The first thing that we must remember is that the cat is a strict carnivore, and so relies upon nutrients found solely in animal tissues to meet her specific nutritional requirements. The cat has evolved eating a diet of mainly small rodents, as well as birds and small lizards, and in her natural desert environment would typically have eaten 8 - 10+ small meals a day. This diet was high in protein, contained a moderate amount of fat, and was low in carbohydrate (see table 1).
More and more specialists in feline internal medicine now recommend feeding cats a diet of canned (moist or wet) cat food, and NOT dry kibble. There are three main reasons why dry food is not considered an appropriate food for cats:
1. The water content is too low (most important!).
2. The carbohydrate content is too high.
3. The type of protein is inappropriate (i.e. plant-based instead of animalbased protein).
|(% of calories)|
|Protein||More than 50|
|Fat||30 - 40|
|(% of diet, approx.)|
|Moisture||60 - 70|
Without looking at specific brands of canned cat foods, think in terms of the broad principle that ANY canned food is better than ANY dry food.
Many cat food companies (and some vets) will tell you that all wet food diets will lead to dental disease and that you must feed dry food to avoid this - in their natural environment this is not how cats clean their teeth! Cats keep their teeth clean mainly by tearing into fresh meat, with a smaller contribution from crunching the bones of the occasional larger kill (Most small kills such as mice are eaten virtually whole). A cat’s saliva is also well designed to keep her teeth clean, if her diet is appropriate for her as a carnivore. Feeding occasional large pieces of cooked meat (without bones) is one way to help keep your cat’s teeth clean. We will cover dental health more later.
Dogs, being omnivores like us, do require some meat protein in their diet, but they have evolved essentially as scavengers, and are able to utilise nutrients found in plants as well as animals. Cats are very different to dogs. They lack many of the enzymes and metabolic processes within the body that allow dogs to process nutrients from plants. Cats are also unable to make for themselves many of the essential nutrients that dogs can synthesise within their bodies - such as essential amino acids, vitamins, and fatty acids. An example of this is vitamin D - cats cannot convert vitamin D to its active form in the skin with exposure to UV light from the sun, as dogs and people do. They must eat active vitamin D, which is found in animal tissues.
So what should we really be feeding our cats? With the widespread use of the internet and the ready access to a wealth of information it provides, the question then arises as to what information is accurate and reliable? There are a vast number of websites claiming to have “expert” opinion on what to feed cats, how to make food for cats, and even how to feed cats a vegan diet! Being an obligate carnivore means that the cat is obligated to eat meat to get the nutrients that she needs to survive and thrive. Be careful of misleading internet sites on this topic, however well-meaning they may be. For a good, detailed discussion on cat nutrition if you would like further information on the topic, please see the articles written by Dr Lisa A. Pierson at www.catinfo.org or speak to your vet.
The first question we need to address is commercial food vs. homemade diets. The formulation of a homemade diet that is complete and balanced for the cat is very challenging, for the following reasons:
- The cat has very specific and complex nutritional requirements, due to the fact that the cat is unable to make sufficient amounts of many nutrients for herself.
- Nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals, need to be present in the correct ratios to one another.
- The diet must be palatable (that is, the cat must like the taste of it and want to eat it).
- Nutrients such as thiamine can easily be lost by cooking, or by using certain ingredients such as raw fish or “pet mince” - which may contain sulphur dioxide, a preservative that destroys thiamine.
- Spoilage and bacterial contamination can easily occur without correct preparation and storage.
If you have a strong desire towards home cooking for your cat, Dr Pierson does have some information on this on her website. We will not cover it here, as it generally is too difficult to do well for most cat owners.
Commercial cat foods do vary widely in their quality, but with a little care you can obtain a decent range of food that is of good quality and that your cat will enjoy. Cats can become very attached to the flavour of fish, to the exclusion of all other foods. However, many feline nutritionists do not recommend feeding fish to cats. Certainly you should not feed raw fish to cats, as raw fish contains thiaminase, which destroys the essential B vitamin thiamine. Cooking the fish inactivates the thiaminase, but may also destroy the thiamine. Also, fish may contain certain chemicals (called PBDEs) which have possible links to hyperthyroidism in cats.
So the basic things that we need to look at in the cat food we buy is the protein level in a food, the type of protein that is present (i.e. to ensure that the protein comes from animal sources, not grain or vegetable) and that it is fully balanced with all the vitamins and minerals that our cat requires.
The easiest way to choose a good cat food is to check the ingredient list and pick one that does not contain grains or cereals, contains protein from animal sources such as chicken, turkey or duck (try to avoid fish all the time), preferably does not contain by-products, is a tinned (wet) food and is complete and balanced. Some companies will publish additional information on their website, which can be useful to help you select a good quality food.
Grain free cat food tins are available in the supermarket if you look. Beware that many may contain fish and/or by-products. By-products are the parts of the animal that are not meat, and may include things like feet, beaks, feathers etc. Hence foods containing animal by-products do not contain proteins with as high a quality as those that do not contain by-products.
