Purrfect Meals. What You Need to Know About Cat Kibble

What is Cat Kibble?

Cat kibble, also known as dry cat food, refers to extruded pet food pellets specifically formulated for cat consumption. Kibble is made by combining ingredients into a dough-like mixture and then pressing or extruding it through a die that forms and cuts it into bitesize pieces. This process, called extrusion, cooks the ingredients and gives kibble its characteristic crispy, crunchy texture.1

Commercial cat kibble first emerged in the 1950s and quickly became popular due to its convenience, affordability, and ability to stay fresh when stored. Before kibble, most cat owners fed their cats table scraps or homemade food. The first mass-produced kibble was developed by the company Mark Morris. Initially called Meow Mix, it was later renamed Cat Chow by the Ralston Purina Company when they acquired it in the 1950s.2

The key differences between kibble, canned food, and freeze-dried food are the moisture content and texture. Kibble is low moisture (typically around 10%) with a crispy, crunchy bite. Canned food has a high moisture content around 75-78%, giving it a soft, smooth texture. Freeze-dried food is low moisture but retains a meaty texture when rehydrated. Each format has pros and cons regarding freshness, affordability, and feline taste preferences.

Types of Cat Kibble

There are several main types of cat kibble:

Dry Kibble

Dry kibble is the most common type. It contains around 10% moisture and comes in crunchy bite-sized pieces. Dry kibble typically has a long shelf life and is convenient to store and serve. Some disadvantages are that it may be less appealing to some cats’ tastes and lacks the moisture content of wet food.

Some popular dry kibble brands include Purina, Iams, and Blue Buffalo. Dry kibble comes in a variety of flavors, formulas, and nutritional profiles.

Wet/Soft Kibble

Wet or soft kibble has a moisture content around 75%. It comes in cans, pouches, or tubs. The soft texture and higher moisture content can make it more palatable for finicky cats. However, wet kibble spoils faster than dry and is more expensive per serving.

Well-known brands of wet/soft kibble include Fancy Feast, Wellness, and Tiki Cat. It is available in chunks/pieces in sauce or a pâté style.

Prescription Kibble

Prescription kibble is formulated to address certain health conditions in cats, such as urinary issues, kidney disease, or diabetes. Vets prescribe these to cats with specific dietary needs. Prescription kibble typically only comes in dry format. Some common prescription diet brands are Hill’s Science Diet and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet.

Overall, dry kibble, wet/soft kibble, and prescription kibble provide different textures, flavors, and nutritional profiles to suit various cats’ preferences and health requirements. Consulting your vet can help determine what type of kibble is right for your cat.

Ingredients in Cat Kibble

Cat kibble contains a variety of ingredients that provide complete and balanced nutrition for cats. The main ingredients in quality cat kibble include:

Meat Sources

The first and primary ingredient should be a high-quality source of animal protein like chicken, turkey, beef, whitefish or salmon. Meat provides essential amino acids cats need (Archived.PhilSPCAAnimalKind, 2022). Look for specific meat sources rather than vague terms like “meat” or “poultry.” Meat meals like chicken meal or fish meal also provide concentrated sources of quality protein.


Whole grains like brown rice, barley or oatmeal are nutritious sources of carbohydrates, fiber and B vitamins. Some cats do well on grain-free diets, while others tolerate grains without issue. Cats have no nutritional requirement for grains, so they are considered more of an optional ingredient (Ferney, 2022).

Fruits and Vegetables

Small amounts of produce like potatoes, peas, carrots or cranberries can provide antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber. Fruits and veggies are not essential in cat diets, but can add nutritional value.

Vitamins and Minerals

Added vitamins like Vitamin E, niacin, Vitamin A and thiamine help give cats balanced nutrition. Minerals like calcium, phosphorus, zinc and iron are crucial for health. Quality cat foods will have precise vitamin and mineral mixes to prevent deficiencies (Archived.PhilSPCAAnimalKind, 2022).

Benefits of Kibble for Cats

Kibble has several benefits that make it a convenient and popular choice for many cat owners:

Convenience – Kibble is very easy to store, measure, and feed. Unlike canned food which must be refrigerated after opening, kibble can be left in the bag at room temperature. Kibble can be free-fed, allowing cats to graze throughout the day. It’s also simpler for automatic feeders or multi-cat households.

Dental health – The crunchy texture and larger pieces are thought to help scrape away plaque and tartar when cats chew, helping maintain dental health. However, there is debate about whether kibble alone provides enough dental benefits compared to brushing, according to TikiPets.

Cost – Kibble is typically cheaper per ounce compared to canned cat food. Buying larger bags can further reduce costs per serving. This makes kibble accessible for owners on a budget.

Variety – There is a huge range of formulas, flavors, shapes, sizes, textures, and specialized diets available in kibble form. This allows owners to easily find a kibble suited to their cat’s needs and preferences.

