Cat food has evolved beyond bags of kibble and cans of wet to include fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, gravies, stews, broths, lickable treats and flake toppers. This evolution of variety is the result of pet parents’ focus on health and wellness and their willingness to pay more for quality food and treats.
The finicky palates of kitties and the humanization of pets are also influencing cat food trends. Ancestral formulas, human-grade, limited ingredient, grain-free and mixers are taking up more space on the cat food shelves at pet stores.
- Wet Food: Wet food remains a growing segment as more pet parents are aware of the importance of moisture in a cat’s diet. Cats don’t always drink enough water and don’t easily digest the carbohydrates found in many dry foods. Wet food adds moisture to the aid digestion.
- Treats: Sales of treats are forecasted to grow as an “add on” item in pet food orders. Natural treats without artificial coloring or ingredients, single-meat treats and lickable treats are all trending. Pet parents continue to show interest in CBD and hemp treats that offer calming properties for their cats.
- Mixers and Toppers: The cat food aisle now includes nutritious broths, mixers and gravies to add moisture, flavor and supplemental nutrition. Fish flake toppers are an example of innovation that expands palatability.
- Frozen and Freeze-Dried: Several brands recently launched new limited-ingredient, minimally processed cat foods that are freeze-dried or frozen. Raw cat food is typically lower carb, grain-free and natural.
- Grain-Free: The growing list of grain-free foods for cats includes dry, wet, semi-moist, fresh and frozen formulas. They are high protein and align with the ancestral diets of carnivores. Grain-free foods may help cats with weight issues and conditions like diabetes.
- Limited Ingredient: Limited-ingredient formulas are typically high in protein and are a good choice for cats with food sensitivities.
- Wellness Ingredients: More manufacturers are adding foods for specialized nutritional needs. Fatty acids (omega-3s from marine sources and omega-6s from plant sources) are added to some foods for skin, coat, joint and immune system benefits. Food with pumpkin may ease sensitive stomachs. Probiotics and prebiotics aid digestion.
More pet parents read labels and want to understand all the ingredients in their cats’ food. They also are interested in the processing method and ingredients sources, with GMO-free and USA-made foods growing in popularity.
The Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) is a useful resource for pet food label guidelines, including required, prohibited and optional labeling. The organization also helps define the ingredients on the label by explaining major and minor ingredients.
To use the term “Complete and Balanced” on its label, a cat food manufacturer must meet these AAFCO minimum ingredient guidelines:
- Kitten Food must contain a minimum of 30% protein and 9% fat.
- Adult Maintenance Cat Food and Senior Cat Food must contain a minimum of 26% protein and 9% fat.
Dietary Requirements for Cats
- Water: Cats need continuous access to clean water for health and wellness, but many cats are finicky about how and where they drink water. Some don’t like the water bowl near the food bowl, and others want it running from a faucet or fountain bowl. It may take some trial and error to find the best place for a cat to be comfortable drinking water.
- Proteins: Animal-based proteins help a cat’s body grow, function and heal. Proteins support cells, tissues, organs and hormones.
- Amino Acids: A vital amino acid for cats is taurine, which is essential for the prevention of eye and heart disease. Amino acids are the “building blocks” of proteins and are supplied by a meat-based diet. Vegetables and grains offer incomplete amino acid profiles.
- Fats: As concentrated food energy, fats are necessary for cell structure, hormone production and the absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins. Critical fats for cats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation, and linoleic acid, which is essential for healthy muscles.
- Fiber from Carbohydrates: There are no minimum requirements for carbohydrates for cats, but moderately fermentable fiber can help with digestion. Too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and may be a precursor to diabetes.
- Vitamins: Cats only need a small amount of vitamins for metabolic function, which are delivered through diet.
- Treats: Treats should be 10 percent or less of a kitten or cat’s daily food intake.
Life Stage Nutrition Tips
- Mother’s Milk: Kittens do best with mother’s milk for their first four weeks. Use a commercial milk replacer (consult a veterinarian) if a kitten does not suckle. (Do not give cow’s milk to a kitten or cat because they cannot process lactose and may vomit or have diarrhea.)
- Protein: Kittens need 30 percent of their diet as protein, so kitten-formula foods are necessary until a cat reaches maturity.
- DHA: Kittens need DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid to support vision and brain development.
- Feeding Frequency: Kittens should be fed throughout the day to support growth. For the first six months, feeding three times a day or more is recommended. After six months, feeding two times a day works well.
- Caloric Intake: To meet energy needs and maintain health, adult cats need the right caloric intake based on size and weight. One recommendation is to feed 24 to 35 calories per day per pound.
- Feeding Frequency: Cats can be fed twice a day by dividing the amount suggested on a food label into two meals spaced about 12 hours apart. Free feeding of dry food (available whenever the cat wants it) needs to be monitored to avoid overeating. A veterinarian can help determine the best food options and feeding schedule.
- Senior Nutrition: Cats become seniors at age 7, and they are considered geriatric at about age 10. Diets for older cats need to be evaluated to maintain health and prevent disease. As cats age, they may have a decreased ability to digest protein and fat and may benefit from food with a higher protein and fat content.
- Obesity: Cats may become heavier in their senior years, and obesity is common. Depending on how active a cat remains will determine if a lower-calories senior food is required to maintain a healthy weight.
- Weight Loss: Medical problems in older cats may affect their food intake and result in weight loss. Tooth and gum diseases, diabetes and kidney problems may cause a cat to eat less. A decline in taste and smell may also contribute to decreased consumption. Talk to a veterinarian to address special diet needs.
For additional dietary tips from the ASPCA, visit here: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/cat-nutrition-tips.