Lastly, always ensure that the food is fully balanced. This will be stated on the label somewhere, and if there is no statement that the food is complete and balanced for the growth and/or maintenance of cats, then you must assume that it is not a complete food for cats, and should only be used occasionally (as an example: Fancy Feast Royale/black label, VIP Fussy Cat Fresh Mince are not a complete and balanced foods for cats).
In Australia good quality canned cat food comes in a variety of sizes, ranging from 85g single serve tins or pouches up to 375g tins or larger. Adult cats require between 150 - 250 kcal per day (kcal is short for kilocalories, commonly referred to simply as calories). An 85g single serve tin of cat food may contain, on average, 60 - 80 kcal. Many companies will publish the calorie content of their foods on their website. Alternatively you can refer to published tables, or contact the company directly for this information.
For a list of the nutritional profiles of some Australian tinned cat foods, see the attached table of Canned Cat Foods (Appendix I).
Because the amount of food that a cat needs varies depending on the cat’s diet, activity level, age, size and genetic factors, the best way to feed your cat is to feed enough to maintain your cat in an ideal body condition. This means using the above calorie requirements, or the feeding guide provided by the cat food manufacturer as a starting guide, but adjust how much you feed to ensure that your cat is not over or underweight. You can check with your vet if you are unsure how to check this, but your cat should have good muscle coverage over her bony points (head, hips, back etc), with a definite but minimal layer of fat under the skin. The ribs should be easy to feel, but not sticking out.
Cats normally would eat many small meals a day. The closer you can replicate a cat’s normal pattern of eating the better, so an adult cat should be fed a minimum of 2 - 3 times a day (More is better if you are able to do so). Always give each meal fresh, do not leave out old food or keep uneaten food to be fed later - it is great for breeding bugs and the food will quickly spoil.
While kittens do not specifically require a special diet compared to adult cats (just more of it for their size), kitten food often has a higher quality of protein in it (i.e. less or no grains or vegetables) and hence can sometimes make a better food for cats of all life stages. Kittens have a smaller stomach capacity, and a shorter intestinal length and capacity to process food, and need to be fed more often than adult cats. Start off by feeding a kitten 6 - 8 times a day, and then start to reduce the number of meals after your kitten is around 4 months old. By 1 year of age your kitten can generally be eating an adult number of meals. If your kitten does not eat an entire meal, do not put it in the fridge for later. It should be thrown out and fresh food should be given at the next meal. Bacteria start to breed quickly on food and spoiled food can cause tummy upsets and diarrhoea.
It is worth noting that cats have another notable difference from dogs and other animals in that once they get older, they actually require more energy in their diet. This happens from around 8-10 years of age onwards, and occurs for several reasons. Their appetite may also start to wane as they age. It is important as your cat is getting older to be watching for weight loss and signs of reduced appetite, and ensure that your cat has regular health checks with your veterinarian. Older cats may require more frequent meals, and may require further encouragement to eat, such as warming of the food to make it more appealing. In order to ensure she receives enough protein and energy, your vet may even prescribe a specific diet for your cat as she ages.
Table of Canned Cat Foods
|Food Type||% calories coming from||Total calories (kcal/kg)||Phosphorus
|Protein (%)||Fat (%)||Carbohydrates (%)|
|IDEAL CAT DIET||>50||30 – 40||<10||1.0|
|Royal Canin Instinctive 12 in Jelly, Pouches 85g||57||38||5||817||1.05|
|Royal Canin Instinctive 12 in Gravy, Pouches 85g||55.5||31.5||13||825||0.98|
|Royal Canin Instinctive 7+ Years, 85 g Pouches||53||26||21||789||0.95|
|Royal Canin Aging +12, 85g Pouches||43||41||16||867||0.12|
|Ziwipeak Daily Cat Cuisine Lamb 170g||33||63||4||1113||1.31|
|Ziwipeak Daily Cat Cuisine Venison 170g can||35||63||2||1105||1.76|
|Ziwipeak Daily Cat Cuisine Venison & Fish 170g can||38||58||4||1053||1.36|
|Advance Adult Tray 100g||42||54||4||850||1.25|
|Advance Kitten Tray 100g||33||66||1||1200||2.0|
|Advance Adult Light Formula 100g Tray||44||50||6||750||1.25|
|Hills Science Kitten Liver & Chicken 85g/156g||40||47||13||1343||0.95|
|Hills Science Feline Adult Turkey 156g||28.6||45.4||26||1039||0.73|
|Hills Science Feline Indoor Adult Savoury Chicken 156g||30.3||48.4||21.3||1076||0.65|
|Hills Science Feline Light Chicken and Liver 156 g||34||33||33||884||0.69|
|IAMS Kitten Pouches* 100g||35||46||19||810||-|
|IAMS Adult Chicken Pouches* 100g||31||46||23||810||-|
|Purina Pro Plan Cat - Adult Ocean Whitefish & Salmon Entree* 85g||48*||48*||4||1027||2.13|
