What Should I Feed My Cat

This question is complicated; however, we will try to make it simple. The biggest factors are the quality of the animal protein and the avoidance of known toxic and unnecessary ingredients.

The fact is, there are few foods on the market that meet those criteria. The decision is also complicated by availability, cost and style of feeding. As your cat’s guardian, you will have to weigh those factors to make the best choice you can to keep your cat healthy.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are biologically oriented to thrive on a species-appropriate diet of high quality animal protein. Investing a little more in higher quality food when your cat is young can pay off in better health and lower medical costs as your cat ages.

We know cats must have meat to survive, unlike the omnivorous dog, who can survive on a wider variety of food. Another difference is that cats have a relatively short digestive tract with a smaller stomach, compared to dogs (and humans). Cats’ livers are also lighter and much more simple than dogs, having evolved for lots of travel while hunting. Because they lack essential enzymes and amino acids, they simply don’t have the capacity to digest other food sources, like vegetable matter or fruit. This is important to consider when review food options.

Each food type has its champions and detractors. We hope this gives you basic information so you can make your own best decision for you and your cat. At the bottom of the page, we have a link to cat food ingredients to avoid (and why) and a link to a website that independently reviews cat food brands and types in these key areas:

  • Species-appropriateness
  • Ingredient quality
  • Product variety
  • Price
  • Customer experience
  • Recall history

Dry Food

Most people feed their cats dry food, or kibble, but this is changing as cat guardians acquire more knowledge on the subject of feline nutrition.


  • Easy to feed
  • Cats can eat when they’re hungry
  • Most cats like it
  • Usually more cost effective


  • High in carbohydrates, low in protein*
  • Research is showing it is contributing to the current epidemic of feline obesity, leading to diabetes
  • Low in water (moisture content) which is said to contribute to kidney disease and other urinary/bladder issues

Be aware that there is a movement in the pet food industry to make “grain free” dry (and wet) foods. Usually, this means replacing such fibers as corn, wheat and rice with potatoes, peas, oats, etc. The latter have not been researched and found safe for long-term use in cats.

Wet / Canned Food

Some veterinarians recommend feeding only wet (or canned) food. For most purposes, we recommend the pate food rather than the flaked food in gravy. Many cats will lick off the gravy and not eat the meat, which leaves them with incomplete nutrition full of thickeners and glutens.


  • High in protein, low in carbohydrates*
  • Gives cats more water in the diet (better for health)
  • Usually very palatable (large variety of flavors and textures)
  • Easier to hide supplements or medication in (if needed)


  • Must be schedule fed (but can be combined with dry)
  • May be higher in cost (for quality ingredients)

*Learn here how to accurately calculate the Carboydrate% and Protein% of “dry matter” in CAN and DRY food so you can appropriately compare brands and types of food

Raw Food

There’s a growing movement, even among some veterinarians, to feed fresh raw food. This is a complicated decision, however. You either must make your own or rely on ready-made frozen or freeze-dried sources.

Raw food has to be fed correctly. As Dr. Jean Hofve, a leading veterinary proponent of raw food, says, “The best diet you can feed your cat is a properly prepared homemade diet, but the worst diet you can feed your cat is an improperly prepared homemade diet!” Dr. Karen Becker, another veterinary proponent of raw food, says, “If you find that you’re leaving ingredients out and it’s too much trouble, you’re better off with commercial frozen or canned products, or even dry food.”  It can be detrimental to your cat’s health if your homemade recipe does not contain the right quantities and proportions of nutrients for your cat requires. We recommend a recipe developed by veterinarians certified in animal nutrition or through a site like the Feline Nutrition Foundation.


  • Said to cure many difficult diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Disorder and allergies
  • May foster better coats and teeth
  • Leaves less waste to clean up after


  • Can be more work to prepare
  • Must be schedule fed
  • Many cats–especially those raised on commercial foods–dislike it initially
  • Can be expensive on the front end
  • If not prepared correctly, a raw food diet can lead to deficiencies in your cat

Combination Feeding

Many cat guardians opt to feed a combination of the above. Perhaps they schedule feed wet food in the morning and evening and leave out a very small amount of kibble during the day give a small amount right before bedtime. Or perhaps they mix some freeze-dried raw nuggets in with wet food on scheduled feeds throughout the day. There are many ways to keep your cat happy, as long as he or she is getting good nutrition.

Cat Treats

Treats don’t need to make your cat fat. Simply make sure the treats are high-quality protein that takes the place of some of your cat’s regular food. It’s also a great idea to use treats for clicker play/training. Your cat will love being engaged with you doing something fun, plus you’ll have fun with your cat!

How & Where to Feed

Cats instinctively take their prey away from other cats to eat. When we expect multiple cats to eat side-by-side, we may be setting them up for conflict.

Watch your cats’ body language. If they aren’t completely relaxed while eating, focusing on their food instead of other cats, or if they stop and dart away in the middle of eating, you may need to give them more space.

Watch also for food bullying, even if accidental. This can be very subtle, as in a nose nudge at the tail or bottom of another eating cat, in order to get them to move away from their dish. Some highly food-motivated cats may naturally push shy ones out of the way. Some cats, especially those lower in the cat hierarchy, may need to be fed in a different part of the room. Some may even need to be fed in a different room entirely.

If you free feed, please offer more than one feeding station and in different locations. Much like litter boxes, there may need to be a separate feeding station per cat. Again, this is just insurance for preventing possible conflicts over food.

Don’t forget the water! Multiple water bowls (in a variety of bowls/glasses/fountains and in numerous locations) ensure regular access to water as well as backup sources should one get tipped over. Cats need to be encouraged to drink, so offering more choices will make sure your cat gets the water he or she needs. Many cats also like water fountains. There are many commercial ones available.

Ingredients to Avoid

Please click here to review a list of ingredients to avoid in cat food whenever possible.

Copyright © Feline Nutrition Foundation
Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs: The Basics
Updated: Saturday, June 01, 2019 04:56 PM
Published: Tuesday, February 09, 2010 04:22 AM
Written by Kymythy R. Schultze, CN
by Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN
December 18, 2018
in Pet Nutrition Basics, Petfoodology Blog
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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are based upon the opinions of All About Purrs, LLC, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified veterinarian and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of All About Purrs, LLC through its many years of working with cats. All About Purrs encourages you to make your own pet care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified veterinarian.
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