It can be incredibly difficult to choose the right food for your cat and feel confident that they are getting everything they need from it in order to live a long, healthy life. With so many brands and formulas out there how do you know if you’re making a good decision? Luckily, we had a chance to speak with Petcurean’s Senior Nutritionist, Jennifer Adolphe, and ask her some of the basic questions that may come to mind while browsing the cat food section of your local pet store.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing to consider when picking out a cat food?
Dr. Adolphe: When choosing a cat food, there are a few things to consider. First, think about your pets’ health, age and breed, and whether they are active or a couch potato.
Next, consider whether your cat has any signs of poor health, like a dull coat, upset tummy, joint pain, ear infections or persistent scratching. Do they have a healthy body weight? If any of these are a concern, it may be time to consider switching foods. Many health issues can be addressed by a change in diet.
The quality and safety of the food you choose is very important. Select a brand that sets extremely high quality and safety standards for their food and all of their partners. A manufacturing facility that undergoes inspection by government officials and third-party auditors means that it meets very high standards of sanitation, cleanliness and good manufacturing practices.
When it comes to ingredients, choose foods that have ingredients sourced from trusted partners as close to the manufacturing facility as possible. This ensures freshness and reduces the environmental impact from transportation. Whole food ingredients, like fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables, provide the essential nutrients, antioxidants and plant-based nutrients to support optimal health. Look for foods which are naturally preserved. It’s also important to select foods that have detailed nutrient information available, either on the company’s website or from their customer service department.
Finally, think about how accessible the brand is. Can you pick up the phone and talk to someone about nutritional problems or questions?
Q: Can you explain the difference between the nutritional needs of felines and their canine counterparts?
Dr. Adolphe: Whereas dogs can thrive on a wide variety of diet types, cats are obligate carnivores. That means cats have unique nutrient needs that are best met from eating meat. For example, the amino acid taurine is essential for cats. Unlike dogs, cats cannot make taurine, so it must be provided in the diet. Taurine is a unique amino acid because it is only found in animal tissues and unlike other amino acids, it is found free in the body and is not incorporated into proteins. Without enough dietary taurine, cats will eventually develop taurine deficiency that can result in a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Q: What kind of ingredients should you watch for when selecting a cat food?
Dr. Adolphe: To provide the essential nutrients your cat requires, look for whole food ingredients, like fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and grains. Whole food ingredients also contain other important components, such as antioxidants, to support optimal health.
Look for a species-specific meat or meat meal as the first ingredient. Examples are deboned turkey or turkey meal; de-boned salmon or salmon meal. The protein in these ingredients have a high biological value, which means the protein contains a high percentage of essential amino acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to provide health benefits in cats. The omega 3 content of a food can be found in the guaranteed analysis on the packaging or in the food’s nutrient profile from the manufacturer. Examples of ingredients with omega-3 fatty acids are salmon oil, flaxseed, and canola oil.
Q: What are your thoughts on food specifically for kittens or adult cats versus “all life stages” cat food? Additionally, when is the best time to change from a kitten food to an adult cat food?
Dr. Adolphe: It’s really a personal preference. All life stage foods must meet the nutrient requirements of kittens to qualify as an all life stage diet. With these types of recipes, you will not have to change your kitten’s food as it grows older; you will only have to adjust the amount you feed. As well, these recipes are great for multi-cat households, so you don’t need to worry if your kitten is eating adult food or vice versa.
Kitten foods are made with optimal nutrition for growth in mind, so they are usually higher in protein and fat than adult recipes. Higher fat content improves palatability, so sometimes kitten food is better for fussy eaters. Foods made for “growth and reproduction” and “all life stages” are suitable for pregnant or lactating cats.
Kittens can graduate to an adult recipe as soon as they are finished growing, usually around a year old.
It’s good to provide a wide variety of canned foods to your kitten for a few reasons. First, cats need good hydration to help prevent urinary crystals from forming. Cats aren’t usually big water drinkers, so canned food will provide them with the moisture they need. Second, exposing kittens to a variety of flavours and textures can help prevent fussiness when they get older.
Q: What are the long-term benefits of feeding a high-quality pet food?
Dr. Adolphe: Generally, a high-quality diet will result in your cat needing to eat less food. It will also ensure your cat maintains a beautiful glossy coat, and clear, bright eyes. It may also boost your cat’s energy level.
Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She has a Master of Science degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian. Her PhD research examined the effect of carbohydrates on metabolic and cardiovascular health in lean and obese dogs. Dr. Adolphe is the recipient of over 20 awards and scholarships for her academic work and has numerous peer-reviewed publications. Her work in the pet food industry has focused on product development and ingredient procurement. She is currently the Senior Nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a Canadian, family-owned company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.