Good, healthy cat food - whats the real deal and not just fluff that I pay extra for?
May 8, 2008 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Good, healthy cat food - whats the real deal and not just fluff that I pay extra for?

I have two young cats who are energetic, indoor, mix breed cuties. I feed them each 1 can of wet food a day (1/2 in the am, 1/2 in the pm) and give them 1/4 dry food each twice a day (maybe more). What kind of dry and wet food should I get them? They love Trader Joe's cheap by-product filled wet and are much more flexible on the dry food (eat Nutro/Purina/Etc). But my REAL question is what is ACTUALLY good food for cats? I heard that by-products are bad, but I have also heard that might not be so true after all, protein content is important and yet many of these "healthy" foods contain a lot of vegetables (i.e. Spot's Stew). Do cats need vegetables? I've heard that a lot of these new supposedly healthy brands are actually not so and that cats don't need peas and spinach. I could use specific brand suggestions and knowledge of whats foods are truly good for cats and not just pretending. My kitties thank you!
posted by Carialle to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Evo is the best food for dogs on the market and widely commercially available. In my opinion, Evo is also the best food for cats.

Based on the principle of a raw food diet, Evo is made without grains (so no non-helpful filler) contains 50% protein, 23% fat, and just 7% carbs - the best in the industry and the highest meat content of any dry cat food.

Importantly, all of the ingredients are human-grade food - no by-products here, just basic healthy food. Here's their dry food page.

We supplement Evo dry with a spoonful of the wet stuff - the wet food is 95% human grade meat! Nothing like it on the market.

It is more expensive but because your kitties aren't gorging themselves on fattening and not-healthy food, the cats eat less. We've calculated we spend a little extra every month, getting our cat the best food out there and think the cost (probably around $15 more than cheap-o stuff, I forget what the actual dollar figure was) is well worth it.

On Evo, your cats won't gain excess weight (our vet claims because of all the protein they have to use a lot of energy to process it and won't eat extra) and will have great shiny, glossy coats and have the healthy lives they deserve.

I'm a total convert, if you couldn't tell.
posted by arnicae at 11:06 AM on May 8, 2008

Consult a feed centre or a reputable breeder (NOT a pet store) to get information about healthy food for pets. Now, I have a dog, not a cat, so take this information for what it's worth. My breeder recommended the Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul series of foods. In my area, this food is only available at the feed centre. Cost: $35 for a 35 lb bag, which seems reasonable to me. Even my vet did not know about this brand, but she says that my dog has one of the healthiest coats she has ever seen. This brand has a line of food for cats.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:08 AM on May 8, 2008

I fed my Siamese cat Science Diet dry food for his entire life, and then in the last two years a special kidney-related soft cat food, also Science Diet. He'd also get some soft food when we needed to give him a pill. He was an indoor/outdoor cat, so he also got a lot of grass when he wanted it, and the occasional rodent, which he never shied from showing us.

He lived 17 happy, healthy years and died peacefully in his sleep. He only started slowing down the last year or so.

So I would recommend:
1. Dry Science Diet
2. Grass
3. Very occasional treats & wet food.
posted by MaddyRex at 11:09 AM on May 8, 2008

According to my vet: cats are carnivores, period. The only macronutrient they need is protein. There's no harm in feeding them veggies, but they don't *need* them.

Ideally, they should only get wet food - again, protein being the most important thing. The so-called "gourmet" brands are just a marketing ploy - quality counts, but they don't need "Spring Vegetable Delight" or whatever :)

And if you have a special case boy cat like mine, who will *only* eat dry food, you're best off feeding him prescription stuff for urinary tract problems, even if he hasn't had a UT problem yet. With girl cats, it's not as important, but dry food + boy cats = giant vet bills if they develop UT issues.
posted by chez shoes at 11:13 AM on May 8, 2008

Can't help you with specific foods, but remember that cats should NOT have a vegetarian diet. It is difficult for them to digest vegetables and they NEED meat-based protein. More info here.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:15 AM on May 8, 2008

I second arnicae - my husband and I feed our two kittens Innova Evo exclusively (both wet and dry). We generally leave 1 bowl of dry out, and top it off every 2-3 days, and give them each 1/2-1 can of wet per day. They never finish the wet food, and generally moderate their intake quite well. Neither are fat, or anywhere close.

We have a special problem in that one of the kittens has a food allergy to a vitamin-K derivative that's present in almost all cat foods (cheap-o and expensive alike) - and gets terrible diarrhea whenever he's fed anything other than 1 or 2 brands of cat food that don't have this ingredient (I forget the exact name now).

