for human consumption. If the meat is organic, that’s even better.
- The food is grain-free, and that means absolutely no grains, not even rice, barley, or any other grains that may be considered healthy in human diets.
- No by-products, corn, soy, or any other fillers.
- I prefer foods without carrageenan. Some of the brands on the list below have carrageenan in some of their flavors, so check labels carefully.
- I prefer GMO-free foods, but they can still be difficult to find. Some of the brands on the list below may contain GMO’s.
Avoid fish-based foods
Most cats love fish, but I recommend using foods containing fish only as an occasional treat. The primary fish used in cat food are salmon, tilefish (usually identifed as ocean whitefish on the label) and tuna. They can contain toxic doses of common water pollutants, heavy metals, and other contaminants. (FWIW, that’s also true for fish sold for human consumption.) Mercury is considered one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern by the World Health Organization.
Fish based foods can contain fish bones and guts, which can increase the phosphorus levels of the food. This can be a problem for cats with kidney disease.
Fish based foods may contain menadione, a synthetic form of vitamin K, which has been banned by the FDA for use in human supplements.
“But my vet says…”
In an ideal world, your veterinarian would be the ultimate resource for learning what to feed your cat. Sadly, vets aren’t always the best unbiased source of information about nutrition. For starters, the nutrition curriculum in vet school is not very extensive. As a result, most vets only have a fairly basic knowledge about feline nutrition, and much of that knowledge is conveyed by lecturers that may have ties to large pet food companies. Additionally, vet students tend to receive free food for their own pets from pet food companies, so it’s not surprising that they end up recommending those diets to future clients. That said, more and more vets are educating themselves about real-food nutrition, and I have a lot of respect for those individuals who do take the time to look beyond what they were taught in vet school.
The brands I recommend
This section contains affiliate links*
The list of brands below is not meant to be exclusive, nor does it mean there aren’t other brands out there that are good. These are brands that I am either currently feeding or have fed to my own cats in the past. The brands are listed in no particular order.
If you would like me to evaluate a brand not on this list, I would be happy to do so – please see my Consultations page for fees for this service.
Best Wet Cat Foods
Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein™ is available from Chewy.com.
Weruva Read my full review of this brand here. Wervua is available from Amazon and from Chewy.com.
Hound and Gatos is available from Chewy.com. Some varieties of Hound and Gatos are available from Amazon.
Tiki Cat. I only recommend the poultry-based flavors. Tiki Cat is available from Chewy.com. Some formulas are also available from Amazon.
Soulistic. This brand is similar to Weruva and is available from Amazon.
Ziwi is available from Chewy.com.
Nature’s Logic is available from Chewy.com.
Best Raw Cat Foods
Darwin’s Natural Pet Food
Vital Essentials is available from Chewy.com.
Stella and Chewy’s
Primal Pet Foods
Dehydrated raw diets
The Honest Kitchen is available from Chewy.com.
Stella and Chewy’s is available from Chewy.com.
Primal Pet Foods Primal Pet Foods dehydrated formulas are available from Chewy.com. Some formulas are also available from Amazon.
Gently cooked diets
*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on Amazon. The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of Chewy.com, Smalls and Darwin’s. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.