What to feed a cat

Knowing what to feed a cat has become a minefield. Learn how to decipher the sense from the nonsense and take the stress out of cat food.

What to feed a cat lilac British Shorthair

What is the best food for a cat? 

We are asked this so often that we thought we would write an article about it! 

Kitten and cat parents these days want only the best for their cats. As humans, we know that a good diet full of nutritious food and free from junk food will help us live longer, happier and healthier lives. And we want the same for our cats.

The problem is that there is so much information out there about what makes the best food for a cat. In the wonderful world of the web - and it is wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips, it can get a bit difficult to figure out the good sense from the not-so-good-sense!  Even in the world of human nutrition, everyone has an opinion. Nutrition has gone into overload - we are bombarded with body coaches, diets, advice on what to eat and what not to eat, medical studies on the causes of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more….and the problem is that so much of this information is conflicting!

Then there are the fad diets - the ‘Paleo’ diet, for example: eat like a caveman and you will be healthier. Paleos shunned grains and processed food to be more like our ancestors. But then the remains of a truly ancient man was found...and guess what was in his stomach? Grains and processed meat!  Cat nutrition suffers from the same fads. 

Beware cat food fads

The first thing to be aware of is this: be wary of food trends and fads. In human nutrition and cat nutrition! 

We don’t have all the answers yet

The second thing to be aware of is that we just don’t really know what we, or our cats should be eating for the ‘ideal’ diet. We don’t know for certain what the best cat food actually is. The science simply isn’t that well developed yet. 

Every cat is different 

And, of course, every cat is different, so what suits one cat won’t suit all cats. 

The wild cat myth 

Scottish wild cat feed cat

Looking at what wild cats eat and trying to model that is flawed logic. Domestic cats are not wild cats. Most domestic cats, especially pedigree cats, have evolved over multiple generations where each generation has been an indoor cat. We have traced some of our cats back to the early 1900s and every generation was almost certainly an indoor cat. Cats live for around 15 years, so if we go back to 1900 that equates to 8 full generations. In human equivalent that would take us back to roughly 1400AD!

We know from studies on Scottish Wildcats that their intestinal tracts are significantly shorter than those of domestic cats. A shorter intestinal tract makes them better able to deal with the bacteria that they encounter from eating raw meat. Modern domestic cats have evolved over the years, and now have significantly longer intestinal tracts, making them ill-equipped to deal with the bacteria found on raw meat.   

So, with all this in mind, does it matter what you feed your cat? YES.

The science is far from perfect, and there are many, many cat food fads out there that need to be avoided, but what you feed your cat does matter.  Feline diet and nutrition are very important. Choosing the best cat food for your cat will help your cat thrive and live a longer, happier and healthier life. Cat food has a holistic impact on your cat:

  • Cats can develop diet related issues, including food allergies and Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD). 

  • Nutrition is very closely linked to a good immune system. Amino acids like L-lysine and L-arginine directly affect the immune system in a cat: if those nutrients are insufficient or not in the right balance, the immune system will not function properly. Ineffective immune systems can allow viruses and bacteria to become a problem, but can also lead to auto-immune conditions and allergies if the immune system becomes overactive. 

  • Variety is also important. There is mounting evidence that the colonies of bacteria in our guts play an important role in our overall health and the same is likely true for cats. A variety of food helps to ensure a good variety of beneficial gut bacteria. There are probiotic products out there for cats and these are often suggested by veterinarians as an aide for IBD or mild to moderate diarrhea. When introducing variety, do it very slowly and gradually.

  • Cats need moisture to stay hydrated. So you need to make sure that your cat is consuming enough water. This can be done either by drinking it, or by eating it in the form of wet food. Most wet foods are around 80-90% moisture. Cats who eat a mostly wet diet tend to drink a lot less water as a result. 

  • In general, fresher, whole foods with high moisture, high protein and low carbs are considered best for domestic cats. Cats cannot use carbohydrates in their original form, and have to convert them into proteins before they can be utilised, so higher protein levels are easier for them to digest. 

  • Avoid meal and by products if possible. We know that there are far more nutrients available in fresh and dried chicken than there are in ‘chicken meal’ and ‘chicken by products’ so avoid pet foods that list those sorts of ingredients and opt for ‘fresh chicken’ or ‘dried chicken’ instead

  • Taurine is very important for cats and you can read more about that in our article on taurine

  • We do not recommend raw feeding because of the very real risk of infection for both your cat and for you. There have been several confirmed cases of e-coli, salmonella, campylobacter, parasites and even bovine TB that have been caused by raw feeding. Pets and humans have died as a result.If you are going to do it, make sure you do your research first and are prepared to accept the risks involved. You will also need to make sure that you get the nutritional balance right for your pet. Raw feeding in a household where there are pregnant women, babies, young children, elderly people or anyone else with a weakened immune system is really not a good idea. Read more about raw feeding

Cat food reviews

For more information have a look at our wet cat food reviews and our dry cat food reviews

Cat food conclusions 

The main thing to take away from this article is this: the food you feed your cat does matter, but it is important to keep things in perspective. Avoid fads and trends as these are almost always later proven to be a little crazy! Use common sense and logic to think about what you are reading. Remember, every cat is different, so find a diet that suits your cat.