How to choose the best foods for your cat

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly guessing what are the best foods for your cat? You’re not alone. It can be tough to know what’s best for our feline friends, but luckily there are some guidelines to help us out.

by David Stone

for Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different types of foods available for cats, and how to pick the right one for your kitty. So whether you’re just starting to switch your cat to a new diet, or you’re looking for something more specific, read on for tips on how to select the perfect food for your furry friend!

Note: We will not endorse any brands, but there are many good ones on the market.

black and white bicolor cat
Photo by NastyaSensei on

In General: The Best Foods for Cats

Let’s start with an anecdote. I met an Australian vet at a Holiday Market in New York City. I was selling my wife’s cat art, and that got the conversation started. He told me had a cat that lived to be 26 years old.

Envious, eager to learn, I asked him what he fed her.

“Anything she wanted,” he said.

My takeaway: happiness is always a factor worth considering.

Foods nature designed for cats

The best foods for cats are determined by what best supports their health coupled with the foods they enjoy. Sounds simple, but this issue is hotly debated among cat owners, veterinarians and manufacturers. I’ve put together the best evidence in favor of each approach to feeding cats in hopes it might help you find a food that best matches your goals for your kitty.

Cats are obligate carnivores which means their digestive system is adapted to meat-based proteins. Although carrots may be healthy for us, cats can’t metabolize them or most other vegetables.

Evolved as carnivores, cats have sharp teeth designed to capture prey – as dogs do. They also have specific nutritional requirements that are quite different from those of other mammals.


Their teeth, for example, are designed to shear meat off bones – sharp points with serrated edges on both top and bottom incisors. Their short digestive tract is best at digesting protein.

Many mammals (including humans) are designed to digest carbohydrates like grains and vegetables. But cats are different. They must make up for their short digestive tract by producing large amounts of amylase – an enzyme – in the mouth to aid in carbohydrate digestion.

Rather than carbohydrate-rich grains and vegetables, the best foods for cats must contain high-quality protein, be nutrient-dense and biologically appropriate for your cat to eat (and taste good enough that they want to eat it).

macro shot photography of cat
Photo by Skitterphoto on

What does biologically appropriate mean?

Biologically appropriate foods for your cat are those closest to what they would eat in nature. Cats evolved as carnivores, eating a prey model diet – eating rodents, birds and other small mammals. Biologically appropriate foods for your cat are ones that best address their nutritional needs as a carnivore.

Not just that, they evolved as desert animals. They got vital fluids from their prey, not from drinking out of pools – or bowls. Well-hydrated cats are most often ones with sufficient wet food in their diets

In the wild, cats would not eat fruits and vegetables often, if at all. Sprinkle some pumpkin or green beans on top of your cat’s food to round out their diet with additional fiber – but don’t rely on them for essential nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals.

Protein, protein, protein!

The best sources of protein in a cat’s diet come from meat (chicken, turkey, beef, fish). Although dairy proteins like milk and cheese are often suggested for cats, these proteins are not biologically appropriate foods for a carnivore.

What nutrients do cats need?

Cats require twenty amino acids in their diet to stay healthy. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Dogs can make most of these amino acids on their own. Cats, however, cannot produce Taurine, Arginine, Cysteine or Methionine needed in their diets; so, they must get them from food or food supplements.

Taurine is an amino acid found in animal tissues, fish and fish oil. A long-term Taurine deficiency can lead to blindness, heart disease and reproductive problems. Arginine is found in red meat, poultry and dairy products. Cysteine comes from poultry or beef, and methionine comes from poultry.

What about carbohydrates?

Cats do not require carbohydrates to survive, but they can use them as an energy source if needed. Carbohydrates should come from vegetables or grains which contribute fiber to your cat’s diet.

What about fats?

Cats need fat in their diets to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin A is found in animal tissues, fish oil or carotene sources like carrots or sweet potatoes. Vitamin D comes from fish and fish oils, and vitamin E comes from vegetable oil. Vitamin K is abundant in green leafy vegetables or alfalfa sprouts – try not to rely on supplements for this nutrient as they can be toxic in excess.

What about calcium?

Cats get calcium from meat sources – fish and poultry are best.

What about human-grade?

The key consideration for a food classified as “human grade” is that it must be fit for human consumption. That means that the ingredients in the food are of high quality and that the manufacturing process meets stringent safety requirements. Labeled as human-grade, food is also subject to regular inspection by the FDA or other regulatory bodies.

What about raw diets?

There is a lot of debate surrounding raw diets for cats. Some people believe that raw diets are the best choice for cats because they resemble the diet that wild cats eat. Others believe that raw diets are dangerous and can lead to health problems in cats.

No one answer is right for everyone. But if you are considering a raw diet for your cat, do your research and talk to your veterinarian about safety. A raw diet may or may not provide the best foods for your cat, and they might even make them sick.


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