Choosing the right food for your cat

Good nutrition is as important to your cat's health as it is to your own. But cats' nutritional needs are quite different from ours. While a human diet should be high-fibre and low-fat, a cat needs a high-fat diet – for energy and a thick, luxurious coat – and less fibre for good intestinal health.

Even if you prefer a vegetarian diet, cats don't tend to thrive on meatless meals. Domestic cats are carnivores, just like their big cat cousins, and require animal protein and animal fat for a healthy digestive tract. Cats also need carbohydrates for energy.

LIFE STAGE AND LIFESTYLE

With thousands of different pet foods available, how do you pick the one that's right for your cat?

Start by identifying the cat's life stage and lifestyle. Kittens, nursing mothers and senior pets are examples of life stages. And each life stage has different nutritional requirements. All cat foods should state which life stage they are recommended for.

Nutritional needs also vary depending on lifestyle. A cat whose primary activity is guarding the couch doesn't need as much energy as one who prowls the neighborhood.

Finally, it is important to take into account any special medical condition your cat may have, like food allergies, that requires a special diet recommended by your vet.

DRY OR CANNED?

Once you've determined your cat's life stage and lifestyle needs, you need to decide whether to feed dry or canned food. Most cats thrive eating only dry food. Dry foods promote oral hygiene for healthy teeth and gums through abrasive action. Some cats, especially fussy eaters, enjoy canned food with its smooth and wet texture.

It's important to remember that while dry food can be left in a bowl all day, canned food should be thrown away after 30 minutes if not consumed. Therefore, dry food is usually the best choice for busy people who are not normally home during the day.

Once you know your pet's nutritional needs and your pet's preference, you are ready to go shopping.

COMPARING LABELS

Ingredients are listed in descending order, according to weight. Because cats need meat, it's best to pick a food in which the first ingredient is an animal-based protein source, such as chicken, lamb, fish meal or egg. These ingredients contain a full complement of essential amino acids, like taurine, which isn't found in vegetable-based protein sources such as soyabean meal or corn gluten meal.

Scientific studies show that using a combination of carbohydrates in the diet, such as corn meal or barley and grain sorghum, offers optimal carbohydrate digestibility and helps maintain energy levels.

Studies also show that beet pulp – the material remaining after sugar is extracted from sugar beets – is an excellent fibre source and promotes a healthy digestive tract.

For a soft, luminous coat and healthy skin, your pet needs an adjusted ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Good fat sources include chicken fat and fish meal.

QUALITY

Cat food labels provide limited information regarding the nutritional value of the food because labeling regulations do not allow manufacturers to describe the quality of ingredients on the package.

A reputable pet food manufacturer will be able to explain to you their specific methods for evaluating and assuring the quality of ingredients used in their products.