Which food should I buy for my cat?

Looking at all those pictures of cats online doesn't quite prepare you for the responsibility of being a cat parent, nor does it equip you with the knowledge of which food to buy for your feline friend. There is a plethora of different types of cat food available these days, and the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. You might be curious about a hairball formula - maybe you've heard of furballs and they sound gross. Or perhaps a weight loss formula - you don't want Mittens getting fat like your Aunt's cat, the poor dear can't even walk up the stairs anymore.

After investing all that time tossing up between hairball, weight loss, dental care and everything else, you might then bring a food home and toss it in the bowl only to discover Mittens turns her little nose up at it. Perhaps she doesn't like chicken, and you should have gone with the tuna variety instead.

To help, we've compiled an easy cat food buying guide. Once you know what questions to ask, and what to look for, choosing the right food for your cat can be very simple.

How old is your cat?

As you can imagine, the nutritional requirements for a six week old kitten are vastly different from a 12 year old cat.

A kitten specific formula is usually fed up until 12 months of age, at which time it is recommended you transition to an adult diet. A kitten diet is higher in proteins and fats due to the growth spurt that occurs in the first year.

For newly weaned kittens, Royal Canin Baby Cat has small, soft kibble to assist with the transition to more solid food. Royal Canin recommends this food for the first 1-4 months of age.

Around the age of 7 years, you should consider changing to a senior formula. Some brands also have diets catered to cats over the age of 12 years. Senior diets are lower in calories for the reduced activity and slower metabolism of older cats. They also include nutrients that help with the deterioration of joint and renal health that typically occurs with older age.

For more info on age-appropriate nutrition, see our article Are You Feeding an Age-Appropriate Diet?

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Is your cat a frolicking Felix or couch potato?

When choosing the best food for your cat, you should consider whether they spend most of their time indoors or outdoors. Indoor cats generally don't get as much exercise and need a lower calorie diet to prevent unhealthy weight gain. Living inside means your kitty is going to do their business indoors; hopefully in the litter box. Indoor formulas are designed to reduce stool odour making clean up a little more tolerable.

Cats that spend the majority of their time outdoors may require a comparatively higher calorie diet. Outdoor diets contain antioxidants and prebiotics to help boost the natural defences of your cat as they explore the neighbourhood.

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Should you choose wet or dry food?

Due to the higher water content, feeding your feline wet food will help keep them hydrated. Similar to their wild feline counterparts who ingest all their water intake through raw meat, some domestic cats also show a lack of desire to drink. Adequate water intake is important to reduce the risk of certain medical conditions such as feline lower urinary tract disease and kidney disease, and wet food is a great way to help with this. It's also highly palatable making meal times easier! On the flip side, providing a purely wet diet can cause your cat to gain excess weight, leading to other health complications.

Dry foods are nutritious, convenient and generally cheaper than wet foods and are a beneficial addition to your cat's diet. Dry foods have also been shown to support and improve pet oral hygiene.

The ideal diet for most cats will be a combination of both canned food and dry food. Wet food to help prevent urinary conditions and increase palatability and dry kibble to keep down the costs while boosting oral hygiene. Mixed feeding can also discourage your cat from developing strict diet preferences.

Budget vs premium foods

The range of food available for cats is incredible and with this variety comes many different levels of quality. So, is there much difference between low and high quality pet foods? Definitely.

We've all heard the 'fillers' propaganda surrounding budget foods, but what does it all actually mean? You may think that fillers in pet food are indigestible ingredients, such as sawdust. However, the term 'fillers' often refers to excess cereals or grains in the food. As cats are carnivores, they require a diet high in meat with some vegetables and limited grains. Their bodies are not able to digest excess grains, and instead, these are excreted as waste. So Chairman Meow might be demoted to Sir Poops-A-Lot if you switch to a budget diet with a high grain content.

Premium foods are designed to have a higher absorption rate. This means your cat is able to digest more of their food which provides them with better nutrition. It also means that they don't need to eat as much food. Don't fall into the trap of buying food based on price per kilo as some of these diets actually end up costing you more in the long run.

The ingredients list on budget foods will often be vague, using words such as "and/or" between ingredients. This allows manufacturers of cheaper brands to change the formula of their foods per batch depending on which ingredients are cheapest at the time, without notice to the consumer.

Significant and sudden changes in diet can cause digestive upsets such as vomiting and diarrhoea. For more information on budget and premium pet food comparisons or pet food labels, see Pet Circle's article, Don't be tricked by "cheap" pet foods.

Need something a little more specialised?

Many leading premium brands including Royal Canin, Hills Science Diet, and Advance have designed formulas to combat common mild health conditions including weight management, urinary care, dental disease, and hairballs. If your cat is a bit of a glutton and can't seem to shed the extra kilos, there are many light or weight loss alternatives available. Hairball formulas are also available and use a highly fibrous diet to snag ingested fur and have it excreted as waste in the litterbox. Enjoy a good night's sleep instead of waking to your cat wheezing out a moist furball onto your pillow!

Royal Canin also produces 'breed-specific' formulas, tailored with one breed in mind. The kibble shape and size varies in each formula, depending on what is best for each breed. Some examples of breed specific bags include Maine Coon, Persian, Ragdoll and Siamese.

Medicated foods

For pets already suffering from medical conditions, super premium manufacturers; Hill's and Royal Canin have created formulas to manage and prevent common conditions.

Some examples of these include; urinary crystals, obesity, digestive support and diabetes. These diets must be prescribed by a veterinarian and regular check ups are recommended. If you think your cat could benefit from a prescription diet, consult your veterinarian for advice.

A quick recap

Diet plays an imperative role in the healthy development of your cat. When deciding which food to feed your cat, keep in mind the following points:

Well now the hard part is over, you can get back to those hilarious cat videos.

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