Vet-Approved. The Best Cat Foods for a Healthy Feline


What veterinarians recommend feeding cats is an important topic for all cat owners. Cats have specific nutritional requirements that need to be met to ensure good health and long life. While many cat owners opt for commercial pet foods, veterinarians may make tailored diet recommendations depending on the individual cat’s needs, age, activity level, and health conditions.

Veterinarians take into account factors like a cat’s life stage (kitten, adult, senior), health status, and lifestyle when making feeding recommendations. For healthy cats, vets typically recommend commercial diets that meet established nutritional guidelines. But for cats with certain health problems, vets may suggest prescription pet foods or specially formulated home-cooked meals.

Dry vs. Wet Cat Food

There are pros and cons to both dry and wet cat food. Dry food is generally less expensive and can be left out for cats to nibble throughout the day. It is also better for dental health as crunchy kibbles help scrape away tartar. However, dry food has lower moisture content and some cats don’t drink enough water, putting them at risk of urinary tract problems. Wet food has high moisture content which can help with hydration. It also tends to have more protein and better flavor from real meat ingredients. However, wet food can be more expensive and has a shorter shelf life once opened.

Many vets recommend feeding cats a combination of both wet and dry food. Wet cat food vs. dry cat food, or both?. This allows cats to get the dental benefits of dry food along with the hydration and palatability of wet food. Feeding some wet food can also help prevent urinary crystals and blockages in susceptible cats. When mixing wet and dry, it’s generally recommended to feed wet food in meals and allow cats to graze on dry food during the day.

Kitten Food

Kittens have very specific nutritional needs because they are growing and developing rapidly in their first year of life. Feeding kitten-specific food is important since these foods are specially formulated with higher protein and fat levels to support growth, as well as added nutrients like amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

According to veterinary nutritionists, kittens need a food that contains at least 30% protein and 15% fat [1]. Kitten foods provide this balance of protein and fat from high-quality animal sources to aid muscle development and organ formation.

Kittens should be fed kitten food until around 12 months of age. At this point, most experts recommend transitioning slowly to an adult cat food over the course of 1-2 weeks. Gradual transition allows the digestive system to adjust and reduces risk of gastrointestinal upset. When choosing an adult food, look for high-protein, meat-first recipes to support continued development into adulthood.

Senior Cat Food

As cats age, generally over 11 years old, their nutritional needs change. Senior cats often have issues with their teeth and gums as well as digestive problems. Senior cat food is specially formulated to address these changing needs.

Senior cat food tends to be softer and easier to chew. It contains antioxidants to boost the immune system and extra fiber or prebiotics to aid digestion. Many brands also add joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to ease arthritis pain. According to the AAFP, senior cat food should have increased protein, around 33-50% more than adult cat food.

Keeping senior cats hydrated is also crucial. Wet or canned food has high moisture content, making it a good choice. Broths or tuna juice can also be added to dry food. Fountains encourage drinking. Speak to your vet if your senior cat is not getting enough fluids.

Some well-rated senior cat foods include Royal Canin Aging 12+ Loaf in Sauce, Purina Pro Plan Senior 7+ Shredded Blend, and Weruva TruLuxe Grain Free Steak Frites Entree.

Prescription Cat Food

For cats with specific health conditions like kidney disease, urinary tract problems, or food allergies, vets may recommend a prescription cat food diet. These diets are formulated to address the nutritional needs of cats with certain medical problems. Some common prescription cat food diets include:

Kidney Care Diets – These are lower in protein, phosphorus, and sodium to reduce strain on diseased kidneys. Brands like Hill’s k/d and Royal Canin Renal Support make foods for kidney issues.

Urinary Care Diets – These are designed to promote a healthy urinary tract by adjusting mineral levels and pH. Purina Pro Plan UR Urinary is a common vet recommended urinary food.

Hydrolyzed Protein Diets – For cats with food allergies, vets may recommend hydrolyzed protein foods made with proteins broken down to be hypoallergenic like Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein.

It’s important to work closely with your vet to determine if your cat needs a prescription food and to find the right formula for their needs. Follow your vet’s feeding recommendations closely when transitioning to a prescription diet.

Homemade Cat Food

While homemade cat food has become increasingly popular, veterinarians caution that there can be significant downsides to feeding your cat homemade food without proper guidance and supervision from your vet. According to veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve, “Homemade food is unlikely to provide complete and balanced nutrition for long-term health.”

