Choosing a Cat Food | Aspen Grove Vet

Choosing a Cat Food

  • Kitten (6 weeks – 6 months): Premium quality dry/canned kitten formula. Feed 2-3 times daily
  • Adolescent (6 -18 months):
    • 6-12 months – Premium quality dry/canned kitten formula. Feed 2 times daily
    • 12-18 months – Premium quality dry/canned adult formula. Feed 1-2 times daily
  • Adult (18 months – 7 years): Premium quality dry/canned adult maintenance formula. Feed 1-2 times daily. Watch for obesity. Switch to a less active formula if necessary.
  • Senior (7 years +): Premium quality canned/dry senior cat food (less active formula). Possible prescription diet to support kidneys and liver.

Cat-Specific Nutrition

  • Cats are stricter carnivores than dogs. They have a different digestive tract that is meant to process meats.
  • They gain more benefits from eating proteins and can have a harder time digesting carbohydrates.
  • Cats must be fed cat-specific food due to their digestive process and metabolism. Cats should never be fed dog food.
  • Cats require an amino acid called Taurine for proper heart development and maintenance. Taurine is added specifically into cat diets. It is not added to dog food.

Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.

Your cat food should have passed AAFCO feeding guidelines and should be labeled for a certain stage of life. Look for the words “complete” or “balanced.” It’s important to look for whether the food meets AAFCO guidelines through a feeding trial. Foods that meet these requirements through formulation only are not as high quality as those that are tested through a feeding trial.

Keep in mind that the AAFCO only guarantees that an animal can live on the food; it’s still important to pay attention to ingredients.

The nutrition you feed your pet directly affects your pets lifetime health. Some diseases that have a nutritional component are:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer.

Good Sources of Protein

  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Liver
  • Poultry by-products (provide essential fatty acids)
  • Duck
  • By-product meal (for minerals)
  • Fish (omega-3 fatty acids)


Carbohydrates are an important part of a well-balanced diet; they provide energy for your dog.

  • Rice
  • Peas
  • Potatoes

Animal By-Products & Other Common Ingredients

Some animal by-products like liver and other internal organs are excellent sources of the amino acids and other nutrients that dogs and cats need. In addition, dry pet foods need preservatives to prevent spoilage and degradation of essential nutrients.

  • Meat: Meat is the clean flesh of slaughtered animals (chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc.). The flesh can include striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus, overlying fat and the skin, sinew, nerves and blood vessels normally found within that flesh.
  • Meat By-products: Meat by-products are clean parts of slaughtered animals, not including meat. These include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, some fatty tissue, and stomach and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.
  • Poultry By-products: Poultry by-products are clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, and internal organs (like heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and intestines). It does not contain feathers.
  • Fish Meal: Fish meal is the clean ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.
  • Ground Corn: Ground corn is the entire corn kernel ground or chopped.
  • Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is the by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch, and is the dried residue after the removal of the bran, germ, and starch.
  • Brewers Rice: Brewers rice is the small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice.
  • Brown Rice: Brown rice is the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.
  • Soybean Meal: Soybean meal is a by-product of the production of soybean oil.
  • BHA: BHA is butylated hydroxyanisole, a fat preservative.
  • Ethoxyquin: Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative that is used to prevent spoilage in dog food.
  • Tocopherols: Tocopherols (e.g., vitamin E) are naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives.

“All Life Stages” Food

Foods labeled  “All Life Stages” are required to meet the nutritional needs for the most demanding time of life and are thus essentially made for puppies. Be careful of these foods since they tend to be high in protein, which can cause problems for adults. Too much protein in a dog’s diet can stress the kidneys and lead to renal failure.

Be Aware of Catch Phrases

  • Holistic – there is no legal definition for this term under laws devoted to pet foods.
  • Human grade – there is no legal definition for this term. It is a catch phrase that is
    false and misleading.
  • Natural – the food must contain natural ingredients without chemical alterations.
  • Organic – must follow USDA rules and have the USDA seal on the bag.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

Shop for dog food that meets minimum nutrition requirements, and has a label that confirms this:

“[Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for [life stage(s)]”.

Even better, look for a food that meets the minimum nutritional requirements “as fed” to real pets in an AAFCO defined feeding trial. Then you know the food truly delivers the nutrients that it is “formulated” to. AAFCO feeding trials on real dogs is the gold standard.

Guaranteed Analysis

This is the mandatory guarantee that your dog’s food contains the labeled percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. Keep in mind that wet and dry dog foods use different standards (the percentage of protein in a wet food isn’t the same as in a dry food). Convert wet food to dry matter to compare two different types of food (it’s easy to do online) or ask your vet for the low-down.