We love our feline family members and want the very best for them, which includes a healthy diet. Find out what’s trending in the cat food industry and get tips to make sure you're meeting your kitty's nutritional needs.
Cat Food 101
Before we dive into the trends, let's take a look at the three basic kinds of cat food. Dry, semi-moist, and canned food all contain meat (or meat byproducts), which is essential for cats. Cats evolved as hunters, and they need nutrients that can only be found in meat to survive.
The type and amount of food that's best for your cat depends on their age, lifestyle, and health. Your veterinarian can help you determine an optimal diet for your feline friend.
Dry food is just that—dry. It only contains around 6 to 10% of water. It's made from ingredients that can include meat (or meat byproducts), poultry (or poultry byproducts), grain (or grain byproducts), and fiber sources. Ingredients are combined and dried into small bits. They may also be coated in animal fat or other flavor enhancers to make it tastier for your cat.
Dry food is usually the least expensive type of cat food. It's also often more convenient because you can store large amounts for relatively long periods of time (just be sure to check the expiration dates since they do expire). Plus, you can leave it out longer for your cat than wet food, which is helpful if you allow your cat to eat whenever they want all day long.
Pet parents spent more than $27 billion on food for their four-legged family members in 2018. That's up more than 4% from 2017!*
Semi-moist cat food contains more moisture than dry food—about 3 times as much depending on the brand. It usually consists of meat (and meat byproducts) along with other ingredients, such as soybean meal, grain, and cereals.
Semi-moist food typically costs more than dry food, but less than brand name canned food. Like dry food, it can be left out to feed your cat freely. However, it can dry out and become less appealing to your cat or even spoil if left out too long.
Canned Cat Food
Canned cat food has around 75% moisture, which is much higher than dry or semi-moist food. There are lots of varieties containing different types of meats, poultry, or seafood. It's usually the most expensive kind of cat food, but it may be the only kind a finicky feline will eat. Due to the higher moisture content, it can also be helpful for cats who aren't drinking a healthy amount of water.
Canned food has a longer shelf life than the other types of cat food. However, you can't leave wet food out the same way you can dry or semi-moist food. If your cat doesn't finish a meal, you shouldn't let it sit out longer than 20 or 30 minutes. Store uneaten or unused portions in an airtight container in the refrigerator to avoid the growth of mold or bacteria, which can be harmful to your cat. You also should discard canned food three days after opening even if you put it in the refrigerator because it can spoil.
How to Feed Your Cat
Our strategic partner The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) recommends cats be fed two times a day around 8 to 12 hours apart. Families who have difficulty managing a two-a-day regimen may want to leave dry food out for their cats to eat when they're hungry. Just keep in mind that some cats will overeat when left to their own devices and can become overweight or obese.
3 Cat Food Trends to Watch in 2019
The trends in the cat food industry are similar to those for human food. Cat parents are looking for things like easy-to-read labels, convenience, and choice when it comes to feeding their feline family members.
1. Easy-to-read Labels
One of the top trends in cat food is simpler ingredient lists and clearer labels. Cat parents want to know exactly what's in their kitty's food, so they can feel good about what they're feeding them. Even with this trend, cat food labels can be difficult to decipher, especially when it comes to claims like "natural," "organic," or "non-GMO." Like similar claims on our own food products, they can be tough to navigate and may not mean what you think. For example, "organic" and "natural" sound similar, but have different meanings:
- Natural: The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) specifies that natural products must be mostly free of chemically synthetic or synthetically produced ingredients. A certain level of these ingredients is allowable since they're needed to formulate some nutrients.
- Organic: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program defines organic as made from crops grown on land free from pesticides for three years. Organic meats are from livestock fed organic feed and not given antibiotics or hormones.
Additionally, you may see claims on cat food labels about the brand's commitment to sustainability or environmentally friendly practices. These kinds of claims have become more common especially as companies try to attract millennial consumers who tend to look for them.
One claim you want to see on your cat food is "complete and balanced." This tells you that it has a complete list of essential nutrients, which are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It also indicates that these nutrients are balanced in the right proportions. You can disregard claims like "gourmet" or "ultra-premium." While they may catch your eye, they don't mean anything specific to your cat's health.
