Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy



or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

Cat Nutrition Center Common Questions

  • Why should I buy cat food according to my cat’s life stage?

    The nutritional needs for your cat vary depending on their life stage. Kittens should follow a diet that is higher in protein and calories to meet their growth requirements (without consuming excess). For adult cats, it’s important to remember that an “all life stage” cat food may seem like a good idea, but may have an adverse effect for some adult and senior cats due to excess nutrients. If you’re tempted to feed your kitten an “all life stage” food this may result in health concerns as well. “All life stage” cat food must meet or exceed requirements needed for growth and when fed to a kitten the food may have a harmful effect on their health and weight. As always, it’s best to consult a veterinarian so he or she can help you make an educated decision about what type of food is best for your cat’s individual needs.
  • What shopping tips should I follow when searching for a pet food that best suits the needs of my cat?

    You should feed your pet a diet based on his or her age, breed, activity level, and weight or health condition. As always, it’s important to consult your veterinarian on what food suits your pet’s needs best.
  • What quality control measures should pet food manufacturers use to assure the quality of their product?

    A company should be able to outline their quality control measures and provide proof of quality when asked. This includes separating raw ingredients from cooked products so that there is no cross-contamination. A careful process is especially important when it comes to pathogen or allergen contamination. Also, when inquiring about quality control make sure to find out about food testing throughout the manufacturing process and ask how recalls are handled by the pet food manufacturer. Companies who put safety at the top of their list often test their food for contaminants and wait for the results before shipping the product to retail outlets.
  • Should I follow the feeding recommendations on my pet food?

    Feeding recommendations can be good guidelines, but the pets they are based on get more exercise than the average pet. Evaluate daily food portions based on your pet’s age, body condition, and overall health. And be sure to consult with your vet.
  • How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

    Stand above pets and look down on them. From this vantage point you should be able to feel their ribs but not see them. Both dogs and cats should also have a nice taper at their waist. If they are too heavy, they’ll be oval shaped. Check with your vet to be sure!
  • Can I still give my overweight cat treats?

    Initiate a weight loss plan with your veterinarian and work in a way to use healthy treats as a reward for exercise. Hide treats around the house at different levels so your cat has to climb to find them. Just be careful if you have dogs or children around too.
  • What does “natural” mean on a pet food label?

    “Natural” means that, according to FDA guidelines, the ingredients in the pet food have not had any chemical alterations made to them.
  • What is a “minimum nutrition requirement”?

    This means the food formulation has been determined to meet nutrition levels established by the AAFCO using laboratory analysis versus being actually determined by feeding to animals.
  • What is a “body condition score”?

    The body condition score is a system for determining your pet’s weight. The system ranges from underweight to ideal to overweight, and is based on a visual and palpable examination of the pet.
  • How much food needs to be cut from the pet’s diet for weight loss?

    According to Dr. Jim Dobies, cutting your pet’s food intake by 25% along with a gradual increase in daily exercise is a good way to achieve weight loss in the overweight pet.
  • How were the nutrient ratios in MyBowl determined?

    Veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists collaborated together to determine the appropriate ratios for each MyBowl nutrient category using reference texts such as Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th edition, the National Research Council’s (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats and the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) Official Publication. All of the nutrient proportions in MyBowl comply with the NRC's and AAFCO's most recent nutritional standards.
  • Are grain-free cat foods better than foods that contain grains?

    Not necessarily. When part of a balanced diet, grains (especially whole grains) are excellent sources of energy, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients for cats. Owners who prefer to feed a grain-free food should look for ingredients that offer similar nutritional benefits like potato. Rather than focusing solely on ingredients, owners also need to ensure that the cat food they choose offers balanced and complete nutrition.
  • What does the word "holistic" on a cat food label mean?

    Nothing. The use of the term "holistic" is completely unregulated, which means pet food manufacturers can apply it to any of their products.
  • Isn't fat bad for cats?

    Too much fat in the diet can lead to obesity, but as long as a cat is eating an appropriate amount of a nutritionally balanced food, he should be getting just the right amount to keep him healthy. Proper proportions of high-quality fats and oils in a cat’s food have many health benefits including reducing inflammation, immune system support, proper brain and eye development and promoting healthy skin and a glossy coat.
  • Can I feed my cat "people" food?

    It's important to understand the negative impact that "people" food can have on your cat. To maintain an ideal weight a 10 pound cat may need just 200-300 calories per day. Therefore, even small "treats" really add up and put your cat at risk for nutrient imbalances and obesity.
  • How long does it take for cat food to go bad?

    Cat food should be used ahead of the "best before" date that is printed on most labels. Store food off the floor or in a container in a cool, dry location to reduce the chances that mice, insects, or other vermin will gain access to it.

