Dry cat food is the mainstay of many cats' diets, as it tends to be cheaper than canned wet foods, and it stores easier. Dry cat food tends to be less perishable, and many people find it easier to store than canned foods.
No one food is perfect, and dry food is no exception. There are definite advantages and disadvantages of the food, such as needing to consider water sources for your cat and making sure that they are drinking enough. With canned food, you need to worry less about your kitty drinking since they get moisture from the food.
AAFCO Feeding Guidelines
When considering nutrition for your cat, you want to pick a food that has met AAFCO feeding trials over a food that has been formulated to meet AAFCO feeding guidelines. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and it outlines specific needs that diets must meet to be a complete and balanced food choice. Foods that have actually been tested with a feeding trial are better than ones that are simply formulated to meet specific requirements but that have not had a feeding trial because you know that the diet will meet your cat's needs.
When looking at different diet options, you want to pick a food made by a trusted brand. This will help ensure that your cat is getting the nutrition that he or she needs from the food. The label should also have an AAFCO feeding statement that lets you know if the diet is considered complete and balanced. Diets made by the "big three" in the pet food world tend to be the most reputable and include Royal Canin, Hill's, and Purina. That said, other foods may better meet your cat's needs and your budget restrictions.
Cats are obligate carnivores, so their diet should reflect this. Cats have high protein requirements, even high than that of your dog. The protein that cats eat forms the building blocks of tissues within the body, from hair to muscles. Protein is made up of millions of amino acids, which cats break down and absorb to regulate metabolism and repair tissues.
The amino acids your cat ingests also allow them to create new proteins. Some amino acids can't be made by your cat's body and must be supplied in the diet, such as taurine. Without enough taurine, your cat may develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or blindness, both severe health problems. While other animals can regulate how their body breaks down proteins, cats can't, which means they consistently need high levels of high-quality proteins to stay healthy.
You need to evaluate where your kitty's protein comes from in your cat's diet. Many commercial diets use plant-based sources of protein, such as veggies and grains. You cat doesn't process plant-based protein as effectively as he or she does animal proteins. That's why you want to make sure your cat's food is largely made of animal-based proteins. Some foods refer to this as "high-quality" protein. Dry foods more commonly lack animal-based proteins, so it is important to read the label thoroughly before you feed it to your cat.
Your cat's life stage will affect how much protein he or she needs to consume. Kittens and queens who are nursing kittens need high amounts of protein for. As your cat becomes an adult, they generally need a bit less protein. Finally, as your cat continues to age, such as over 10 years old, they need plenty of protein because they don't readily absorb or metabolize proteins anymore. This also helps keep your cat's muscle mass maintained, which can decline if they are not intaking enough protein.
Grain-Free Foods Aren't Always the Answer
There has been a growing trend for the last few years to move towards feeding cats foods that did not have grains in them, thinking it would mimic their diets in the wild. Unfortunately, the carbohydrate sources used when not feeding cats grains are not any more natural than the grains they eat: they include things like tapioca and peas as potential carbohydrate sources.
In addition to not necessarily being needed, the Food and Drug Administration has found that some grain-free diets have been linked to heart disease in dogs and cats. Instead of avoiding a diet with grains, you are better off picking a diet that has high quality grain sources for your cat to consume.
It is rare for cats to have an allergy to grains. In fact, a study that was published in Veterinary Dermatology of 56 cats with food allergies showed that only four cases of cats with food allergies were related to corn, one of the most common grain ingredients in cat food. More than forty cats in the study had allergies related to a protein source, namely beef, dairy, or fish.
Your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet has a food allergy by putting them through a dietary elimination trial. Potential symptoms that you pet may need to undergo a food trial include things such as itching, excessive grooming, scabs or "hot spots." Your veterinarian can help you pick the right food choice for your kitty for this trial, usually a hypoallergenic diet or a novel protein diet, where your cat hasn't been exposed to the protein source before.
Another thing that can be beneficial with grains is that it supplements some of the amino acids that your cat might get from protein. While animal-based protein sources are common (after all, we just talked about that), having the entirety of your cat's protein be meat-based increases the likelihood that the food will be high in phosphorus. While this is an important nutrient in many regards, if the levels are too high in your cat's body, it has been linked to the progression of kidney disease in both dogs and cats. By keeping the food balanced and having animal- and plant-based sources of nutrition in your cats food will help minimize the possible issues that could arise from feeding the diet.
