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Cat foods often contain similar ingredients but are not all the same. With many cat food brands on the market, it is important to look out for foods with additional fillers or preservatives that do not provide nutritional value.
Pet parents naturally want to give their cats healthy and tasty food to help them thrive and live fulfilling lives. Vet recommended cat food will give cats balanced nutrition for their age and health, but how should cat parents navigate and select suitable types for their kitties?
When looking for the best cat foods, ensure it has the proper nutrients for a cat’s long term health. The cat food should also support the cat's life stage (kitten, adolescent, adult, senior) and contain only necessary ingredients.
Pet parents might wonder what balanced nutrition means. Essentially, it means the proper ratio of vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients for the pet's age range, weight, and health level.
The best vet-recommended cat food provides a balanced diet from high-quality ingredients. Cat foods should also adhere to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards for complete and balanced formulation. Cat foods with the AAFCO label fit one of two profiles: growth/reproduction and adult. Each type of profile offers the right nutrients and ingredients for that life cycle.
Food for cats must contain a high percentage of meat as a protein source. This is because cats are obligate carnivores and cannot easily digest the proteins found in plants. For ideal nutrition, their diet must also be rich in essential amino acids like taurine, arginine, methionine, and cysteine — protein building blocks found in abundance in meat but not plants. While taurine supports metabolic, heart, and eye health, arginine helps the kidneys remove excess ammonia through the urine. Each essential amino acid supports the cat's health and gives them what they need to thrive.
What are byproducts? According to the AAFCO:
"Meat by-products are the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto."
For poultry, the AAFCO says:
"Poultry By-Products must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto."
Cat foods with the AAFCO label must use animal byproducts according to the definition. Byproducts by themselves are not poor quality; what matters for quality are their sources, preparation methods, and amount present.
That said, vet-recommended cat food will contain meat and poultry — which means the muscle tissue — as the primary protein source. High-quality byproducts like livers, spleens, other organ meats, and entrails are also rich in nutrients not found in muscle tissues. Adding them in small amounts can create safe and healthy pet food — and contribute to a sustainable food supply free from unnecessary food waste.
Other ingredients and nutrients to consider include fiber, grains, and carbohydrates. Cat parents might hear that all grains are bad for cats, but that's not the whole story. Grains in small amounts can be helpful for digestion because the fiber reduces hairball risks and improves bowel movements. But, of course, too much fiber at times can reduce nutrient absorption, so cat foods should contain no more than 10% fiber.
What about grain allergies? While grains can create allergies in cats, most food allergies come from animal proteins — the type of proteins cats rely on.
Carbohydrates can appear in cat food as filler, especially in dry foods. However, cats get most of their energy from fats and proteins instead of carbohydrates, so a food high in carbohydrate ingredients can't give them the nutrients they need. A consistent diet of high carbs could also increase the risks for diabetes and obesity.
Whether vet-recommended dry cat food, wet food, or home-cooked cat diets, the food pet parents give their cat should not have more supplements or vitamins than necessary. Too many nutrients can do more harm than good. For example, excess vitamin A in kittens can cause skeletal lesions; too much iron for cats can lead to vomiting or diarrhea; and extra magnesium in cats can affect urinary tract health and contribute to urinary tract stones.
What's better: wet food or dry food? In reality, both have their pros and cons.
Wet canned foods have much higher moisture content and far fewer carbohydrates, but they can also increase dental plaque and don't last as long. Dry food is much lower in moisture, can contribute to weight gain if the cat does not get much exercise, and has more carbohydrates. However, it is also much less expensive, lasts longer, and works well for self-feeding through interactive food treats and feeders.
Pet parents can also research the dry food manufacturing/processing facility for any recalls in the past three years to ensure their pets are consuming the highest-quality product.
Vet-recommended wet cat food and dry food products contain high-quality ingredients and proper nutrient balances, and they cater to age- and health-specific needs. Although wet foods require more volume for optimal protein nutrition, they are often recommended by vets for most cats.
The pet's health is another important consideration when selecting food. For example, cats with kidney disease should eat food lower in phosphorus and sodium and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Cats with particular food intolerances or allergies may need a hydrolyzed protein diet. Finally, cats with diabetes need a low-carbohydrate diet on a highly structured schedule to stabilize blood sugars.
From Purina Pro Plan to Hill's Prescription Diet, there are many vet-recommended cat foods Fuzzy vet professional would recommend or encourage pet parents to try to ensure their pets age well. Please speak to our team about the best cat foods for today!