There are a dizzying array of cat foods available. Royal Canin, Hills Science and Prescription Diets, and Purina are some of the most prominent brands. It is challenging to know which one to choose. Cat owners are often afraid choosing the wrong food will be detrimental to their cat’s health, but we do not know how to select the best food. So how do you choose good food for your cat?
Purina’s cheaper brands should be avoided. Purina Beyond is similar in nutritional profile to the pricey Royal Canin and Hill’s foods, but it is less expensive. All of them have too high a carbohydrate percentage. Veterinarians often recommend Royal Canin and Hill’s foods.
This article is not influenced by any of these cat food brands. It aims to give you some guidelines for evaluating cat foods, specifically the three brands: Hills, Royal Canin, and Purina. In order to assess cat food, you need to understand the basic nutritional needs of a cat.
Cat Nutritional Needs
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means a cat is designed to obtain all of its nutrition from animal flesh or meat. Its digestive system is unable to cope with large quantities of carbohydrates. There are insufficient enzymes available to break down carbohydrates. There is no fermentation process in the gut that allows for the breakdown of carbohydrates. Cats cannot split carotene from plant materials to synthesize vitamin A as some other animals do; instead, they obtain vitamin a from the liver of their prey. Cats cannot utilize plant fats. As can be seen, cats require that their nutrients come from animal proteins exclusively. The only time obligate carnivores eat plants is to induce vomiting.
Taking into account the fact that cats are obligate carnivores, you should not be surprised that cats should have a very high percentage of protein in their food. Wild cats consume 55% animal protein, 43 – 44% animal fats, and only 1- 2% carbohydrates. Science has determined that domesticated cats still require this dietary ratio.
Proteins In Cat Food.
Proteins consist of basic building blocks called amino acids. Cats need 22 different amino acids. They can synthesize some amino acids themselves, but others must be present in the food to maintain good health. These are called essential amino acids and are found in animal protein. An example of an essential amino acid is taurine. Taurine is necessary to maintain a healthy heart and vision system. Growth and reproduction are also controlled by taurine. Some others are methionine, cysteine, retinol, arginine, and arachidonic acid. There are 11 essential amino acids that each play a role in keeping a cat healthy.
Adding synthetic amino acids to cat food does not replace animal proteins. These synthetic amino acids cannot be utilized efficiently by the cat, and so the cat still ends up with an amino acid deficiency. Proteins are essential to provide energy and maintain muscle mass in cats.
The type of animal protein can vary. It may be fish, poultry, beef, mutton, or pork. Soya and legumes are plant proteins and cannot be digested easily by cats. Pet food companies often include soya to increase the overall protein content, but it should not be included in cat foods.
Processing of Proteins Makes A Difference.
Proteins are easily denatured by high heat. Heat alters the shape of the protein molecule, which affects its ability to be digested. Many cat food companies use meat meal as
their source of animal protein. A process called rendering boils all the scraps of unwanted meat until the fat rises to the top of the mixture. The fat is removed, and the remaining ‘meat’ is dried to produce meat meal. The rendering process destroys the shape of the protein molecule creating a protein that is difficult to digest.
Fats In Cat Food.
Many human diets and dietary science have influenced people to regard dietary fats as evil in the nutritional world. This belief is erroneous and harmful. Fats are a source of energy, vital for predators who need to expend a great deal of energy on catching prey. You may argue that your cat is far from a predator and may rather be described as a chubby couch lounger. Although your cat may not need all that energy, his body is still designed to utilize and function optimally with a high percentage of fats. If you need to slim down your cat, choose a food with a higher protein ratio and fewer fats, but don’t omit them altogether.
Fats play an essential role in the maintenance of the central and peripheral nervous systems of all animals. The skin and coat health of cats relies heavily on fats in the diet. Remember, this must be animal fats, so a dollop of sunflower oil will not assist your cat nutritionally.
Carbohydrates In Cat Food.
Carbohydrates should not make up more than 2% of cat food. They should ideally be presented as a fibrous form of carbohydrates to assist with the elimination of feces.
Labels On Cat Food.
The pet food governing bodies in most countries require pet food companies to list ingredients in cat food. The ingredient list is presented in descending order with regards to the amount of ingredients present in the food. For example, a food that lists wheat, corn starch, and soya first indicates that these are the ingredients used in the highest percentages in manufacturing that food. Most countries also insist that protein, fats, carbohydrates, and some other ingredients be listed in their percentages. Although pet food companies comply, they have become adept at manipulating figures to dupe the public. For example, a cat food that states it has 28% protein but includes soya in its list of ingredients is including soya in the protein portion of the profile. The fact that cats cannot utilize soya efficiently is not communicated to cat owners.
