Welcome to the age of “fresh from the fridge” meals for your feline friend. You can find these “fridge foods” showcased in refrigerator cases inside pet supply stores and some supermarkets and even delivered to your door packed in dry ice. Most offer fresh ingredients that are free of any preservatives.
Where the trend began
Let’s go briefly back in time to the year 2006. That is the year that Freshpet, considered a pioneer in the fresh fridge-food era, launched its pet food lineup from its headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey.
“Since 2006, Freshpet embarked on a mission to improve the lives of cats and dogs through the power of fresh, real food,” says Dr. Aziza Glass, the company’s veterinarian. “That means creating recipes with 100% natural farm-raised poultry, beef and fish, along with fiber-packed garden veggies and antioxidant-rich fruits.”
Prepared meals are quickly transported by temperature-regulated vehicles to specially designed Freshpet refrigerators in stores. Freshpet also works with retailer partners to deliver directly to pet parents. The company offers over 50 bagged meals and rolls that can last in the fridge without any fillers or preservatives until they’re ready to be served. Cat cuisine choices offer various proteins, including these popular picks: grain-free pate with salmon plus tender chicken and beef tender bites in 1-pound rolls stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
“Freshpet’s meals are gently cooked, making all 12 essential amino acids available for our pets — much more than what you find in the harsher, high-temperature cooking methods required to make kibble,” Dr. Glass adds.
Nom Nom Now, based in Oakland, California, is another major player in this “fresh-cooked foods” market. All recipes are grain- and gluten-free and are formulated by the company’s veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Justin Shmalberg. The Chicken Cuisine, a feline favorite, contains chicken thigh, breast and liver plus carrots and spinach and an array of essential vitamins. All ingredients are made in the United States from reputable food producers.
“As a veterinary nutritionist, I’ve long recommended and developed home-prepared diets for clients’ pets,” Dr. Shmalberg says. “The Nom Nom food is prepared to order and individually portioned in vacuum-sealed pouches that ensures that food is fresh on arrival. Additionally, the product is shipped with dry ice.”
Nature’s Logic began in 2006 in Lincoln, Nebraska, with a lineup of dry and canned quality foods for cats and dogs. The company now offers lightly cooked frozen recipes in beef liver, chicken and lamb flavors for cats.
Popularity of these fresh pet food options is steadily growing. Freshpet, for example, has maintained doubledigit net sales growth each year since 2014.
Before you buy and try
“There’s something naturally appealing about feeding your cat a ‘fresh meal,’” says Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and co-author of The Clean Pet Food Revolution.
He offers this checklist to help you make the right selection to meet your cat’s nutritional needs:
✔ Verify on the label that the food is AAFCO-approved and nutritionally complete and balanced.
✔ Click online and check for any food recalls and read online reviews about the company making these meals.
✔ See if the company backs its nutritional and health claims. Having a board-certified veterinarian nutritionist on staff is a plus.
✔ Ask your veterinarian about your cat’s specific health needs and dietary requirements before making the meal switch.
“If the fresh food checks all of those boxes and the pet parent doesn’t mind the added cost, then I say go for it,” Dr. Ward says.
Investing in good food
Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian in Colorado, says commercial, refrigerated cat foods do tend to cost more than bags of kibble or cans of food. “It boils down to pay now or pay later,” says Dr. Hofve, founder of the website littlebigcat.com. “If you want to save on veterinary bills in the future, you are going to invest in your cat’s nutrition now. Less processed ingredients are better digested and provide more nutritional value for your cat.”
Key word: digestibility. Cats are notoriously not big water drinkers. Dishing up quality foods with moisture offers two pluses: enhanced digestion of the ingredients and the production of healthy poop in the litter box.
“Often, the first moment pet owners might notice a gut health or nutritional concern is when cleaning up after their pet,” says Dr. Tabitha Hookey, a Royal Canin scientific support specialist. “Symptoms of poor gastrointestinal health include vomiting, diarrhea, change in appetite, weight loss or abnormal stool quality.”
She adds, “A high-quality diet should start with carefully selected ingredients, which are digestible and bioavailable (meaning that the nutrients will be well-absorbed and used by the body).”
Dr. Hofve urges people to maintain good hygiene habits in the kitchen when opting to go with freshly made refrigerated and frozen foods. If the fridge food is left too long on a kitchen counter and not properly refrigerated, the pet can be at risk for salmonella and other health risks.
“If you are buying these foods, make it your last errand and get promptly home to refrigerate them,” she says. “Most of these meals are cooked to some degree, but not all of them. Don’t leave it on the kitchen counter and take a phone call from your uncle, because if you let it come to room temperature, the meat can quickly become contaminated with bacteria.”
And here’s her parting advice: Work with your veterinarian about adding prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes to your cat’s diet to maintain a healthy gut.”
Here’s our sampler of some of the fresh, cooked and refrigerated foods out there. Get these at the grocery and pet store or on a subscription basis.
Freshpet Select Fresh Chicken & Beef Grain Free Gourmet Pate; $3.99/1-lb. roll; freshpet.com
Nom Nom Chicken Cuisine $50 two-week trial (with 20% off discount); nomnomnow.com
Nature’s Logic Lightly Cooked Frozen $12.99/1.5-lb. individual roll; natureslogic.com