Top Dry Food Picks For Your Cat
In no particular order, here are ten of the top dry cat foods that you could feed your cat. Some are more budget-friendly options than others, and they come in different flavors, so if your kitty doesn't like one, you might try a different one.
Hill's Science Diet Adult Indoor Cat Food
Hill's Science Diet Adult Indoor Cat Food checks all of the boxes that you need in a balanced and highly nutritious cat food. A team of veterinarians and nutritionists have developed this cat food, so you can be sure that it has met with rigorous feeding testing. The primary source for the protein and fats in this kitty food is chicken. In addition, the diet has supplemented fish oils, with EPA and DHA contained within it, which helps decrease inflammation and promotes good joint health.
This diet does contain grains in the form of corn, wheat gluten, and soy. It also has fruits and veggies that is has been formulated with to give your kitty the benefit of antioxidants. There's a minimum protein content in this diet of 29.5% and a maximum fat content of 16%.
Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food
Rachael Ray's formulated Nutrish Natural Dry Cat Food is a delicious treat for your furry family member, and that was one of Ray's goals in making a food you'd be proud to feed your cat. If you're worried about materials coming from grains, you don't need to worry with this cat food. The diet has no cereal grains, and it has also been formulated with no poultry by-products (even though these are a great source of nutrition for your pet, we understand they have a poor connotation).
Nutrish is high in protein and low in fat, with a minimum guaranteed 34% protein and a maximum 14% fat. It is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help promote a healthy skin and coat, joint health, and brain health. Like most cat foods, it contains appropriate levels of taurine, but this diet also includes antioxidants and biotin for your cat's overall health.
Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food
Natural Balance's Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food is an over the counter choice for diet that doesn't mix multiple meats as a source of protein. Instead, they truly mean limited ingredient. The primary animal protein includes salmon, chicken, or venison, while the plant base protein is either green peas or chickpeas. This makes it much easier to determine if your cat has a protein sensitivity to a specific food source.
While being a dry food, Natural Balance's Limited Ingredient Dry Cat Food has a higher moisture content than some other cat foods. In addition to essential fatty acids and antioxidants, the diet also adds in prebiotics, which are food for the healthy probiotics in your cat's gut.
Purina ONE Urinary Tract Health Formula
Purina ONE Urinary Tract Health Formula is a non-prescription diet that aims to help your cat maintain good urinary tract health. The food keeps the urine pH low and has a low magnesium content to help is succeed.
The diet also has healthy fatty acids to keep your cat's coat shiny and healthy. The brand utilizes real poultry and fish in the foods as a natural and animal source of protein. Purina also promises a 0% filler food, so everything has a purpose in their diets. They also make other diets, such as formulated for hairball control and digestion, if you cat would benefit more from one of those.
MAX Cat Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food by Nutro
MAX Cat Indoor Adult Dry Cat Food by Nutro has been designed to help indoor cats with furball control, by maintaining appropriate levels of fiber to help regulate your cat's gut. The food also contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, which help to promote healthy skin and a healthy coat.
Nutro's MAX formulation limits its animal-based protein to one source, either salmon or chicken, so you don't have to worry about a variety of protein sources leading to food allergies in your cat. The minimum protein amount is 30%, so it contains appropriate levels to maintain your cat's health.
Blue Buffalo BLUE for Cats Adult Dry Cat Food
Blue Buffalo BLUE for Cats Adult Dry Cat Food is another diet on this list that helps limit the amount of different protein sources your cat gets exposed to in one food. Depending on the type, you may find that chicken or salmon is the pure animal-based protein source, although some of the diets do mix protein sources. They use brown rice as a grain source, so you don't have to worry if your cat is sensitive to grains like corn.
Blue Buffalo's BLUE formulation is also packed with their patented Life Source bits, and they have formulated the food to also contain give different strains of probiotics that help your kitty maintain optimal gut health. The amount of fiber in the food is limited to a maximum of 4.5%, while the diets contain a minimum of 30 to 36% protein, depending on which variety you feed.
Proactive Health Indoor Weight and Hairball Care Dry Cat Food by IAMS
Proactive Health Indoor Weight and Hairball Care Adult Dry Cat Food by IAMS is a feline-friendly diet that is made with chicken and chicken by-products as the predominant protein source. The food is geared towards indoor kitties, with a moderately restricted calorie count. In addition, the diet is high in fiber, which helps cats with hairball issues.
IAMS contains a minimum of 30% protein for your feline friend, with a maximum of 13.5% fat. The food has a high fiber amount, with a maximum of 8.3%. The diet also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, which helps to decrease inflammation and promote a healthy coat in your cat.