That being said, both our kittens have grown up on this stuff and are full of energy, have abundant, shiny coats and seem generally happy with their gastronomic lot. They're currently getting Innova Evo cat & kitten, but in a few months we'll switch them over to the adult stuff, which has a wider range of flavors.

I hope that helps!
posted by jdruk at 11:20 AM on May 8, 2008

Cats eat grass because they need some types of greenery in their lives. However, I'm not convinced that vegetables in cat food necessarily perform the same function as fresh grass... At any rate, I've fed my dogs and cats Wysong for years, and recommend it highly. Their Archetype diets are 99% meat with added plant enzymes. My dog Soda will be fifteen this September- she's eaten Wysong all her life.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2008

Timber Wolf Serengeti (chicken)
Solid Gold Indigo Moon (chicken)
Innova EVO (chicken/turkey) (dry and wet)
First Mate (fish)
Orijen (chicken/turkey/fish)
Nature's Variety Instinct (dry is chicken or rabbit, wet is lamb, chicken, venison, or duck)

What all these have in common is they are grain free, low-filler. Carbs come in the form of fruits and vegetables. The First Mate in particular has blueberries, a very good antioxidant and useful for older cats or ones with recurring infections that tax the immune system.

Cats don't need peas and spinach per se, but they do need some carbohydrates (not much). They can't eat 100% protein. They are better off eating carbs in the form of digestible veggies then indigestible grains.

Also...Science Diet is just not a good food. Lots of cats live to be 18 on it, lots of cats live to be 18 on Purina or other crap. Shit, George Burns lived to be 100 on cigars and whiskey. That doesn't mean you'd endorse that kind of diet to someone else.
posted by vito90 at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I adopted my two cats from a shelter about a half-year ago. They were about six at the time.

The shelter was feeding them whatever food shelters can afford--so not high-quality stuff. I did some cat food research, and decided I was going to do half high-protein dry food, half raw food. I use Innova EVO dry food and Primal raw food.

Is the high-protein diet worth it? Absolutely. Within a few weeks, their coats became impossibly soft, their eyes brightened, and their energy levels went up (they became more kittenish). In a couple of months they each lost about 1-2 pounds to get down to a pretty healthy weight--this is HUGE when you consider they started out at 11 pounds and both are spayed females. Note that I did regulate their food intake--they get dry food in the morning and raw food at night.

This isn't just their health improving from being out of the shelter, either. I convinced my parents to start feeding their cats Innova EVO, and they have also noticed an improvement in physical health. Previously those cats have eaten all sorts of vet-recommended foods, including Science Diet. They haven't tried the raw food though, so their cats haven't lost as much weight. I think the raw food is pretty important for the weight loss factor. When I get lazy and only feed my cats dry food for a week or so (the raw food can be kind of a pain to defrost and try to warm up without cooking it), I notice the kitties start gaining a little weight back. Basically, the higher protein the food you're feeding them, the better off they are.

When my latest batch of EVO runs out though I'm switching to a new dry food brand I noticed in my pet food store. I can't for the life of me remember the name, but it contains 70% protein to EVO's 50% (which is still a massive improvement over the 32% in most cat foods).

I also want to second that the food expenses are not as high as you might think. Our cats also eat less because the food is high protein. If you don't let the cats just feed all day long, that helps a lot too (and is better for the kitties anyway).
posted by Anonymous at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2008

My cats have been on Innova since IAMS took a flying leap, but after reviewing the differences, I think I'll switch to the sister grain-free brand, Evo. I also buy them wheatgrass now and then. (At the hippie food store, not the pet food store!)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:25 AM on May 8, 2008

From Wysong's education page :

For those who object and say we have no business criticizing, or that we are being self-serving, please note that if you follow Dr. Wysong's advice to a tee you need not feed any commercial pet food, even Wysong.

There's a bunch of information there about pet nutrition.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:29 AM on May 8, 2008

When I fed my cats dry food, they got Wellness, and did really well on it. Human grade meats, no by-products, some veggies/grain, but not as much as the crap food from the supermarkets. I've also heard good things about Old Mother Hubbard, but can't speak for their stuff personally.

But it bears repeating that cats are carnivores, and all they NEED is meat. And water (though they drink less if they're eating food with water content), and some do well with some grass to chew on (it acts as a natural emetic, so it keeps the hairballs down). This was problematic with my shelter-adopted cats, who generally turned up their whiskers at wet food, and only wanted kibble (or tuna, but that's kitty crack).

