While felines are pretty self-sufficient pets, they still rely on you for their basic needs, such as food. The old saying “you are what you eat” doesn’t just apply to humans; it applies to cats, too. If you want to ensure your four-legged friend maintains a healthy lifestyle, then feeding her a well-balanced, highly nutritious diet that meets her dietary needs is vital.
There are so many different cat food options on the market, and while having a lot of choice is great, it can also make things complicated. Not all cat foods are created equal, and the last thing you want to do is feed your beloved furry friend something that’s consists of poor-quality ingredients and could potentially be harmful to her health. So, how can you tell if you are choosing the highest quality, most nutritious cat food? The key is to read the ingredient list; it’s really the only way to determine if you’re selecting a healthy cat food. But, what type of ingredients should you be looking for; and maybe even more importantly, should you be looking to avoid? Here’s a look at some helpful tips from veterinarians and animal nutritionists that can help.
Feline Nutritional Needs
In order to determine if you are selecting a food that’s healthy for your cat, you first have to understand the nutritional needs of a feline. If you aren’t aware of those needs, you can’t really choose a food that will meet them. (Check out: Essential Cat Nutrition Guide)
Cats’ basic nutritional needs include:
- Protein, which should be the primary ingredient in their diet. In nature, cats are hunters who prey on various types of animals. As such, the food your domesticated cat should also include a balanced amounts of high-quality protein.
- Taurine, which is an essential amino acid that supports various biological functions
- Fatty acids, including omega 3 and omega 6, both of which play key roles in a cat’s overall health and nutrition. They also help to support skin and coat health.
- Vitamin C and vitamin E, which help to protect cats on the cellular level and support a healthy immune system.
- Calcium, which supports strong and healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
Ingredients to Look For
Offering your cat a food that contains ingredients that offer the above-mentioned nutrients will ensure that she is in tip-top shape and can live a long, happy, and healthy life. But what type of ingredients should you be looking for? When you’re shopping for cat food, take the time to read the labels and look for formulas that feature the following ingredients.
- Real animal protein. The most important ingredient – and the first sign of a health cat food – is a real named source of protein. In other words, it should list the specific name of the protein that is used in the recipe instead of just “meat”. Examples include chicken, tuna, salmon, turkey, and lamb. You may also find a few named organs on the ingredient list, such as chicken heart or chicken liver, which are both excellent sources of protein.
- Healthy carbohydrates. Felines are obligate carnivores, which means that they need to eat animal protein to thrive and they do not need to eat carbohydrates. As a matter of fact, cats can have a difficult time digesting certain types of carbs; specifically, those that contain gluten, like corn, wheat, soy, or rice. Dry food, however, needs to contain carbohydrates because they act as a filler, holding the other ingredients found in the food together. While cats don’t necessarily need carbs, studies have found that certain types of vegetation can be beneficial for the species. That said, select a food that contains healthy carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes or peas instead of gluten-based carbs, as the former are easier for felines to digest than the latter.
- Named fats. Healthy cat food contains fats that are derived from healthy sources; chicken fat or olive oil, or sunflower oil, for example. These ingredients will ensure your kitty is getting the wholesome fats that she needs.
- Taurine is an essential amino acid, but cats don’t produce it on their own; the need to get it through their diet. Taurine deficiency can lead to health problems, such as retinal degeneration, so make sure this ingredient is listed on your cat’s food, too.