Pet parents spent an estimated $31.68 billion on pet food product in 2019. That's up 4.5% from 2018.* Learn about the trends in this booming industry and get tips on cat nutrition.
Cat Food Basics
Before we dig into the trends, let's take a quick look at the types of cat food we give to our feline friends.
There are basically three kinds that you'll find at pet food stores: dry, semi-moist, and wet or canned cat foods. They all contain meat or meat byproducts, which are essential for cats. Cats evolved as hunters, and they need nutrients that can only be found in meat to survive. The biggest differences between these products are cost and moisture content.
Dry Cat Food
Dry food is typically the least expensive type of cat food. It can be a good choice if you want to leave food out for your cat to eat freely. You can leave it out for fairly long periods of time without worrying that it will spoil.
It is also very convenient since you can store large amounts for weeks or even months. Just keep in mind that dry cat food does expire, so check the dates on those big bags of kibble.
As far as moisture content, dry food does not have much, as you may have guessed by its name. It contains only about 6 to 10% water. Dry food can include meat or meat byproducts, poultry or poultry byproducts, grain or grain byproducts, and fiber sources. These ingredients are combined and dried into small morsels.
Some dry cat food is coated in a flavor enhancer like animal fat to make it more appetizing for your cat.
Semi-moist Cat Food
When it comes to cost, semi-moist cat food is usually somewhere in the middle between dry and wet cat food. Like dry food, it can be left out for long periods of time, so your cat can eat freely. However, it can dry out and become less appealing to your cat.
Semi-moist cat food contains about 3 times more moisture than dry food depending on the brand. It usually consists of meat or meat byproducts and other ingredients, such as soybean meal, grain, and cereals.
Wet Cat Food
Wet cat food is typically the most expensive type of cat food. It is often packaged in cans or plastic containers and may be preferred by some cats since it is soft and packs a lot of flavor.
As its name suggests, it's pretty wet—around 75% water. That's much more than dry or semi-moist food. The high moisture content can make it helpful for cats who aren't drinking enough water.
There are plenty of varieties of wet cat food, which can contain all different types of protein sources, such as beef, lamb, poultry, or seafood. It has a long shelf life, but once it is opened, you shouldn't leave it out for longer than 20 to 30 minutes. You can store uneaten or unused food in an airtight container in the refrigerator to offer your cat later. Remember to toss it after three days since it can spoil even when it is refrigerated.
How to Feed Your Cat
The kind of food and amount your cat should eat depends on their age, health, and lifestyle. For instance, an older and less active cat will need to take in fewer calories than a young and energetic feline. Cats with health issues may also benefit from special diets. Your veterinarian can help you make healthy decisions about your cat's diet.
As far as a feeding routine, our strategic partner The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) recommends cats be fed twice a day about 8 to 12 hours apart. If that doesn't work for your schedule, you can leave dry food out for them to eat as they please. Just keep in mind that some cats will overeat when they are fed freely, which can lead to obesity. One way to help prevent overeating is to use an automatic food dispenser, which can be programmed throughout the day to dispense small amounts of food.
4 Cat Nutrition Trends to Watch in 2020
Our love for our cats and desire to give them the best when it comes to nutrition are driving the cat food trends that are emerging for 2020. Cat parents are looking for healthy cat food choices, simpler labels, and personalization when it comes to feeding their whiskered family members.
1. Healthy Choices
Many of us are striving to improve our own diets, and we want the same for our cats. For instance, cat food products with claims like natural, organic, or non-GMO are becoming increasingly popular. We also see more cat foods and treats that contain ingredients with potential health benefits, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, or added vitamins.
Please be cautious about supplementing your cat's diet with additional vitamins and minerals. If you're feeding your cat a complete and balanced cat food, they are probably getting all of the vitamins and minerals they need. Giving them more may even be detrimental to their health. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian if you're thinking about offering your cat any kind of supplement.
2. Online Shopping
Cat food personalization is possible in large part because of e-commerce, which is surpassing other shopping options. Sales of pet consumables online grew 53% in 2018 according to a Nielsen study.** Analysts are also predicting that online shopping will become the dominant retail channel for pet food and other products by 2023.+
It's hard to argue with the convenience of buying cat food and treats on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. There's no need to go anywhere or lug a heavy bag of kibble or pack of cans home. Your cat's food comes right to your doorstep. In addition, you can easily research options and compare prices online.
Looking to pick up a new toy for your pet while shopping for food? Check out our guide, "Choosing the Best Pet Treats and Toys for Your Pet"
3. Simpler Labels
It's easier to make healthy choices for our cats when food labels are clear and simple. Cat parents want to know what's in their cat's food exactly, and cat food companies have been responding by simplifying their ingredient lists.
However, even with this trend, cat food labels can be confusing, especially when it comes to claims like "organic," "natural," or "non-GMO." Like similar claims on human food products, they might not mean what you think they do. For example, while "organic" and "natural" sound similar, they have different meanings:
- Natural – The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) states that natural products must be mostly free of chemically synthetic or synthetically produced ingredients. A certain level of these ingredients is allowed as they're needed to formulate some nutrients.
- Organic – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program defines organic as made from crops grown on land that is free from pesticides for at least three years. Organic meats are from livestock who are not given antibiotics or hormones and are fed organic feed.