    Dry food can be left out in bowls as long as it is not exposed to moisture or hot temperatures. Wash and refill food and water bowls at least once a week. Canned food should be discarded after it has been at room temperature for four hours and the bowl is cleaned prior to being refilled. Opened cans can be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
  • How much should I feed my cat?

    How much a cat should eat depends on many variables including his activity level, metabolic rate and the food you are offering. Use the feeding guide on the cat food label as a starting point. These instructions usually read something like, "for cats weighing 5 lbs, feed between ½ and ¾ cup per day; for cat's weighing 10 lbs, feed between ¾ and 1 cup per day; and for cats weighing 15 lbs, feed between 1 cup and 1 ½ cups per day".

    Use your cat's body condition to fine tune the amount you offer. For example, if he is overweight offer an amount on the low end of the recommended range and reevaluate in a few weeks to a month. Your veterinarian can also help you determine how much of a particular food you should be offering.
  • What is AAFCO?

    AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials. AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. AAFCO has no regulatory authority but works to protect consumers and safeguard the health of both animals and people.
  • How important is water to cats?

    Water is very important to cats. Dehydration puts cats at risk for many health problems, including urinary tract disorders. Cats get some of their water from their food, but they should always have access to fresh, clean water. Some cats seem to prefer to drink from a running source of water instead of a bowl. Rather than leaving a faucet on, look into purchasing a kitty "water fountain."
  • Can cats digest carbohydrates?

    Yes. Multiple studies have shown that cats can effectively use carbohydrates as a source of energy. The moderate levels of carbohydrates included in high-quality foods are well-tolerated by healthy cats.
  • Why are vitamins and minerals added to cat foods?

    Vitamins and minerals are found naturally in many ingredients (e.g., meat, meat meals, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates) that are used to make cat foods. However, precise amounts of individual vitamins and minerals are used to balance the diet so that cats do not get too much of one nutrient and not enough of another.
  • What is a meat meal?

    Meat meals are made from animal tissues after blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide, and the contents of the gastrointestinal tract have been removed. Meat meals are also dehydrated (i.e., most of the water is removed), which makes them a concentrated source of protein in pet foods.
  • Does the guaranteed analysis provide any useful information about a food?

    A guaranteed analysis must tell consumers the minimum percentages of protein and fat and the maximum amounts of water (moisture) and fiber that are in a cat food. Some pet food manufacturers will also voluntarily include information about the amounts of certain vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients in the guaranteed analysis. However, owners should be aware that a guaranteed analysis provides no information about the quality of a food and does not indicate whether or not a diet provides optimally balanced nutrition.Owners can use this information to compare different foods and to determine whether a food provides balanced nutrition using a tool like MyBowl.
  • What information can I take away from the ingredient list on a cat food label?

    The order of the ingredient list on a cat food label provides owners with useful information. As determined by its weight, the most prevalent ingredient in the food has to be listed first, the next most prevalent is listed second, and so on. While it's important to focus on the ingredients that appear high on the list, those lower down are equally important and usually refer to the vitamins and minerals that are added in small amounts to the diet.

    It is important to remember that an ingredient's weight includes any water that it may contain prior to a food's processing. Therefore, a heavy ingredient (e.g., chicken) that contains a lot of water may appear high on the list but contribute relatively less to a food's nutrient profile than does a lighter ingredient (e.g., chicken meal) that appears a few positions lower.
  • Why is so much emphasis put on protein in cat foods?

    Cats require more protein in their diets than do dogs. Cats break down dietary protein to provide themselves with the amino acids they need to build proteins within their own bodies(e.g., muscle cells and enzymes). A cat's body can convert some amino acids into others. These are called non-essential amino acids because they do not have to be supplied directly by the diet. On the other hand, essential amino acids do need to be included in a cat's food because the feline body is incapable of making them. Taurine is an example of an essential amino acid for cats.
  • What nutrients have to be included in a cat food to make it balanced?

    Five nutrient categories are included in nutritionally complete cat foods: proteins, carbohydrates, fats/oils, vitamins, and minerals. Veterinary nutritionists use a variety of ingredients to precisely balance the proportion of each nutrient category in relation to the others. For cats, too much of a nutrient can be just as dangerous as too little.

    A sixth nutrient, water, is also essential for feline health. Some water is included in all pet foods, and cats get the rest of what they need from the water bowl. Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times.
  • What does the word "natural" on cat food labels mean?

    The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates the use of the word "natural". It can only be applied to cat foods that don't contain ingredients or additives that have been chemically synthesized unless their inclusion at a particular level is absolutely necessary.

    The official AAFCO definition of natural is "a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices."