How to pick the best cat food, according to vets, and 32 options that meet the criteria – Insider

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Our cat food research methodology

To select the cat foods for this guide, we consulted two veterinary nutritionists and a professor of animal and nutritional sciences. None of these experts recommended specific brands or endorsed any of the products in this, but they helped us understand what makes a high-quality cat food and what to avoid. 

We also consulted guidelines and recommendations from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Global Nutrition Guidelines, among other organizations. 

The cat foods chosen for this guide were selected based on the following criteria:

AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: The most basic measure of a nutritionally complete cat food is the presence of an AAFCO statement on the label. AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that defines the standard nutritional requirements for pet food and animal feed. A cat food with an AAFCO statement is guaranteed to be complete and balanced for a cat at various life stages. Read more about AAFCO standards in the next slide.

Guaranteed analysis and nutrient profiles: The guaranteed analysis consists of the percentages of protein, fat, and other important nutrients in a food. Food for adult cats who are not pregnant should have a minimum of 26% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. There is no minimum fiber or carbohydrate requirement for adult cats who are not pregnant and a complete and balanced food does not require added essential nutrients, said Okada. 

Swanson told us that cats without properly functioning kidneys require diets that are lower in protein. The less protein a cat with kidney problems has, the less likely it will be to build up waste products in the blood that make them sick.

If you’re looking to compare wet food to kibble, you’ll find the guaranteed analysis of wet food doesn’t give you the full picture of how much of these vital nutrients is actually present. Read more about how to decipher the guaranteed analysis for wet food in the section on How to read a cat food label.

Expert formulations: For this guide, we prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on staff, which aligns with WSAVA guidelines. Both of the veterinary nutritionists we spoke to agree. 

Always look for pet food manufacturers that employ at least one full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist or an animal nutrition expert with a master’s or doctorate degree. 

Brands that formulate their products with the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist who is not on staff may be unable to ensure the highest quality standards.

“Pet food production requires a thorough knowledge of pet nutrition, pet food ingredients, processing methods and their effect on nutrients, plus a good understanding of physiology, chemistry, mathematics, microbiology and biochemistry,” said Okada. “My greatest concerns are for very small companies that may have the best of intentions but very limited experience and technical knowledge.”

Ingredients list: The ingredients on a pet food label are listed in order of weight. Proteins in the form of whole meat or meat meal should come first on the ingredients list. Don’t get too hung up on the order of the ingredients that come next. 

Manufacturing standards: When selecting a cat food brand, it’s important to consider a manufacturer’s quality control measures and the types of facilities where they produce food. Parker said this information should be easily accessible on a pet food company’s website. If not, you should be able to call the company and get quick answers.

Some smaller pet food companies produce their food in facilities used by larger, more established manufacturers. According to Okada, this is a reliable way to ensure food quality and safety. When in doubt, select a larger manufacturer with a long history of making pet food. “If a problem arises, it will likely be discovered sooner if the product is widely distributed,” Okada said.

Calorie content: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories, or k/cals. According to WSAVA, the average cat weighing between 8 and 10 pounds should consume between 230 to 270 kcals/day. A cat food’s calorie content should be clearly listed on its packaging. 


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