You may also see claims on cat food labels about their commitment to sustainability or environmentally friendly practices. These kinds of claims are intended to appeal to cat parents who are focused on the impact their shopping choices can have on our world.
One claim you want to see on the cat food you purchase is "complete and balanced." "Complete" tells you that it has all of the essential nutrients your cat needs, which are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. "Balanced" indicates that they are provided in the appropriate proportions for your cat's nutrition requirements.
You can gloss over claims like "premium," "ultra-premium," or "gourmet." They may catch your eye, but they don't have any real value when it comes to your cat's nutrition needs.
If you have any questions about cat food labels or nutrition for your cat, you should speak with your veterinarian. You can also refer to online guides provided by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Another useful resource is the Pet Nutritional Alliance.
4. Personalized Cat Food
Many cat parents are looking to customize and liven up their feline's meals. One way to personalize your cat's food is to add a topper, which is available in a few different forms:
- Sprinkle-on toppers – You can shake some extra flavor and nutrients on top of your cat's usual kibble.
- Shredded toppers – These toppers are made of shredded proteins like beef, chicken, turkey, or seafood.
- Broth or gravy toppers – You can pour broth or gravy with bits of meat, poultry, or seafood over your cat's entrée. These toppers can help make sure your cat is getting enough water in their diet.
Online meal delivery services are another way to customize your cat's meals. These services send you food based on your cat's age, lifestyle, and health needs. While they can be fun and convenient to use, they can also be expensive. Look closely at the costs and terms before you sign up.
Tips to Feed Your Cat
Your veterinarian should be your top resource for advice on your cat's food nutrition, but these tips can help ensure your cat has a safe and healthy diet.
- Minimize treats – It's fun to give cats treats, and they sure do love them! That's fine as long as you offer them in moderation. They can be full of unhealthy fats and sugar, which can lead to obesity. The ASPCA recommends that treats represent 5% or less of your cat's daily food intake. The rest should come from a nutritionally complete cat food.
- Clean those bowls – You should wash your cat's food and water bowls regularly either by hand or in the dishwasher. Otherwise, bacteria and mold can build up and make your cat sick.
- Keep them hydrated – Some cats don't get enough water, which can cause dehydration. Make sure your cat has easy access to a bowl of fresh water. If your cat prefers to drink running water, you can try setting up a pet fountain to quench their thirst. Offering wet food with some extra added water or using gravy toppers are some other ways you can add more water to your cat's diet.
- Avoid adding catnip to their food – A bit of catnip may tempt a picky eater, but your cat may stop eating food without this treat. You can give your cat catnip now and then, but it shouldn't be a part of your cat's regular meals.
- Do not offer them dairy products – A cat lapping up a bowl of milk is an iconic image, but cats should not have dairy since they lack an enzyme needed to digest it. Feeding your cat dairy products, such as milk, cream, whipped cream, ice cream, and cheese can result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Do you know what not to feed your kitty? In addition to dairy, you should never give your cat raisins, onions, or raw fish.
Cats and Obesity
Obesity is a growing problem for cats. One clinical survey showed that around 60% of cats in the United States were overweight or obese in 2018.++ Cats with weight issues are at a greater risk for a number of health issues, from diabetes to arthritis.
It's important to take your cat to the veterinarian for regular visits so they can track their weight and intervene early when needed. You should also be able to judge your cat's weight by touch and sight:
- When you run your hands along your cat's sides, you should be able to feel the ribs and spine with minimal fat covering.
- When looking at your cat from above, you should see a noticeable waist or at least a slight indention behind the ribs.
- From the side, your cat should look well-proportioned. Their stomach should not droop due to fat.
These factors are part of your cat's body conditioning score, which can help you determine if they are at a healthy weight.
Cat Weight Loss Tips
If your cat is tipping the scales, your veterinarian can help you start them on a safe diet and exercise routine, which may include:
- Portion control – Use a scale or at least a measuring cup to make sure your cat is getting the right amount of food. If you just eyeball it, you may be putting too much in their bowl.
- Healthy snacks – Check the ingredients on store-bought treats or consider swapping them out for pet-safe fruits and veggies.
- More activity – Cats like to sleep a lot, but it's important to get them up and moving, especially if they need to lose weight. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind yourself to interact with them two or three times a day. You can also buy them interactive cat toys that they can play with on their own.
- Meal hunting – Rather than giving your cat one or two big meals in one spot every day, portion out their food into three or four servings and hide it around the house. This is a more natural way for them to eat since they are hunters who would typically eat smaller meals in the wild. It also gives them some exercise since they have to move around the house to find their food.
Responsible Cat Ownership
Feeding your cat a nutritious diet is just one part of being a responsible cat parent. Cats need a safe home environment, regular veterinary visits, and lots of love and attention to keep their motors running. They also need medical care when they get hurt or sick.
Pet insurance can help make sure your cat gets the best care possible with less worry about the cost. Find the right coverage for your cat.
- *Americans Are Spending More on Pets Than Ever Before: $72 Billion, American Pet Products, March 21, 2019.
- **An Uptick in Clicks and Bricks for Pet Food: An Omnichannel Perspective, Nielsen, November 2018.
- +Online pet food sales may beat others by 2023, PetfoodIndustry.com, July 2019.
- ++2018 Pet Obesity Survey Results, Pet Obesity Prevention, March 12, 2019.
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.