Cats can be fussy eaters, and finding a diet that suits both their nutritional needs and their fancy can be difficult. Some cats seem to prefer wet food, but is pouch food as good for them? 

Why do cats like different foods and turn down others?

Just as in humans, there is a lot of individual variation within the cat population as to food preferences. It is thought that the types of food that kittens are exposed to may play a role in their taste preferences in later life. Many cats are ‘neophilic’, meaning they enjoy trying foods and having some variety in their diet. Conversely, cats fed the same type of food over a long period of time will develop a strong preference for that food alone.

What food does a cat need?

The domestic cats we know and love as our pets today have not altered hugely from their African wildcat ancestors. They are still obligate carnivores, meaning they are nutritionally dependent on having meat as their food source. 

Cats have quite unique needs from their diet. They gain most of their energy from protein, rather than carbohydrate, so need a diet high in good quality protein. Cats also need a certain proportion of fat in their food. This is because they need it for processing certain vitamins and essential fatty acids. A unique point to a feline diet is that it must contain certain amino acids such as taurine and arginine, as cats cannot make these themselves. They are found only in meat and are essential to feline health. 

How do I know my cat is getting the right nutrients?

A recent survey by a pet food company found that 64% of owners say they don’t know what to look for in a pet food ingredient list. This is not surprising, as pet nutrition can be a complex subject. And there is a plethora of options to choose from!

There are two main ways to feed your cat; either you make your own home-prepared diet, or you feed a commercial food. A home-prepared diet can be difficult to ensure your cat gets everything they need. In the wild, cats hunt prey and consume them whole, and eat a variety of prey. This can be difficult to do at home, and so a commercial diet is often easier. 

The important point when choosing a commercial diet is to pick what is called a ‘complete’ diet. This means that it contains everything that your cat needs in the correct ratio – protein, fats, essential nutrients all included. Using a complete diet can give you peace of mind that you are providing your pet with all the nutrients that they need to thrive. 

Should I feed wet or dry?

There are two common, but opposing, schools of thought amongst cat owners. One is that cats should always be fed a mixture of wet and dry food. The other is that wet pouch food is unhealthy for them. Both are actually myths. Cats can do perfectly well on wet food, and can do equally well on dry food, or a mixture of both – as long as a complete food is fed. 

There are benefits to both types of food. Dry food is better for your cat’s teeth. And on a practical level can be easier to manage at home as it can be left down for longer without wastage – especially if your cat is a grazer. It can also often work out as the less expensive option. Wet food, however, is great for optimising hydration and can be the recommended option if your cat has certain medical conditions, such as kidney problems. 

So, are cat food pouches safe?

There is nothing wrong with wet pouch food, but its quality varies between brands – just as with all cat food. The main difference between cheap and expensive wet food for cats is the quality and quantity of the meat. Cheap pouches may have very low levels of meat content, with the rest bulked out by other foodstuffs such as grains, for example. Premium brands commonly have higher meat percentages, and sometimes therefore offer higher levels of good quality protein – which is important for cats. 

All cat food pouches which are labelled as being a complete food will fulfil your cat’s nutritional needs, but the quality of the ingredients may differ hugely. The very cheapest diets, which contain less high-quality protein and are bulked out by cheaper ingredients, may not provide optimal nutritional care, and this may predispose to weight issues or gastrointestinal upsets. 

Should I change my cat’s diet?

Nutrition is, of course, important to health – but cats can thrive on a variety of diets. If your cat is in good condition and weight, fit and active and with a healthy coat, these are all good signs. Their motions should be formed and of usual colour, not sloppy, mucusy or very smelly. 

If your cat is doing well on their current diet – wet or dry, there is no reason to change it. Certain life stages may need more care with their diet – pregnant and lactating cats, for example, and those who are elderly or living with chronic health conditions. A diet with high quality ingredients and added nutrients may be recommended in these cases.

There are so many cat diets available out there. Pouch food is safe to use, but the quality can vary between brands, just as it can with dry foods. Look for diets with a higher quantity of meat or animal products, which fulfils so many important nutritional needs for cats. If you do change diets, remember to do it gradually to prevent any tummy upsets.

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