Now I've got an adolescent cat I picked up off the street and was able to control her feeding from the beginning. She lives on chicken livers, and only gets kibble when I'm going to be away for a few days and can't leave extremely perishable food. Her fur is impossibly shiny and thick, she's energetic, big bright eyes, and minimal, non-stinky poop. Every once in a while I think I should vary up the raw meat assortment, but she seems to be doing so well on the livers that I don't bother.
Human downside: finding the occasional green monstrosity (bile duct?) still attached to a liver. Ugh.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:53 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I switched my overweight cat from Science Diet canned to Wellness - and she's slowly losing weight even though her daily calorie allotment hasn't changed. Wellness uses human-grade protein with no by-products, artificial preservatives, or dyes.
posted by candyland at 11:54 AM on May 8, 2008

We feed our cats the salmon Wellness brand, based on this question my partner and I asked. It really did change them. I scoffed, but really, it did. Their coats are shinier and softer, the pukey one doesn't puke as much, and it has higher grade food in it (no beaks and snouts).

I get it from PetFoodDirect as it is vastly cheapter than where I can get it in town.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:04 PM on May 8, 2008

Thirding or fourthing evo. We let our beast free-feed evo and he is at a good, healthy weight.
posted by stewiethegreat at 12:08 PM on May 8, 2008

Another vote for Wellness here. My cats only eat wet food, and my dog gets dry. Are fruits and veggies necessary? No, but I like that the Wellness products have squash and/or sweet potato in them--I have seen definite improvement in the consistency and regularity of bowel movements since starting the cats on the food.

My vets recommend Wellness, Innova Evo, Merrick, and Nature's Variety Instinct. They consider them to be pretty much equivalent and say it comes down to what your cat will eat.
posted by weebil at 12:12 PM on May 8, 2008

I used Wellness for my cats too. One of my cats was diagnosed with diabetes, and it was the food most recommended in the research I did. Try and go with canned food as much as possible.
posted by at 12:18 PM on May 8, 2008

My cats eat grain-free wet and dry food. They are picky and have small attention spans, so I actually vary their food every few months. Most can't don't like change, but my old codgers (16 and almost 19) seem to need the variety.

The "big bads" in cat food are generally thought to be grains (especially corn), meat-type by-products that don't specify what animal they come from, and plant proteins (wheat glutens, et. al.).
posted by answergrape at 12:22 PM on May 8, 2008

Our vet recommended a brand from New Zealand called Ziwi Peak, but neither of my cats took a liking to eating it.

Otherwise, ditto Phatkitten.
posted by briank at 12:34 PM on May 8, 2008

I don't know if anyone's mentioned it here but cats poop less with higher-quality food, in my experience. I use Wellness.
posted by chelseagirl at 2:02 PM on May 8, 2008

+1 the comments that mention boy cats and urethral crystals. If it happens, it's both scary AND expensive. In our case Science Diet seemingly kept the problem at bay, but I'm sure plenty of brands mentioned above would do the same.

IANAV, but also possibly worth mentioning: Animals have allergies more than people often think. Food allergies in cats generally manifest themselves in the skin. If you're trying new food with your cats and they start washing excessively or chewing at themselves, first thing to try is switching brands.
posted by gnomeloaf at 2:02 PM on May 8, 2008

Wellness now does a grain-free dry food, called Core. It also seems to be pretty good. They've kind of cheaped out on the regular foods compared to what they were 5 years ago, although it's still not bad.

thelukeparkerfiasco, Wellness and Old Mother Hubbard are the same company. There's a similar situation with Innova and California Naturals, which are both owned by Natura.
posted by dilettante at 2:20 PM on May 8, 2008

I've heard great things about Innova EVO as stated above, but I like the Canidae brand pet food (Felidae for cats). It's made in America and all the ingredients are grown here too. Plus it's less expensive than EVO. I like that they have an all stages food meaning you don't have to switch out when your pets go into senior status. Here is the ingredient list for their Feliday Cat & Kitten Dry:

Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Brown Rice, Lamb Meal, Chicken Fat, (Preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Herring Meal, Eggs, Flax Seed Meal, Sun Cured Alfalfa Meal, Sunflower Oil, Chicken, Lecithin, Linoleic Acid, Amaranth, DL Methionine, Taurine, Kelp, Cranberries, Apples, Monocalcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Rosemary Extract, Sage Extract, Dried Enterococcus Faecium, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus Oryzae Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract, Inulin (from Chicory Root), Dried Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Fermentation Solubles, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Mixed Tocopherols (source of Vitamin E), Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Cobalt Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin A supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (source of Vitamin C), Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (source of B2), Beta Carotene, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, D-Biotin, Sodium Selenite, Papaya, Vitamin B12 Supplement.

