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For both dry and wet food, what criteria can I use to determine on my own if it is a high quality food for my cats (normal, healthy cats)?

In the past I've had experiences where, when I told the vet what food I was using, they would say "Don't use that, it's not good food, use this other brand instead." How does the vet know? I would like be able to make those kinds of decisions on my own because the brand my vet explicitly recommends isn't always available.

However, it's problematic because price ("it's more expensive, it must be better"), packaging ("that design looks professional, it must be better"), and labeling ("the words 'healthy' and 'recommended' are on the package, it must be better") are very distracting. I don't actually know what I'm looking for. The only thing I'm somewhat confident about is choosing the appropriate target cat age based on labeling.

What should I look for in a good food?

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There's no simple formula for this activity, the dietary needs of cats will vary over time. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things to consider:

  1. Meat content. Cats are obligate carnivores, so foods overloaded with non-meat fillers is not really a sign. Some non-meat portions are not unexpected and may be added for other purposes, but meat needs to be the majority and it should clearly show that.

  2. AAFCO "complete and balanced" food. This means that the food has been properly tested to meet the dietary needs of your pet. I know that both Canadian and American foods will be labelled with that, if appropriate, not sure beyond that. However, I would expect similar in many jurisdictions and it is worth checking this.

  3. Vet's advice on current needs is something to factor in to your choices. They may recommend certain dietary content in the food, or avoidance of some, and so are always good to consult. You should make a habit of having that discussion with them regularly if possible because, as I noted, dietary needs can change over time.

  4. Price is definitely not an indicator! However, really cheap knock-off brands (or "no name" products) are probably best avoided, but going for the caviar of food isn't a requirement either.

Hope that helps a bit, getting a food that is good for the cat and that they'll enjoy can be an adventure.

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One fairly easy thing you can do to tell if the food is good is to check the list of ingredients. The ingredients are always list by weight. Ingredients that have a large amount of moisture (often chicken, fish, beef, etc) will more often be at the top of the list because of the moisture content. Some of the ingredients even further down the list may offer more nutrients (want to focus on protein) but could be further down the list because they weigh less.

All cat food should have some source of animal protein and fat because as mentioned cats are obligate carnivores. This means they will require certain nutrients such as taurine and arachidonic acid. These are only going to be present in animal sources. Animal sources may be in form of beef, poultry, chicken, turkey, fish, or other meats. It could also be in the form of by-products or by-product meals.

Another thing you want to ideally look for is grain free cat food. This is going to make the cost typically go up but if you are solely looking for the healthiest food to feed your cat this is the direction you want to go. Foods high in protein and very low in carbs. Some of the grain free foods simply replace the grains with another carb like potatoes so if you are really seeking something as healthy as possible you want to make sure that is not the case.

I went from feeding my cats a rather cheap cat food from Target to ordering Blue Buffalo (http://www.chewy.com/cat/blue-buffalo-indoor-health-chicken/dp/32093?utm_source=google-product&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=f&utm_content=Blue%20Buffalo&utm_term=&gclid=CM7evO3y9MUCFZORHwodr5cApw). The wet food is a bit better but it's more expensive so I feed them the dry food. I mix in a can of wet food every once in a while. It does have potatoes in it but you'll notice you can recognize many of the ingredients included. It's not as processed as many other cat foods.

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Most reputable brands of cat food are based on the same nutritional studies, so this is really a matter of who you and your vet are most comfortable with, whether there are any special concerns given the cat's age/health/weight, and the cat's preferences or allergies. If you avoid no-name/off-brand suppliers -- and avoid anyone who thinks a cat can be a vegetarian --- you'll probably be fine. Some cats are allergic to fish, so sticking with mammals and birds may be epsilon safer.

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  • Thanks. How can I tell if a brand is reputable or, more importantly, is actually formulating their food effectively based on said studies? Meow Mix and Wellness are both well-known but my vet clearly prefers one over the other. Is there some labeling I can look for? Also there seems to be variation within mfrs, e.g. let's say I was considering, I dunno, Purina. Their products range from Deli-Cat to Pro Plan. Do you recommend checking the mfr's web site to look for information about nutritional studies? And for products from the same mfr, is price alone a decent general indicator of quality? – Jason C Jun 3 '15 at 16:58

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