Saturday, January 26, 2008

What to feed your cat

The subject of FOOD is Lewis' favorite! He lives for mealtimes. I have done some research to make sure I'm feeding my cats the best possible food. Here is what I discovered for a normal, healthy cat. If your cat seems to be ill or overweight, then you should talk to your vet about what to feed your cat.

When picking out food for your cat, it's important to read the labels. You are looking for:
  • The words "complete and balanced" - avoid packages that say vague words like "entree" or "platter".
  • Main dry-weight ingredient is animal protein, like chicken, fish, liver, or beef. You can find this from the ingredients list - if the first item is not meat, then pass that up for something better for your cat. Adult cats need at least 26% dry weight protein.
  • Appropriate life stage - whether your cat is a kitten (under 1 year), adult, senior (over 7 years), etc. Cats in different life stages have different energy needs, so it's important to make sure they are getting a balanced diet.
Keep in mind that cats are carnivores. Their diet needs are not like humans! So you might be a vegetarian, but in general it's not a good idea to put your cat on a vegetarian diet as well. Also, avoid feeding your cat straight tuna - I used to do this, actually. I was under the impression that since cats like fish, and tuna is fish, and tuna is all meat, then it would be good for them. Actually, this isn't so - tuna is high in fatty acids and lacks the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients for cats.

Now for a lesson in reading the labels. You want to make sure you feed your cats a high grade of food. Even though it's more expensive, it will save you in the long run because your cats will be overall healthier and they'll actually eat less to gain the same amount of nutrition. The general rule of thumb is: if you can buy it at a grocery store, it's probably not good quality. But how do you know for sure? Say we go to the store and see this label (click to make bigger):

The ingredients will list what's in this cat food, from highest percentage to lowest. See here how the highest percentage of the food is "ground yellow corn"? And that meat doesn't appear at all on the list until #3? This means you're actually filling your cat up mostly with CORN, which isn't what your carnivorous animal needs. So I'd bypass this brand and look for something else.

Now let's compare it to a higher-quality, more expensive brand:
The first ingredient in this list (if you can't read it) is "Chicken By-Product Meal". This means it's a good food, since meat is first on the list. Corn doesn't appear until #3, which is good. Also, towards the bottom it reads: AAFCO STATEMENT. AAFCO evaluates animal food by running rigorous tests. Look for AAFCO statements on the label of your cat food, because that means it has been fed to actual animals in controlled tests. On this particular label, it says that AAFCO has determined that this brand provides "complete and balanced nutrition" - two other words that are good to have!

The same concepts apply to dogs as well. The dog trainer we worked with said to look for food that had oatmeal or rice, instead of corn. Later I will try to do a label-comparison about the food that we fed our dogs.


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Mrs.B said...

Very interesting Ashley, I am going to add the link to this post to one I just did about Emily's new B.A.R.F. blog.


Rosie said...

Hi Ashley,
I just found your blog thru Mrs. B's blog. Could you tell me if the info you gave for feeding cats is for dry food or canned, or should I be looking basically for the same ingredients for both? Thanks so much for the info!

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

Rosie: I apologize it took so long to answer your question! You should look for the same thing in both canned food and dry food. The main difference is that canned food has a lot more moisture, so you have to take that into account when you figure out the percentage of the protein. I can't remember exactly how to figure it out, but you want to make sure that the DRY weight protein is around 26% for adult cats. I couldn't find anything that said whether canned or dry was better. Some say that dry food is a good way to keep cats' teeth cleaner, which makes sense to me. Some cats can't handle dry food (especially older cats). I hope that helps you!