How To Evaluate Cat Food
In evaluating a cat food, we can consider several criteria:
- Nutritional profile and ingredients.
- Taste or appeal to cats.
- Variety of products offered.
- Recall status.
Hill’s Science And Prescription Diets
Nutritional Profile And Ingredients
Hill’s offers a variety of foods. Their science range is aimed at healthy cats in different life stages and includes both wet and dry food. The percentage of protein in their science dry foods range from 20% in senior food to 39,4% in kitten food. As can be seen, these protein percentages are significantly lower than the required amounts for obligate carnivores such as cats. Recent research has shown that senior cats need at least 50% protein to maintain their muscle mass. The higher protein levels compensate for the reduced efficiency of digestion in older cats. Fat percentages are 16,7% in senior food and 25,5% in kitty food. The rest of the food consists of plant-based carbohydrates. Wet foods have higher protein levels, topping out at 47% of protein in wet kitten food. This means there are fewer carbohydrates in wet food. Hill’s does not add artificial colorants or flavoring.
The prescription diets were formulated to address various health issues such as kidney disease, urinary disease, gastrointestinal sensitivity, and allergies. They have varying protein levels in both the wet and dry foods but none that are more than 47%. Ironically their digestive care range boldly advertises that they include whole oats, barley, and brown rice. The choice is limited when considering prescription diets, as only a few brands offer them.
Do Cats Like Hill’s Cat Food?
A common complaint about Hills products is that they are bland and often unappealing to cats. Many owners have bought Hill’s cat food, only to be left with a bag of food that their cats will not eat. Some cats, though, will only eat Hill’s food. It is best to buy a small bag or get a sample of Hill’s cat food to try with your cat before purchasing large quantities.
Price Of Hill’s Cat Food.
Prescription diets may only be bought from veterinarian practices, increasing prices and allowing for differing fees based on the veterinary practice. Hill’s science cat foods usually fall within the high-cost bracket for cat foods.
Recall Of Hill’s Pet Food.
There have been four recalls of Hill’s cat food:
- 2007: for melamine contamination.
- 2014; potential salmonella contamination.
- 2015: several varieties of the science diet due to labeling errors.
- 2019: withdrawal due to unacceptably high vitamin D levels.
Overview Of Hill’s Cat Food.
Protein percentages fall below recommended amounts for cats. Cereals and grains constitute high amounts of carbohydrates in their cat food products. They supply prescription diets, and many cat owners claim their cats have flourished on these diets. Hill’s cat food is popular with many veterinarians. Many cats do not seem to enjoy the taste of Hill’s cat products. Prices are generally relatively high, with prescription diets costing more than science diets.
Royal Canin Cat Foods
Nutritional Profile And Ingredients.
Royal Canin cat foods provide more than one hundred different cat foods for different life stages for cats with different lifestyles and health conditions. They also uniquely provide food for differing cat breeds. Royal Canin dry cat foods have slightly lower protein percentages than Hill’s dry food. They have approximately 2% less fat 16% in Royal Canin and 18,2% in Hill’s) and there are carbohydrates from plants in the food.
The wet food has higher protein – 51% protein compared to 38,7% in similar Hill’s wet food. The fat content for the wet food is 12,7% as opposed to 21,9% for the Hill’s wet food. The dry food protein percentage is woefully below the required amounts for cats, and the low-fat percentage in the wet food is troubling. One criticism of Royal Canin is that they do not disclose the source of their ingredients. They emphasize the importance of nutrients and give little information on ingredients.
Do Cats Like Royal Canin Cat Food?
Royal Canin cat food is generally reported to be received positively by cats. The majority of cats seem to enjoy the flavor of Royal Canin food. Some owners say that their cats do not want to eat Royal Canin, but these seem to be in the minority. There have recently been complaints about the foods for specific health conditions claiming that some of these foods have caused the cats to vomit and become ill. At this stage, there are no formal statistics or reports on this, and all information is anecdotal.
Price Of Royal Canin Cat Food.