|Purina Pro Plan Cat - Adult Chicken & Liver Entree* 85g||44*||53*||3||1139||1.87|
|Purina Pro Plan Cat - Adult Chicken & Rice Entree* 85g||46*||38*||16||830||0.95|
|Purina Pro Plan Cat - Adult Tuna Entree* 85g||48*||38*||14||801||1.06|
|Purina Pro Plan Cat - Adult Turkey & Giblets* 85g||46*||47*||7||936||1.13|
|Purina Pro Plan Cat - Kitten Chicken & Liver Entree* 85g||40*||57*||3||1136||1.96|
|Artemis Turkey 156g**||29||65||6||1700||-|
|Artemis Cat Salmon 156g*||39||52||9||810||-|
|EVO Turkey & Chicken Formula Cat & Kitten 156g or 375g||33||62.7||4.3||1283||1.3|
|EVO 95% Chicken & Turkey Canned Cat Food 156g or 375g||25||72.7||2.3||1350||0.88|
|EVO 95% Venison Canned Cat Food 156g or 375g||30||64.5||5.5||1400||2.1|
|Innova Cat & Kitten Canned Food 85g, 165g, 375g cans||33.5||58.5||8||1287||1.35|
|Innova Lower Fat Canned Adult Cat Food 85g, 156g, 375g||37||44||19||972||1.66|
|Innova Senior Canned Cat Food 85g, 156g, 375g cans||34.5||51.5||14||1226||1.3|
|WHISKAS Meat Pouches||36.2||58.6||5.2||800||1.33|
|WHISKAS Casserole Pouches||33.1||49.2||17.7||800||1.45|
|WHISKAS Mince Pouches||39.1||59.4||1.5||800||2.22|
|WHISKAS Kitten Pouches||24.6||61.9||11.7||1000||2.0|
|DINE Meat 85g||30.8||65.4||3.8||750||2.06|
|DINE Fish 85g||61.9||31.6||6.5||800||3.2|
|Fancy Feast White Label Roast Chicken 85g can||49||30||21||930||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Ocean Whitefish and Tuna 85g can||49||30||21||960||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Ocean Whitefish and Tuna 85g** (US)||49||48||3||1020||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Cod, Sole & Shrimp 85g**||52||46||2||991||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Grilled Chicken Feast 85g**||56||26||18||873||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Grilled Beef Feast 85g**||55||27||18||885|
|Fancy Feast White Label Flaked Chicken and Tuna Feast 85g**||47||45||8||1161||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Savoury Salmon Feast 85g**||46||51||3||1020||-|
|Fancy Feast White Label Kitten - Turkey 85g*||48||48||4||880||-|
|Felidae Grain Free Pure Elements 156g||28.3||62.5||9.2||1161||0.91|
|Felidae Grain Free Pure Sea 156g||30.4||61.8||7.8||1165||0.91|
|AvoDerm Chicken Formula All Life Stages Cat Food* 156g||36||60||4||1195||-|
|California Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Cat & Kitten 85g, 156g, 375g||28||64||8||1167||1.4|
Assumptions: Protein and carbohydrates contain 3.5 kcals per gram, and fat contains 8.5 kcals per gram.
* Indicates values estimated from “guaranteed analysis” (which is much less accurate) after multiple attempts to obtain information from manufacturer were unsuccessful. If a company/manufacturer is not listed at all, this indicates information could not be obtained or was not usable. (Columns with -- indicates information unavailable / not provided)
** Data obtained from US tables/analysis. (May not be accurate in Australia, as illustrated by Fancy Feast Ocean Whitefish and Tuna variety listed. Some US data may also be out of date / several years old.)
NB: Specific Whiskas and Dine varieties not provided by Mars Petcare - information provided as given by Mars Petcare 2013.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is based upon information provided by the pet food manufacturer or that published on their website, and no responsibility is taken for its accuracy or otherwise. Where a manufacturer would not provide information other than the “guaranteed analysis” that is part of the minimum labelling requirements for pet food, if sufficient information was available to estimate a carbohydrate fraction from this, then this calculation was performed, however it is acknowledged that this method is highly unreliable due to the inherent unreliability of the information given in a “guaranteed analysis”. This inaccuracy is understood, and this information is only included for comparison where a company would not provide more detailed information after repeated requests, or no contact details could be sourced.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive table of all foods available in Australia. Rather, it provides a range of examples from different manufacturers to provide a basic overview of available commercial cat foods. Information provided and assumed correct as of August/September 2012 - March 2013.
The coloured numbers in the table refer to values that are significantly higher or lower than what would be wanted in an “ideal” cat diet. Orange numbers are moderately divergent from ideal values, while red values are very significantly different from what would be wanted in an ideal cat diet. Phosphorus content has been highlighted arbitrarily over %2 (on a dry matter basis) to highlight diets that have particularly high levels of phosphorus, which is especially important for older cats.
As can be seen from the table above, there are few commercial diets that fit the profile of an “ideal” cat diet (the one that does is highlighted in blue) so some tradeoffs must be made to get a diet that a cat will eat and that gives the best possible profile with respect to the important categories.