And they explain the difference between meat vs. meal here. And here is a good explanation from a review I read on Amazon (though regarding Canidae):

My understanding is [pet] food is weighted and the ingredients listed based on that weight prior to them being reduced in the cooking process. Meaning when your ingredient list - lists chicken first, that is precooked weight. After cooking the water and some of the nutrients and calories are lost in the process and if the same ingredients were measured for listing after cooking, the ingredient list would not come out looking as good. Chicken might not be as high in the list. If a 'chicken meal' is listed, they start with the same grade of chicken, generally speaking, however meal is weighted and listed after it has been cooked down. This is the same for any 'meal' protein. A 'meal' protein is just the protein you end up with after it is cooked down, the water cooked out of it. So a 'meal' protein in the ingredient list is a good grade meat protein, which won't be reduced by the processing of the ingredients together. Five lbs. of chicken, may end up to be 4lbs, however 5lbs of 'chicken meal', stays 5lbs.(this is made up example for clarity, not based on any math or science). The ingredients go on to list additional herring meal, vitamins, probiotics (for good intestinal health), natural preservatives and supplements like amino acids and calcium to name a couple.

I also second Merrick. They have cute names for their food: Grammy's Chicken Pot Pie, Ocean Breeze, Cowboy Cookout, California Roll, Turducken, Thanksgiving dinner... It just tickles me along with it being a good product.
posted by spec80 at 3:05 PM on May 8, 2008

The Science Diet dry food is great, but another warning -- it doesn't work out so well long-term for male cats; my cat had to have major work at the veterinary that was very expensive. The wet food would likely be good, too, but it seemed costly and only available in small cans (i.e. one meal per can).

I've had some luck just feeding them meat!
posted by Lleyam at 3:13 PM on May 8, 2008

Another vote for Innova EVO (dry). Our vet says that the only reason he doesn't recommend EVO to everyone is because it's more expensive. The cats (both male) each get half a cup per day, and they're both crazy active kitties. Since they eat dry food, I make sure they drink plenty of water.

(They also get supervised visits to the backyard so they can eat grass.)
posted by phliar at 3:26 PM on May 8, 2008

Most of my cats get a rotation of canned Wysong or Evo. They seem much healthier than when they were eating foods with grain fillers, none of the first few ingredients being meat, etc.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet is what I feed my fourth cat, who had such bad stomatitis (inflamed gum) issues that for nearly two years she could not eat anything but baby food, and even then it hurt so much that she would run away from her food yowling after a few bites. I tried everything under the sun for her and finally hit upon this stuff, InstinctsTC, a supplement powder to be mixed with raw meat. I make it for her with various types of ground meat, mostly turkey. She can eat it, absolutely loves it, and has much healthier teeth and gums after a year or so on this stuff. She's actually at the point where she could eat regular food now, but she loves this so much that I just keep making it for her.
posted by Stacey at 3:52 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just a note of caution about what Chez Shoes said:

"Ideally, they should only get wet food - again, protein being the most important thing."

My vet told me this is absolutely incorrect; feeding them wet food only leads to lots of tooth and gum issues, as well as excess weight gain for those certain cats out there that just aren't cut out for free-ranging. Good quality dry food can have plenty of protein in it, and helps clean tartar and plaque off their teeth at the same time.
posted by GardenGal at 4:01 PM on May 8, 2008

My orange tabby has a very sensitive stomach and is prone to UTIs so I am pretty fanatical about this issue. Sorry in advance for the length :)

After the orange one's first UTI, we switched them all to EVO, which is indeed a great food in my opinion, but it is so calorie-dense and so "palatable" (as my vet says) that they quickly gained a bit too much weight. Plus it turned out to be too fatty for the sensitive one---it gives him the squirts if he eats more than about a quarter-cup per day. I advise against free-feeding it, unless your cats can control themselves better than mine.

I hate to be all evangelical about it, but raw food is what fixed everything. We tried out a lot of the commercial varieties, but they were expensive, and hit-or-miss on which ones passed the taste test. Now I make it myself from ground chicken thighs, livers, and eggs, plus supplements like salmon oil, taurine, and vitamins B and E. It sounds obnoxious but I have three cats and it only actually takes about 90 minutes to make a month's supply, including cleanup. It took them a couple weeks to get used to the raw but now they love it. They beg for chicken scraps in the kitchen while I fix it.