Some of the potential pros of homemade cat food include having more control over ingredients, the ability to customize the food for your cat’s needs, and appealing to picky eaters with flavor and texture variety. However, major concerns around homemade food are improper nutritional balance leading to deficiencies or toxicities over time, food safety issues from improper handling or storage, and homemade food not meeting your cat’s life stage requirements (e.g. for kittens or seniors).

According to veterinarian Dr. Margo Roman, “It is not as simple as taking ground beef and rice and mixing it together.” She cautions that even with recipes, “The big problem is that the recipes may not be nutritionally balanced and complete.”

The key is to work closely with your veterinarian if you want to feed your cat a homemade diet, and have them help formulate or approve a recipe that meets your cat’s needs. Your vet can run bloodwork periodically to check that your cat is getting proper nutrition from the homemade food over the long-term. Some veterinarians may have nutritionists on staff to assist with homemade cat food formulation as well.

Overall, while homemade cat food can be an option for some cats, it requires vet supervision to avoid health risks. It should not be done without guidance from a veterinary professional.


Ingredients to Avoid

When choosing cat food, it’s important to read the ingredient list carefully and avoid foods with poor quality or potentially harmful ingredients. Some ingredients vets recommend avoiding include:

Meat byproducts – While meat itself is healthy for cats, meat byproducts consist of unspecified parts like bones, blood, intestines, lungs, spleen, kidneys, etc. These parts have little nutritional value and may contain harmful bacteria.[1]

Corn, wheat, soy – Many cats have allergies or sensitivities to these cheap filler ingredients. They lack essential nutrients cats need and can lead to obesity.[2]

Artificial colors/flavors – These synthetic additives provide no health benefits and may cause allergic reactions or toxicity.[3]

Onions, garlic – Onions and garlic contain toxic compounds that can damage red blood cells and lead to anemia in cats.[1]

Propylene glycol – This chemical preservative has been linked to Heinz body anemia and liver damage in cats.

When possible, choose cat foods with quality protein sources like chicken, turkey, salmon as the first ingredients. Avoid unknown meat byproducts, fillers, and artificial additives.

Reading Cat Food Labels

Reading cat food labels carefully is important to ensure your cat’s nutritional needs are met. There are a few key things to look for:

The first ingredients listed should be quality protein sources like chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs. Whole meats are ideal. Avoid by-products. Fats should come from animal sources like chicken fat rather than generic vegetable oils.

Look at the guaranteed analysis for minimum crude protein and fat percentages. Kittens and pregnant/nursing cats need higher protein around 36%. Adults need 26-32%. Fat helps with skin, coat, and energy levels.

Some health claims like “hairball control” can be misleading. Cats need a balanced diet meeting AAFCO nutritional standards, not just supplements. An “AAFCO approved” statement indicates the food underwent feeding trials.

Feeding Tips

How much and how often you feed your cat depends on their age and activity level. Kittens need to eat more frequently than adult cats. The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends feeding kittens 4-6 small meals spaced throughout the day. For adult cats, most vets recommend feeding 2-3 scheduled meals per day. Cats that graze can be free fed dry food, but make sure to limit the amount to prevent overeating.

It’s important to measure out your cat’s food rather than free feeding. The Freeport Vet recommends using a standard 8 oz dry measuring cup so you know exactly how much they are eating. Follow the feeding guidelines on the food package based on your cat’s weight.

Always make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean drinking water. Place water bowls throughout your home so water is always available. Change the water daily to ensure it stays appealing to your cat.

When to Consult Your Vet

There are a few key times when cat owners should consult their veterinarian about their cat’s diet and nutrition:

Signs of food allergies or intolerance – If your cat is exhibiting signs of an adverse reaction to their food like itching, ear inflammation, vomiting, or diarrhea, bring them to the vet. The vet can help identify any food allergies and recommend an elimination diet or prescription food. See the Cornell Feline Health Center for more on diagnosing food allergies.

Obesity or rapid weight loss – Sudden weight gain or loss in cats can signal an underlying health issue. Consult your vet if your cat is becoming obese or losing weight rapidly. The vet can assess your cat’s body condition score and caloric needs and suggest diet changes or a prescription weight management food. Get tips on weight management for cats from Cornell.

For prescription diet recommendations – If your cat has a health condition like kidney disease, urinary issues, diabetes, or gastrointestinal problems, your vet may recommend a special therapeutic prescription diet formulated to meet their needs. Prescription diets can help manage disease progression and symptoms. Work with your vet to find the right prescription food for your cat.

Scroll to Top