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Store Bought vs Homemade Cat Food: Vet-Reviewed Pros, Cons & FAQ

Store Bought vs Homemade Cat Food
Image Credit: (L) 279photo Studio, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Brooke Billingsley

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	Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Even though there are hundreds of store-bought cat food options on the market, many people want to make homemade cat food for their cats. Whether it’s because it feels more personal or they believe it’s healthier, it’s not uncommon to want to cook for our pets. Is there a notable difference between these two options, though? Is one healthier or safer for your cat? Here’s what you need to know!

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At A Glance

Store bought vs homemade cat food comparison
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Store Bought Cat Food
  • Nutritionally balanced
  • May be formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist
  • Subject to quality control practices
  • Large amount of variety
Homemade Cat Food
  • Customizable
  • Options available for board-certified veterinary nutritionists to formulate
  • Human-grade ingredients are subject to quality control practices
  • Variety is dependent on ingredient availability

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Overview of Store-Bought Cat Food

cat food in feeding bowl
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

What Kind of Variety Is Available?

Store-bought cat food provides you with a wide range of options. Cat food comes in many different textures, including dry kibble, freeze-dried bites, pate, and more. If you’re interested in a homemade-style or raw diet for your cat, there are commercially available foods that are often more well-balanced than most people are able to do at home. Store-bought cat food offers you flavors and ingredients that can suit even the pickiest cat. There are also foods available at every price point and budget.

Good For:

There is a store-bought cat food option for all cats, regardless of age, breed, and health status. There are foods that are specific to indoor cats, certain breeds, cats with urinary tract problems, and even prescription diets that can meet the needs of cats with very complex medical conditions. With the variety of textures and flavors available, you will be able to find something that your cat likes, regardless of their preferences.

brown white cat eating from feeding table
Image Credit: Princess_Anmitsu, Shutterstock

Safety Considerations

While store-bought pet foods sometimes get a bad name because of recalls, most recalls are voluntary. This means that companies identify a problem and pull products as soon as a problem becomes evident, saving the lives of pets that would otherwise have been impacted.

Manufacturing plants that manufacture cat food are subject to multiple regulations and quality control practices. This means that not only will your cat get a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, but you can feel confident knowing that the odds of your cat being safe are excellent.

In addition, many people are against store-bought foods—even though they’re nutritionally complete in most cases—because they feel that such a diet (in particular, kibble) isn’t natural for a cat. Many brands also add fillers to their products in the form of carbohydrates (which cats don’t usually need in the amounts found in such foods).

  • Fully balanced, often through board-certified veterinary nutritionists
  • Many textures, flavors, and diet types available
  • Suitable for all cats
  • Subject to quality control and safety regulations
  • All price points available
  • May experience recalls
  • Nutritional quality varies by brand
  • Often doesn’t feel natural

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Overview of Homemade Cat Food:

cat eating chicken homemade recipe

What Kind of Variety Is Available?

The great thing about homemade cat food is that you can customize the diet to suit your cat’s preferences and needs. This means that you can pick proteins that your cat likes, but you will be limited to what’s available in your area. There is less variety when it comes to homemade cat food, though. If your cat likes dry food, you’ll struggle to make something suitable at home. It may also be difficult to achieve different wet food textures. Homemade cat food is also difficult to properly formulate on a tight budget, so this option for cat food isn’t ideal for people with a limited pet food budget.

Good For:

Homemade cat food can be a good pick if you’re an owner who has talked to a board-certified veterinary nutritionist or your vet about the nutritional needs of your cat. Cats that like wet and meaty foods can often be appeased with homemade cat food. If your cat is a kitten, elderly, or experiencing a health condition, preparing homemade food will provide you with the flexibility to create a diet that meets their needs. However, it’s advisable to have a professional guide you in designing this diet so you can fully meet your cat’s needs and prevent nutritional deficiencies.

cat eating raw foods
Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock

Safety Considerations

When it comes to safety, homemade cat food can be very hit or miss, especially if you’re feeding your cat a raw meat diet. Commercial meats may also have different nutritional yields depending on the age of the animal, the cut of meat, and the source of the meat. Most vets consider a homemade diet to be somewhat risky due to the difficulty of properly balancing the diet.