If you're confused about cat food labels or choosing the right brand for your kitty, you should speak with your veterinarian. You'll also find in-depth guides on cat food labels provided by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
2. Online Shopping
Online sales for pet food are soaring. According to a Nielsen study, they've gone up 53% in 2018.** That’s a significant number, especially when you consider retail sales only grew 1.7% and pet superstores/neighborhood pet stores went up just 0.7%. Veterinary sales declined by 5.8% as more cat parents are buying prescription food online rather than from their veterinarians.
The rise in online shopping is due in large part to convenience. You can shop online pretty much anywhere as long as you have a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. There's no need to go to the store and lug home a heavy bag of kibble or large box of cans. Your cat's food is delivered right to your door. Online shopping also lets you research brands and compare prices from the comfort of your home.
3. Personalized Cat Food
Food toppers are growing in popularity as cat parents look for ways to customize their feline's meals. They can tempt a picky eater or make everyday meals more interesting by adding some flavor. There are a few different kinds of toppers:
- Sprinkle-on – Shake a bit of extra flavor and nutrients on top of your cat's usual entrée.
- Shredded toppers – Add shredded beef, chicken, turkey, or seafood to a meal.
- Broth or gravy toppers – Pour a broth or gravy that can contain bits of meat, poultry, or seafood onto your cat's food. These toppers can be a great way to add water to your cat's diet.
Online meal delivery services are another way cat parents are customizing mealtime. With these services, you set up a profile for your cat, which includes their age, health status, and lifestyle. The service then sends meals to your home based on your cat's needs. These services can be convenient, but they can also be pricey so look closely before you sign up.
Tips to Feed Your Cat
Your veterinarian is your best resource to figure out the best diet for your cat, but these tips can help you make some smart decisions.
- Keep treats to a minimum – Cats love treats, but they should be given in moderation. They can be packed with sugar and fats, which can lead to obesity. The ASPCA advises that treats represent 5% or less of your cat’s daily food intake with the rest coming from a nutritionally complete cat food.
- Keep the water flowing – Many cats don't get enough water in their diet. Make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times. Some cats prefer to sip from the faucet, which is one of many strange cat behaviors. If this is the case for your kitty, you can try purchasing a pet fountain, so you don't have to turn on the water continually.
- Clean water and food bowls regularly – Bacteria and mold can accumulate in a dirty bowl. Wash them out daily with your usual dish detergent or put them in the dishwasher.
- Don't add catnip to your cat's food – A dash of catnip may tempt even the pickiest of eaters, but soon your cat may only eat food that contains this treat. Catnip is fine on occasion, but it shouldn't be a part of your cat's regular meals.
- Avoid dairy products – Cats lack the enzyme needed to digest the lactose in dairy products, such as milk, cream, whipped cream, ice-cream, and cheese. Feeding your cat dairy can result in vomiting and diarrhea.
It's important to know what not to feed your kitty. In addition to milk, you should never give your cat raw fish, onions, or raisins..
Cats and Obesity
Obesity is a common problem for cats, which can lead to ailments including joint pain, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It's important to take your cat to the veterinarian regularly so they can help them maintain a healthy weight.
Cat Weight Loss Tips
If your cat needs to lose some weight, your veterinarian can help you design a safe nutrition and exercise program, which may include:
- Portion control: Make sure your cat is getting the right amount by measuring out their food. If you simply eyeball it, you may inadvertently be giving them too much to eat.
- Healthier snacks – Swap out store-bought treats for pet-safe fruits and veggies or whip up your own cat treats with simple recipes.
- More exercise – Your cat may want to nap around the house all day, but it's important to get them moving, especially if they need to drop some pounds. You can purchase some interactive cat toys or use common items around the house, like ping pong balls or boxes, to help your cat stay active.
- Meal "hunting" – Rather than serving your cat a big meal in one location, hide portions in four or five different places around the house. This encourages their natural cat behaviors of hunting for their food and consuming multiple smaller meals. It also gives them more exercise since they have to move around the house to seek out their food.
Responsible Cat Ownership
A healthy diet is just one part of being a responsible cat parent. You need to make sure they have a safe home environment, see the veterinarian for regular check-ups, and get lots of love and attention to keep them purring. Pet insurance can also help make sure your cat gets quality medical care with less worry about the cost. Find out more about pet insurance or get a free quote now.
*Pet Food in the U.S., 14th Edition, Packaged Facts, January 2019
**An Uptick in Clicks and Bricks for Pet Food: An Omnichannel Perspective, Nielsen, November 2018
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.