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Dry cat food buying guide

Dry cat food buying guide

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds

Guide written by:

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds

125 guides

Finding new cat food is no easy task. From basic meat and fish to specialist grain-free, indoor or senior cat foods, there are so many options out there. How do you know which one is right for your cat? Which brand should you choose and how do you decode the labels? Read on to find the perfect dry food for your cat!

Important features

  • Types of cat food
  • Ingredients and nutritional value
  • Age and activity-related nutritional needs
  • Specialist cat foods
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Your choice of dry food will influence the overall condition of your cat. Here's something you might not know: cats are strict carnivores. This means that they need animal protein to make amino acids that are essential to good health (such as taurine or arganine). As such, it is important to provide your cat with a high-quality diet composed mainly of meat or fish with a limited amount of cereals and carbohydrates (less than 20%). Want to buy the best quality cat food out there? Go for an organic food with a high meat content.

If your feline friend has special dietary requirements (for example, if they are spayed/neutered or you have a kitten), opt for cat food that meets their specific needs. It goes without saying that the cheapest cat food on offer won't suffice!

There is a whole range of different cat and kitten foods on the market. The problem is that, despite the huge ad budgets of some brands, they don't have the quality to match. There are two broad categories: standard foods and premium foods.

Standard cat foods

Standard foods are the ones available at the supermarket, whether these are own-brand foods or from big-name manufacturers such as Pedigree or Purina One.

These foods are often made up of non-specified animal parts that cannot be consumed by humans, and feature a high cereal, carbohydrate and fat content. They usually also contain non-specified plant by-products (e.g. cellulose, pulp).

Be careful: these foods can lead to weight gain and urinary infections in cats!

Premium cat foods

This second category of cat food is generally sold at vet practices, in pet shops and specialist online shops. They contain a high percentage of meat and limited amounts of phosphorous and carbohydrates. These foods are designed to better fulfil your cat's nutritional needs.

Very high-end cat foods contain a high percentage of animal protein (around 70%) to replicate the amount a cat would naturally eat through catching prey.

These foods contain high- or even premium-quality ingredients that are even fit for human consumption.

In short, the price of cat food will impact the overall health of your cat as this will have a knock-on effect on the proportions and quality of the ingredients used.

Low-end cat foods tend to contain a very high percentage of cereals (i.e. one or several types of maize products, oats, etc.), as well as plant and animal by-products.

In order to get your head around the labels on your furry friend's food, it's important to note that the ingredients are marked in order of quantity from highest to lowest.

You should also be aware that similar types of ingredients may be noted separately on the list, but these do add up. For example, the overall cereal content of a cat food can make up over 50% of the recipe. However, this can be noted as separate ingredients (e.g. rice flour, wheat, etc.). Even if the label is marked 'rich in chicken', for example, the total percentage of actual chicken in the recipe can be laughably small. Don't let yourself be fooled by packaging with a giant cut of meat on the front!

You should always choose a cat food with clearly marked ingredients – especially when it comes to the type of meat or fish and fats (e.g. oils or animal fat) used. Avoid labels that mention animal-based powders (usually made up of carcasses, beaks, feathers, etc.) and look for clearly marked products (e.g. chicken breast, thigh, etc.). No type of by-product is effective from a nutritional standpoint whether it be animal- or plant-based! In order to keep your kitty in good shape, it is advisable to avoid products with high amounts of wheat, maize, sorghum, soy or oat.

Finally, pay close attention to any mention of the following ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Artificial colourings
  • Preservatives (BHT, BHA and Ethoxyquin)

These ingredients can have negative consequences on cat health, such as weight gain, heart disease, diabetes or even endocrine disorders.

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Cat food

In order to find the most nutritious food for your cat, you will have to compare the different levels of macronutrients.

A high-quality cat food will contain a high proportion of meat. The type of animal, or even the part of the animal used, should be clearly marked on the label. These foods are often grain-free: let's not forget that cats are true carnivoresOrganic cat foods will offer the highest quality as, just like us, cats are sensitive to pesticides and other endocrine disruptors.

Quick tip: a high-quality cat food is one that is easily digested, helps to maintain a healthy weight and coat, and does not do any damage to your pet's vital organs!
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Cat food manufacturers generally offer various specialist ranges designed to meet any specific nutritional needs your cat may have. Below are some examples.

Light cat food for spayed or neutered cats

Cats that have been spayed or neutered do not require the same calorie intake as those that have not. In fact, their energy needs are around 20% lower than cats that have not been neutered or spayed.

In order to avoid weight gain – which can lead to problems such as heart, respiratory or digestive issues – you should choose special light cat food. The composition of these types of food help to manage weight while still making your cat feel satisfied.

Light cat foods are recommended for cats that need to lose a few pounds or those that lead very sedentary lives (e.g. inactive indoor cats).

Quick tip: a spayed or neutered cat will require around 40 calories per kilo of weight. For example, a cat weighing 4 kg will require 160 calories per day in total from their wet and dry food. To ensure your cat is getting the right number of calories, simply follow the guidelines on the packet.

Cat foods for sensitive or allergy-prone cats

Hypoallergenic cat foods are designed to be easy to digest and limit the risk of allergic reactions. For example, you can opt for a grain-free food or one that does not contain beef, if your cat has difficulty digesting these ingredients. An elimination diet is usually the best way to identify any allergies.

Hypoallergenic foods contain specially selected ingredients that are not usually known to cause skin or intestinal reactions.

Urinary tract health foods

Cats commonly suffer from urinary tract infections, urinary crystals or bladder stones. This is usually caused by a poor diet and not consuming enough water to make up for dry food intake.

Some specialist foods are designed help to control the pH level of urine and balance your cat's mineral intake.

In male cats, this issue can even lead to obstruction of the urethra which, if not treated immediately, can cause acute kidney failure. These foods are usually called 'urinary care' foods.

Cat food for senior cats

If you have an elderly cat, you will want them to live out the rest of their life in the best possible condition.

In order to achieve this, you can feed them a special senior food containing ingredients aimed at supporting coat health and reducing joint pain. These foods also have a lower mineral content than most ordinary adult cat foods. For senior cats with heart issues, a higher arginine content can help to ease any related breathing difficulties. Very old cats that have difficulty eating may do better on wet food.

Even cats without teeth can manage dry food: they will simply swallow the food without chewing.

Kitten food

Why do kittens and young cats require different foods? Simply because they require food that has been specially designed to support healthy growth and good digestive health.

These products are usually marked as kitten or junior cat foods. They contain just the right balance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omegas. For example, a kitten requires more calcium than an adult cat.

Some foods are designed to cater for a range of needs (such as spayed/neutered and kittens) and will generally feature a reduced calorie content. A balanced diet will help your kitten's skeleton and muscles to develop and their vital organs to perform properly.

It is important to follow the guidelines provided by each manufacturer to find out the right time to transition to an adult cat food or one designed for spayed/neutered cats.

So, there you have it: finding the right cat food isn't all that complicated once you know what to look for! In short, a high-quality food will be rich in protein with little to no cereals, contain a reasonable fat content and a fairly low mineral and crude ash percentages. As a bonus, if your cat doesn't drink a lot, give them a little wet food on a daily basis to avoid any kidney issues. After all, your feline friend deserves the best!

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Cat supplements

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Guide written by:

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds, 125 guides

Pauline, Self-taught DIYer, Leeds

With a handyman-father, I grew up with the soft sound of the sander and hammer on weekends. I am both manual and cerebral, I learned the basics of DIY and the customisation of furniture because I was passionate. The salvage mentality is a true way of life that allowed me to know how to use all the tools and products needed to give something a second life, from a sander to varnish. I have two favourite activities: the transformation of old furniture and decoration tips. I am always ready to lend a helping hand to revamp a table or to restore a mirror that was intended for the tip that will become a friend’s centrepiece. I’m convinced that it’s possible to reinvent an interior by small, regular modifications and I constantly research low-cost ideas.

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