Nulo Freestyle Dry Cat Food
Nulo is a newer food on the market compared to some of the others on this list, but it's no less impressive. Formulated as a high-quality food for your cat, the team behind Nulo aims for a food with a lower glycemic index, helping to manage your cat's weight and minimize the risk of diabetes mellitus from developing.
The Nulo Freestyle foods are all grain-free, and these foods have a high meat content, with the first several ingredients in the diet being animal proteins. Dried chicory root is added to the diets as a source of prebiotic fiber. It also contains probiotics for dietary support.
Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Cat Food
Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Cat Food is another high quality option for your kitty. One of the things that makes this food stand out compared to many others is that it comes supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin, which help promote good joint health. If you can't get your kitty to take a joint supplement, this might be a valid food option for you.
On the positive and negative side is that the minimum crude protein is the highest on this list of top dry cat foods, coming in at a minimum of 38%. For growing and active cats, this is great, but it is less ideal for older cats, where the excess protein might affect their kidneys. This diet also contains plenty of omega-3 fatty acids for your cat's overall health.
Cat Chow Gentle Dry Cat Food by Purina
Cat Chow Gentle Dry Cat Food by Purina is a great budget option for your feline family member. If you're looking for a convenient food option, it doesn't get much better than this, which is available at grocery stores, mass market retailers, and pet food stores. The diet is geared to being easier on your cat's digestion, and it has several key features. One is that it is made with turkey, rather than the more commonly allergenic chicken, as its main ingredient.
Purina's Cat Chow Gentle also has a higher moisture content for a dry food than some others on the market, with a maximum of 12% moisture, while still maintaining a reasonable fiber content at a maximum of 5%.
Other Things to Consider in Your Cat's Food
The first thing to consider in your cat's food is their lifestyle and age. Older cats need a senior diet, while younger, growing kittens have different nutrient needs. Older cats may have more trouble digesting fats, while high protein levels have the potential to affect their kidneys. Make sure you're choosing a food for the correct life stage of your cat.
The order of the ingredients on the packaging matters significantly. Pet food manufacturers have to list the ingredients in order of their proportion within the pet food. Especially in cat food, you want the first several ingredients to be animal meats or meat by-products.
Now that's another thing to be aware of. By-products aren't necessarily bad in your pet's food, especially if you're feeding a high quality diet. According to petMD, they are the clean parts from slaughtered animals other than meat, and they include lungs, liver, and spleen, just to name a few. They are parts that humans, especially in the United States, don't generally consume, but they can be a good source of protein and other nutrients. Some pet food companies get crafty with their marketing and list out each individual part of the animal rather than call it by-products, such as chicken livers, beef spleen, et cetera.
We've gone over a variety of things you might see on the label. What about if you see a pet food labeled "gourmet" or "premium"? That just sounds better than plain ol' regular kibble, but is it? In fact, there is no distinction or requirements that a food company has to meet to use terms like that on their bag of food. It's just marketing.
Natural and organic pet foods do have to meet certain production claims. Natural foods must be made from only plant, animal, or mined sources, rather than be highly processed or filled with synthetic chemicals. Organic foods must be made without commercial pesticides or fertilizers, just like the organic foods you might eat. Food animals used in the pet food must not be raised with antibiotics or other chemicals such as growth hormones.
Dry Food Versus Wet Food
The choice of whether or not to feed dry food or wet food is largely preferential, but your cat may have some say in the matter. The biggest difference in the two foods is that canned foods contain more moisture. If your cat is eating dry food, they also need to be drinking plenty of water. A rule of thumb is they need to drink 1 cup of water per 10 pounds of body weight within a 24 hour period to be drinking enough water.
There are ways you can encourage your kitty to drink water. Some cats enjoy a fountain that supplies their water, while others like you to cut the faucet on for them from time to time, just don't leave it running as that's a huge waste of water! Some cats are encouraged to drink from their water bowls if you use bottled or filtered water, and some enjoy it if you add a couple of ice cubes to their water bowl.
Dry food has several benefits over canned food. As your cat chews into the dry kibble, the kibble may help clean their teeth. Some cat foods actually tout this as a benefit of feeding their formulation. This can be especially important as periodontal disease affects a great many dogs and cats around the world.
It can definitely be difficult to choose what type of food to feed your feline family member. Hopefully this list provides some more information to help you make your choice. As always, talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about what to feed your cat, as some may need specific prescription formulated diets for underlying health issues, such as obesity or kidney disease. They can also help you pick the best food for your specific pet, even if it's not a prescription.