How to Choose Healthy Cat Food?

As cat parents, we want to keep our kitties in great health for as long as possible. Feeding a nutritious diet is an important step toward your cat’s well-being, but with so many options, it can be difficult to decide which type of food – and which brand – to choose. In this guide, we’ll cover feline nutrition basics, plus we’ll offer a list of essential nutrients cats must have to survive. In addition, we’ll be providing you with some helpful advice for deciphering pet food labels with an eye toward ingredients that ought to be avoided. 

Malnutrition is Dangerous 

Feline diet

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine stresses the importance of appropriate nutrition, explaining that cats are obligate carnivores. Adorable as our feline friends are, they evolved as hunters. Cats are designed to eat a diet that consists of meat, meaning they need high quantities of protein, a moderate amount of fat, and other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are only found in animal products, so pay attention to this while choosing cat food

One of these amino acids is taurine. Feline nutrition experts at VetInfo explain that taurine deficiency can lead not only to malnutrition but to many other problems, some of them deadly:

  • Dilates the left portion of the heart, leading to improper heart function 
  • Causes retinal degeneration that can lead to blindness
  • Causes hair loss and tooth decay 
  • Leads to improper nerve functioning 
  • Prevents skeletal muscles from functioning properly 

That’s not all. Taurine is essential for the prevention of liver disease in cats. It helps regulate their blood sugar level, and it is a key amino acid in the production of bile salts, which in turn support fat digestion and the body’s ability to extract fat-soluble vitamins from dietary fats. 

VetInfo experts recommend a cat diet that includes taurine at a rate of 400 mg / kg of body weight for kittens and adolescent cats, and 500 mg / kg of body weight for adult cats. They’re quick to offer reassurance that it’s impossible for cats to overdose on taurine as what isn’t used by the body is excreted rather than stored. 

How to Tell if Your Cat is Eating the Wrong Diet

Even when your intentions are good while choosing cat food, it’s possible to deprive your kitty of certain nutrients or give them foods with additives that might be doing more harm than good. VetSTREET assembled a complete list of mistakes pet parents sometimes make, including:

  • Attempting to feed a cat a vegan diet
  • Making treats a focus instead of feeding age-appropriate cat food
  • Offering milk and other dairy products instead of meat-based meals
  • Feeding the wrong food for your cat’s life stage, i.e. giving adult cat food to kittens 

Nutrients Cats Need Every Day

How to choose cat food

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) offers complete nutritional requirements for cats. Their guidelines state that the following nutrients must be included in all cat foods:

  • Protein
  • Arginine
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine 
  • Methionine-cystine
  • Phenylalanine-tyrosine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine
  • Fat
  • Linoleic acid
  • Alpha-linoleic acid
  • Arachidonic acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid 
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus 
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Zinc 
  • Iodine 
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Thiamine
  • Riboflavin
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Niacin
  • Pyridoxine
  • Folic Acid 
  • Biotin 
  • Vitamin B12
  • Choline 
  • Taurine 

Nutrients to Avoid in a Cat’s Diet

Choosing cat food

Feline nutrition experts at VetInfo stress the importance of avoiding certain ingredients in a cat’s diet in order to help to choose healthy cat food. Although many of these are fine for people to eat, they can be dangerous or simply unhealthy when added to cat food:

  • Animal digest, a broth made with animal parts that might be of poor quality and/or contaminated.
  • Artificial ingredients such as flavors or colors, which don’t offer any benefits to your cat.
  • Beet pulp, which adds sugar to the food, potentially leading to obesity. 
  • BHT and BHA 
  • These chemical preservatives are allowed while choosing cat food but offer no nutritional value.
  • Corn, wheat and soy, which can slow digestion while contributing to obesity and diabetes.
  • Ethoxyquin, a chemical preservative that is linked to urinary and kidney problems. 
  • Meat by-products, which are of low quality and which can come from questionable sources. 
  • Too many minerals: Total mineral content should be no more than 2.5%. Anything higher can contribute to urinary tract infections, bladder obstruction, and cystitis. 
  • Wheat gluten and corn gluten, which are low-quality byproducts that act as fillers without benefiting your cat.

Tips for Reading Labels When Choosing Cat Food 

Besides looking for the right ingredients and double-checking for additives covered above, there are a few more label features to check as you decide which food is best for the cat

  • Life stage: Is your cat a kitten, an adult, or a senior? 
  • Body weight: Is your cat overweight? Has your vet recommended a weight control diet? 
  • Specific health conditions: Vets often recommend certain feline diets for specific health issues, i.e. kidney disease, urinary tract health, or hairball control. 

Last but not least, PetMD offers a reminder to look for a nutritional adequacy statement. For example, the package may say “This food is complete and balanced for adult maintenance.” 


The experts we’ve cited in this article agree that high-quality commercial cat food – wet or dry, or a combination of the two – is ideal, as it is specifically formulated for cats, with their unique dietary needs in mind. This means no worries for you, and proper nutrition to support your feline friend for a happy, healthy life ahead. Now you know for sure how to choose cat food!