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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Do You 'Get What You Pay For' with Cat Foods?

May 31, 2013 / (1) comments

I’m often asked questions like, “Are premium pet foods worth the price?” or “Aren’t cheap cat foods just as good as the more expensive ones?” There are no simple answers to these questions. Cats are individuals and react to the food they eat as such.

Think of it in human terms. I’m sure you all can point to a few people who seemingly did everything wrong — ate terribly, drank to excess, smoked like a chimney, never exercised — yet they lived long, healthy lives. (I just heard an interview with a woman in her 90s who when asked the secret to long life answered, “Bacon.” She eats it every day, much to her doctor’s horror, I’m sure.) On the other hand, we all have heard of those unlucky individuals who appeared to do everything right health-wise and still became sick at a tragically young age.

Cats are the same. I’ve known a few that ate nothing but the cheapest kibble available from the grocery or feed store and thrived into their 20s, and can also point to others who ate only the best and succumbed to disease early. It is important to remember that in any population there are always outliers like these. Even though people will use their stories to support their own points of view, they are almost always the exception rather than the rule.

As is often the case, I think the best value in cat food is usually found somewhere in the middle. Sufficient numbers of cats develop health problems when fed low quality food and do much better when their diets are improved that I think avoiding the feline version of junk food is wise. However, I can’t say I’ve seen a big improvement in health when cats are moved from what I’d consider to be a good food to a “super premium” variety.

Unless cost is no issue, I recommend owners feed their cats a food that falls somewhere in the middle of the available price range and watch how that individual does on that diet. If she thrives, you’ve found a good food for her. If not, try another not necessarily more expensive one with a very different ingredient list. I usually recommend trying at least three “middle of the road” diets (including a switch from dry to canned if necessary) before moving on to the more expensive, specialty products. These may be worth the cost for some individuals, but with a little patience and perseverance most owners can find a more reasonably priced option that works just as well.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: istockphoto