If you’re feeding a raw diet to your cat, there is a risk of food-borne illnesses being passed from your cat, their food, their bowl, and anything their food touches to you. Immunocompromised, elderly, and very young people are especially at risk for this. Cats intended to be used as emotional-support animals cannot be placed on a raw diet for legal reasons, as they’re often in close proximity to people who aren’t completely healthy.

  • Can be customized
  • Many ingredients available to meet your cat’s preferences
  • Can be formulated through a board-certified veterinary nutritionist service
  • Can meet the needs of many cats
  • Good option for cats that like wet and meaty foods
  • Difficult to make on a budget
  • Difficult to properly balance nutrients
  • Safety risks

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Which Is Healthier for Your Cat?

When it comes down to it, homemade and store-bought cat foods can be equally healthy for your cat. The benefit of store-bought food is that it almost always meets the minimum required standards for cat nutrition (but do check for labels that mention compliance with established standards by regulatory bodies where you live). A handful of brands also meet the World Small Veterinary Association (WSAVA) global nutrition requirement recommendations, so you can feel confident knowing the nutrition is excellent. Do note that WSAVA approval isn’t mandatory for a brand to sell cat food, but compliance with local regulations is (for example, U.S. cat food brand formulations claiming to be nutritionally complete must meet AAFCO requirements).

Many people underestimate just how difficult it is to properly balance a homemade pet food diet. While it may seem like you can cook meat and give it to your cat, there is a very careful balance of nutrients needed, which are often obtained through food and supplements. Specially formulated diets can be obtained through special services that allow a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to formulate your cat’s food, but these services can be pricey, and following the recipes exactly can be difficult.

You also need to consider the risk of food-borne illnesses that can come with homemade diets, especially raw diets. Commercial cat foods meet a variety of safety standards, and while incidents do occur, they occur at very low rates compared to the amount of food that is made every day. Improperly prepared homemade diets can pose a risk to your cat, and raw ingredients (raw meat especially) can be very dangerous when handled inappropriately. That said, this risk can be somewhat mitigated by actively sourcing ingredients from butchers or suppliers that meet high standards of hygiene and safety, such as those that only sell pasteurized meats.

siamese cat eating food from bowl at home
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

How Much Food Does My Cat Need?

The exact amount of food that your cat needs every day is extremely variable based on their age, size, current and ideal weight, activity level, and health status. Your vet can help you determine just how much your cat should eat every day, but if you’re feeding them store-bought cat food, the feeding suggestions on the package are a great starting point for most cats.

WSAVA, the global pet nutrition committee, has a feeding chart that explains how many calories per day an adult cat at an ideal body weight needs. There are multiple calculators available that can also help you determine how much your cat needs. The majority of adult cats need between 180 and 300 calories per day. If you’re working with a professional to create a homemade diet regimen for your cat, they will be able to help you determine how many calories your cat needs.

It’s important to remember, though, that your cat’s diet may need to be adjusted, whether it’s homemade or store-bought. Weight gain or loss, medical conditions, aging, and changes in activity level can all impact how much your cat needs to eat.

Regardless of your cat’s needs, their daily diet should consist of at least 90% of meals. No more than 10% of the daily diet should consist of treats, and if your cat is overweight, they likely need significantly less than this. Treats aren’t just commercial cat treats, either.

All table scraps and food taken from other pets should also be counted. By keeping their treat intake low, your cat will have a better chance of maintaining a healthy body weight, helping to prevent a variety of health issues that can occur with obesity. Treats are also usually not as nutrient dense as cat food, which should be the primary source of nutrients for your cat.

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In most situations, store-bought cat food is safe and nutritionally sound for your cat. However, homemade cat food can also be healthy and safe when prepared and handled correctly. Homemade diets can be very difficult to properly balance, though, so the help of a professional should be sought. Commercial cat foods are usually formulated to meet at least the minimum nutritional needs of a cat, but despite their popularity, they aren’t always considered ideal in the minds of some owners. Ultimately, this is an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it requires considerable thought and dedication.

Featured Image Credit: (L) 279photo Studio, Shutterstock | (R) 8H, Shutterstock

About the Author

Brooke Billingsley
Brooke Billingsley
Brooke spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. Brooke loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet-famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia.  Brooke stays active with yoga and obtained her 200-hour yoga teacher certification in 2020, she also loves spending her free time researching and writing.

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