Downsides of Kibble for Cats

While kibble provides some advantages over canned or other types of cat food, it also has some notable downsides:

Kibble has a much lower moisture content than wet food. Cats have a low thirst drive, so they may not drink enough water to make up for the lack of moisture in a kibble-only diet. Chronic dehydration can contribute to urinary tract diseases. Feeding a wet food diet or adding water to kibble can help increase your cat’s fluid intake. [1]

While less smelly than wet food, kibble’s lower moisture content can lead to oral health issues. Kibble provides less abrasive action on the teeth during chewing and is more likely to leave behind plaque and tartar buildup compared to canned food. This can increase the risk of dental problems if teeth aren’t brushed regularly.[2]

The calorie-dense nature of kibble makes it easy for cats to overeat. Free-choice feeding of dry food promotes obesity in many cats, especially less active adult cats. Measuring out portions rather than free-feeding can help prevent weight gain.[3]

[1] https://www.catster.com/guides/the-truth-about-dry-cat-food/

[2] https://www.vetinfo.com/pros-cons-of-dry-cat-foods.html

[3] https://littlebigcat.com/why-dry-food-is-bad-for-cats-and-dogs/

How to Choose a Quality Kibble

When selecting a quality kibble for your cat, it’s important to read the ingredient list carefully. Here are some tips for choosing a nutritious kibble:

Check the ingredients – Look for a named meat source like chicken, beef or fish as the first ingredient. Avoid kibbles with by-products, artificial flavors or colors.[1]

Avoid fillers – Some low quality kibbles use fillers like corn, wheat or soy to bulk up the food. Cats don’t digest these well, so try to find grain-free options.[2]

Consider your cat’s age and health – Kittens, pregnant cats, seniors and cats with health conditions all have different nutritional needs. Choose a kibble tailored for your cat’s life stage and issues.

Look for quality assurance seals – Buying kibbles that meet standards from organizations like FDA, USDA or AAFCO can give you confidence in the quality.

Trying sample sizes first can help you find a kibble your cat likes before committing to a big bag. With some diligent label reading, you can find a kibble that nourishes your cat and suits their needs.

Transitioning to a New Kibble

When switching your cat to a new kibble, it’s important to gradually transition between the old and new food over 5-7 days. This gives your cat’s digestive system time to adjust to the new food. Suddenly changing foods can upset your cat’s stomach and cause diarrhea or vomiting.

Here are some tips for safely transitioning to a new kibble:

  • Mix the old and new kibble together, starting with 25% new food and 75% old food. Gradually increase the ratio of new to old over several days.
  • Transition over 5-7 days. Go slowly to allow your cat’s digestive system to adjust.
  • Monitor your cat’s appetite, energy levels, and litterbox habits. Make sure their stool remains normal.
  • If any diarrhea, vomiting, or lethargy occurs, slow the transition by returning to a higher ratio of old food.
  • By day 5-7, your cat should be eating 100% new food.

Some sources recommend even slower transitions over 10-14 days. Work at your cat’s pace and comfort level. If signs of digestive upset occur, slow down and take a few steps back in the transition. With patience, your cat can adjust to their new kibble. Consult your veterinarian if concerns arise during the transition. For more information, see guides on transitioning cat food.

How Much Kibble to Feed

When determining how much kibble to feed your cat, the first place to look is at the feeding guidelines on the package. Most cat food brands provide recommended daily amounts based on the cat’s weight and life stage (kitten, adult, senior). As a general rule, the daily recommended amount will range from 1/4 to 1 cup for an average-sized adult cat.

However, these are just guidelines. The actual amount to feed will vary based on your individual cat’s age, activity level, and metabolism. An active young adult may need more than a sedentary senior cat. Monitor your cat’s body condition and adjust amounts accordingly – increasing if your cat seems too thin, decreasing if overweight.

It’s best to provide measured meals rather than free-feeding, where food is available at all times. Feed set amounts a couple times per day and remove uneaten food between meals. This allows you to better monitor intake. Portion kibble into a measuring cup for consistency.

You can choose to leave dry food out for your cat to graze, but this makes monitoring intake difficult. If free-feeding, use a food-dispensing toy to slow eating and divide daily portions. Just be sure to pick up and discard any leftover wet food after 20-30 minutes.

When transitioning to a new kibble, gradually mix in increasing amounts of the new food over a week. This allows the digestive system to adjust.

Storing Kibble Properly

Kibble should be stored properly to preserve freshness and prevent spoilage. Here are some tips for storing dry cat food:

Store kibble in an airtight container or seal the original bag tightly after each use. Exposure to air causes kibble to lose nutrients and become stale more quickly. Airtight containers prevent moisture and humidity from damaging the food. Popular choices are plastic containers with snap-on lids or heavy duty zipper bags designed for pet food storage.

Keep kibble in a cool, dry place with a temperature below 80°F. The pantry or a cabinet works well. Avoid warm, humid areas like beside the stove or near a heat vent. Heat and moisture cause kibble to degrade faster. Source

Check expiration dates and discard kibble if it is past the “best by” date or shows signs of spoilage like mold. Typically, unopened dry cat food will stay fresh for 6-12 months. Opened kibble lasts 4-6 weeks. Discard immediately if the food smells rancid, is hard as a rock, or crawling with bugs.

Kibble and Dental Health

Kibble can help clean cats’ teeth thanks to its crunchy texture, which scrapes away tartar and plaque as cats chew. According to a 2015 study by Mata et al., kibble helps keep cats’ teeth cleaner than wet food.

When choosing a kibble for dental health, look for varieties with large, crunchy pieces that will provide more scrubbing action on teeth. Be sure to also select a kibble made with quality ingredients and proper nutritional profiles.

However, kibble should not replace regular dental care for cats. According to CatBehaviourist.com, kibble cleans teeth about as well as pretzels clean human teeth. While helpful, kibble cannot fully prevent plaque buildup and eventual dental disease.

Feeding some wet food is still important for cats’ hydration. Look for chunky wet food varieties to provide some dental benefits. Most importantly, maintain your cat’s oral health through regular teeth brushing, dental treats, and veterinary cleanings.

While kibble offers some dental advantages, it does not negate the need for other dental care for optimum feline oral health.

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