Royal Canin cat food falls into the expensive range of foods. Prescription foods are more costly than normal foods. Commonly the breed-specific foods are also more expensive than normal foods. There is quite a lot of controversy as to whether breed-specific foods for cats are needed. Unlike dogs, cat breeds tend to be relatively similar in size and body shape. The need for specialized food is questionable. Many people view breed-specific cat food as a clever marketing tool.
Recall Of Royal Canin
- 2006: Recall for high vitamin D.
- 2007: Two recalls in the year for melamine contamination.
Overview Of Royal Canin Cat Foods.
Dry cat foods have insufficient quantities of protein. The wet foods have a good amount of protein and could be considered to supply correct amounts for optimal cat health. Fat content is too low in both dry and wet foods, but the amount of fats in the wet food is insufficient. Cereals are used to provide carbohydrates in a much greater percentage than is required by cats. This could result in digestive difficulties for the cats. It is an expensive food but is commonly recommended by veterinarians due to its specialized health condition foods. It is popular with cats and owners.
Purina Cat Foods.
Nutritional Profile And Ingredients.
Purina makes a large number of different brands of cat foods. Their brands of cat food include:
- Fancy Feast
- Party Mix
- Kit & Kaboodle
- Cat Chow
- Pro Plan
- Pro Plan Veterinary Diets.
These different brands vary widely in terms of nutritional quality and price. The cheaper but nutritionally more deficient brands are Friskies and Party Mix which have low protein contents and high carbohydrates with some undesirable ingredients included. The medium-level brands in both price and quality are Pro Plan and Pro Plan Veterinary Diets. Beyond is a high-quality food and is the most expensive option. Friskies use meat by-products instead of real meat. Flavorants and salt are used to increase flavor. Although Friskies has a protein content of approximately 36%, this is not necessarily all usable due to the poor quality of meat products used.
Beyond dry food has 38% protein, which is roughly comparable to Hill’s dry food and slightly more than Royal Canin dry food. Beyond wet food contains around 45% protein which is a relatively good amount but not as appropriate as Royal Canin. Beyond advertises the use of plant matter such as sweet potato in the names of certain foods. Beyond foods do not contain grains, which is a positive aspect.
Purina One dry food has 45% protein in the kitten food, 47% in the Ideal Weight High Protein Food, and 43% in the Indoor Advantage dry food. Although this protein percentage looks impressive, soya features prominently in the ingredients. The reality is that the actual usable protein for cats is considerably less than the amount reported.
Purina Pro Plan has 40% protein in dry food and only 12,5% in wet food, but once again, both wet and dry food contain soy.
Do Cats Like Purina?
This is a difficult question to answer because of the wide variety of brands made by Purina.
Beyond has received positive reviews stating that, generally, cats like the product.
Price of Purina Cat Foods.
Friskies and Party Mix are cheap foods, and the price ranges up until Beyond which is the most expensive food. Beyond is considered to be a moderately priced cat food.
Recall Of Purina.
Purina has recalled cat food many times during its history. Not every brand has been recalled, but as they are all made in the same factories, the recalls must be taken into account for all their foods.
Overview Of Purina Cat Foods.
Purina produces some very cheap brands of cat food that are inferior and incomplete nutritionally. These should be avoided. Purina Pro Plan and Purina One include soya and other plant sources which are not suitable for cats and give an artificially inflated percentage of protein. Beyond has good protein content and does not include grains, although it does include other carbohydrates such as sweet potato. It is cheaper than both Royal Canin and Hill’s cat foods.
The different brands of cat foods vary in their nutritional profile and source of ingredients. The choice can become difficult. When considering purchasing cat food, choose a brand that provides the highest protein and fat levels from the best meat sources that you can afford. Choose cat foods low in carbohydrates and avoid plant proteins such as soy or legumes. Do not buy cat foods that have artificial colorants and preservatives. Although we would like to choose only the best for our cats, we must be governed by our budgets and make wise choices in that framework.
Linder, D.E. 2018. Cats are not Small Dogs: Unique Nutritional Needs Of Cats. https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/12/cats-are-not-small-dogs-unique-nutritional-needs-of-cats/
Pet Food Manufacturers Association. Proteins In Pet Food Fact Sheet. https://www.pfma.org.uk/proteins-factsheet
Simpson, W. Understanding the Cat Food Label. https://morrisvillecathospital.com/resources/understanding-the-pet-food-label-part-1/
Sulik, K. 2021. Do Cats Need A High-Protein Cat Food?. https://www.petmd.com/cat/nutrition/do-cats-need-high-protein-cat-food