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Let’s Talk: How Do You Feed Your 21st-Century Cat?

We know a lot more about cat nutrition than we did a generation ago. What do you feed your cat, and what information helps you decide?

Arden Moore  |  Oct 6th 2015


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

A generation ago, people didn’t think much about what to feed the family cat or how it affected health. We’d grab a bag of cat food off the supermarket shelf, and it was common to pour a mountain of kibble into a large bowl so the cats in the house could munch all day and into the night. Terms such as freeze-dried, raw, organic, and grain-free didn’t exist on cat food labels. Neither did GMO-free.

But the 21st century cat is lucky in terms of nutrition. With the evolution/revolution of the multibillion-dollar pet food industry, today’s tabbies can deal better with diabetes, hypothyroidism, and other medical conditions by consuming therapeutic diets. Quality proteins such as salmon or chicken now top the ingredient list in many commercial cat brands, replacing grains or meat by-products.

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A cat gets fed by Shutterstock

“What a cat eats plays a crucial role in his overall health,” said Dr. Arnold Plotnick, whose practice treats about 7,500 cats each year at Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City. “I’ve seen cats fed generic store brands come in for exams with dull coats, flaky coats, and dull-looking eyes as compared with cats being fed quality nutrition who sport shiny coats and bright eyes.”

Plotnick said people now pay more attention to what they feed their cats, and cats are living longer as a result.

“When I opened my practice in 2003, it was rare to find a cat at age 15 or 16,” he said. “Now, it’s not unusual to see cats coming in for yearly physical exams who are 17, 18, and older.”

We now have many food options to dish up for our favorite felines, but with so many choices, how do you decide what’s best to feed your cat?

To find out how people stand on feline nutrition issues, I recently conducted an informal survey among feline friends on Facebook. Admittedly, this is not a scientific study, but let me share some of the responses to five questions:

1. Do you buy cat food based on price or ingredients?

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A cat eats meat by Shutterstock

“I shop by ingredients, not by price. I do read labels for many reasons. I want to see where it was made. I want to make sure that the first ingredient is meat. I’m a registered dietitian, and that’s just what I do.” — Christine H.

“Yes, I read the label. I want to make sure that there are no ‘no-no’ ingredients like corn, and that named meats are at the top of the list.” — Melissa K.

“I do read labels. It is so difficult to find foods without tons of additives. I’m looking for the same quality organic food that I would put in my body.” — Shawn B.

2. Do you measure out cat food or leave a bowl of food out?

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A cat eats canned food by Shutterstock

“I measure out Fergie’s cat’s meals and feed her twice daily. I’m in the process of switching from dry to wet food only because Fergie was diagnosed with struvite crystals and needs the additional moisture in her food.” — Debbie R.

“I put down canned food in the morning and then pick it up. I put down dry food in the evening and then pick it up before going to bed.” — Kathryn H.

3. Where do you find reliable information on feline nutrition?

“I used to consult my veterinarian, but generally not anymore because I feel I’ve learned a lot more about feline nutrition. I really rely on the well-informed owners of the natural pet store where I buy food for my cats, Amy and Alexander. The owner is a nutritionist by training.” — Nicole S.

“I do consult my vet. I look for a food that is nutritionally balanced, is appropriate for the cat’s age and health, and is backed by science.” — Sharon M.

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“I have a 16-year-old cat (been mine since I saved her from the shelter when she was a tiny kitty). She had a slightly elevated kidney reading on her last blood panel,

so I was instructed by my vet to feed her wet food only two or three times a week, and she is on a special senior dry food for healthy kidney function.” — Karen R.

4. Do you make homemade meals for your cat?

“Yes, poached chicken or salmon, sometimes mixed with peas, carrots, or spinach.” — Erika S.

“I don’t do homemade meals. I have twice done homemade birthday cake — tuna mixed in with a bit of yogurt and shredded cheese.” — Melissa K.

“Once a week, they both get a little rotisserie chicken as a treat.” — Alice P.

5. Do cat food labels confuse you – especially with terms such as “natural” or “lite”?

“Not anymore. But it’s an ordeal trying to decipher what each term means to each company.” — Ramona M.

“I’m not confused by labels but can see why many people are.” — Christine H.

Where do you stand on these five questions? Tell us in the comments.

About the author: Arden Moore is a pet-behavior consultant, author, and master pet first-aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets. For Catster print magazine, she promises to give advice about healthy eating habits for your feline. Email your questions to arden@fourleggedlife.com