The final diet that works best for my guys is (per day) a scant quarter-cup of EVO plus two small-mouse-sized blobs of raw. Plus they each have their own favorite human-food items as well---one likes yogurt, one likes cheese, one likes half-and-half. I know this is anathema to some but as my vet says, "You wouldn't trust an obstetrician that sent you home with your new baby and a few sacks of Children Chow and told you not to let them ever eat anything else; why shouldn't pets eat a little human food once in a while if it's something safe that they like and it doesn't bother their stomachs?"

Final note regarding the teeth issue---I'm becoming convinced that that's just genetic or something. The aforementioned orange one seems to need his teeth cleaned every 18 months or so, while the others do fine. They all eat the exact same thing.
posted by slenderloris at 4:30 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of great info here! I worked for a vet for quite a while and she also stressed the high protein diet and that cats just didn't need veggies in their food. And recommended the little catgrass pots you can get so if your cat is indoors it can get a bite of grass when it feels like it needs it.

I have a 19 year old cat and just recently lost our 20 year old who died in his sleep and only started to seem "really old" in his last few months.

I think it is important for cats to have dry food for teeth care but my 19 year old gets a lot of wet because he eats it better and I am trying to keep weight on him more than get some longevity out of his teeth ;)

one thing I did want to mention that I didn't see in my scan of previous answer is that is cats need an amino acid called taurine. It is essential for heart function and it isn't in dog food and it isn't in tuna or chicken breast you might feed. It is supplemented in commercial cat food so even if you do try and feed a fresh food diet I would feed "cat food" some times or supplement his diet with it.
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 5:25 PM on May 8, 2008

Yet another vote for Evo. We switched to this dog food brand from Nutro Ultra around the time of the poison scare. My dog was absolutely refusing to eat it. He eats his Evo every day now! We give him 1 cup per day, but he almost never eats that much. He too is at a very healthy weight. The grainless formula does seem to be the secret. I would absolutely recommend this brand for your kitties.
posted by theantikitty at 5:25 PM on May 8, 2008

I had the same question as you not too long ago, and here are some links I've found really handy:

Nutrience Analysis: This site was written as a "cooperative effort between pet food formulator Dr. Lisa Newman, N.D., Ph.D. (, Mike Adams ( and the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (" which fares well in my book. It is an analysis of the ingredients in DOG food, but many of the tips can be translated for cats considering its very general nature of "good/bad". It might be handy to print out the list, and take it as a reference when making your buying choices.

The Truth About Dry Food: another great link, though I'm unsure of the certifications of its author, she seems to just be a well-informed consumer. It has an overview of what to consider when buying cat food, and basically a list of reasons why it is good to choose wisely (considering what can happen if you don't). Written by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM and constantly updated wealth of information about cats. This site will really put you straight about how drastically different cats' systems are from our own, as well, an important sublink to see is the Canned Food page which talks about by-products, protein/carb contents and discusses some ways to calculate the percentages (as, apparently they are often wrong on the labels).

As with anything discussed here on Ask that is medical/physiological, do not use anecdotal "well this worked for me" tips. It is obvious you love your cats very much, so take everything that is not from a veterinarian or otherwise certified person with a grain of salt, and research research research.
posted by tybeet at 5:28 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Good quality dry food can have plenty of protein in it, and helps clean tartar and plaque off their teeth at the same time.

Your vet's advice is a few years out of date (I work with a dental specialist vet). We know now that dry food (with the exception of dry food specifically formulated to reduce tartar like t/d, which has horrible ingredients) has no discernible effect on teeth. And cats in particular can do much better on high quality canned food, since canned food can have no grain (cats need grain like fish need bicycles), no preservatives and gets extra water into the cat. High quality grain free dry (like EVO and Core) are also an excellent choice.
posted by biscotti at 8:36 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the home-made raw meat. Here's my own recipe. Once a week or so they share a tin of sardines (in spring water) which is their favourite (and which takes cares of the taurine). They seem healthy and happy, and the vet thinks so too.
posted by ponystyle at 12:33 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As always you guys are incredible - this information is priceless - I am still working my way through all the information and suggestions. It can be very confusing and I think I am begining to see through it to what will be good choices for my kitties. Thank you!!
posted by Carialle at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2008

We've been using the Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul. My cats and dogs really enjoy their products.
posted by ick at 12:55 AM on May 11, 2008

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