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The popular stereotype of the fat, happy cat with a fish in its mouth turns out to be just that: a cute stereotype, and a somewhat misleading one. In truth, cats evolved from desert animals whose diets were made up of all the rodents and birds they could catch. In today’s food, that translates into red meat and poultry—and only sometimes fish. In this article, we explore protein-rich options for the best wet cat food.
Whether you serve your kitty dry foods, canned foods, fresh foods, or raw foods, there are a lot of options out there from which to choose. This comprehensive article from the Cornell Feline Health Center covers the basics of feline nutrition and outlines some ways you can serve a healthy diet to your cat.
Our middle-aged cats came to us fully acclimated to wet food, and it’s been interesting to watch their reactions when I’ve varied the brands we serve them. Currently, we’re trying to shift them away from mostly fish-based wet foods to a diet that includes chicken, turkey, duck, beef, and rabbit. Join me as I check out some of the best wet-food buffet options.
A diet of high-quality wet food can provide all the animal proteins, fats, and nutrients our kitties need. Special diets answer the needs of cats with sensitive stomachs, allergies, kidney issues, and age-related requirements. That said, there are reasons why many pet parents opt instead for dry food or feed their cats a combination of wet and dry food. Here are some of the pros and cons of a wet-food diet:
- Plenty of healthy moisture. Wet food provides hydration, which cats need. If your cat is not an enthusiastic water drinker, a diet of wet food can ensure that they get fluids.
- Variety. While some cats insist on one flavor of food, others get bored easily and a variety of food encourages them to eat. Many wet foods come in small cans or packages and are sold as assortments. This makes it easy to keep your finicky eater interested at mealtime.
- Texture. Whether your cat licks, nibbles, or gobbles, there’s likely to be a wet food that suites their style. Choose from plates, broths, chunks, and creamy gravies. My rescue cats all had serious dental issues that interfered with eating. With limited teeth left, they appreciate those patés.
- Feeding schedule. If you work long hours, you don’t want to leave a pile of wet food in a bowl. It can attract insects, plus it will be less appetizing—and unhealthy—in four hours. But if you feed small amounts and come home late, you’ll be greeted by a yowling, anxious cat.
- Mess and odor. Wet food tends to be smelly and messy; you’ll need to wash bowls thoroughly every day.
- Dental health. While some dry foods will help keep your cat’s teeth free from tartar, wet food has no cleansing effect. You will have to do some regular tooth care.
One issue to consider when feeding your cat wet food is what to do with cat food leftovers. They need to be refrigerated, but some cats will give you the stink-eye if you offer them chilled food. If your cat is OK with leftovers, keep in mind that wet cat food will last in the fridge for a week at the very most. After that, toss it. (Want to avoid waste? Freeze, then thaw, the leftovers.)
The wet cat foods that made our list contain these feline diet essentials:
- High in animal protein
- Moderate amounts of animal fats
- Essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids
- Low in carbohydrates (note that “grain-free” foods may have carbohydrates such as potatoes or peas)
These foods have what’s called “the AAFCO statement”—a label saying that they meet the basic minimum nutritional requirements for cats that have been established by the Feline Nutrition Expert (FNE) Subcommittee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This article from the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University has more information on how to read nutrition labels on pet foods. Want more info? You can geek out on veterinarian Lisa A. Peterson’s exhaustive spreadsheet of the nutritional elements of more than 1,000 wet cat foods.
Be sure to select a food that is appropriate for your cat’s age, weight, and health status. Brands like Royal Canin offer breed-specific and age-specific formulas, as well as foods for animals with certain health conditions, such as urinary tract issues or overweight.
If your cat prefers wet food, this grain-free chicken recipe is packed with protein to support strong muscles with plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids for overall health. (3- and 5.5-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
According to Pierson’s chart, this formula with shredded poultry in gravy contains 57% protein, 37% fat, and 6% carbohydrates—a great diet for most cats. (3-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
This Weruva recipe is formulated with potato starch but contains only 3% carbohydrates (along with 65% protein and 32% fat), so if your cat likes the taste, it’s still a healthy choice. (3-, 5.5-, and 10-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
Tiki Cat is renowned for its high-protein foods. While many of the recipes are fish-based, you will find some poultry as well, like this shredded chicken recipe with 77% protein. (2.8-, 6-, and 10-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
Cats are just wild over Fancy Feast, and experts point out that this relatively inexpensive brand has some offerings that are high in protein and low in carbs, such as this roasted turkey recipe that’s 56% protein. (3-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
If your cat prefers paté to shredded or chunky foods, this Crave formula is a good high-protein, low carb option. (3.9-ounce trays)Shop on Chewy
This protein-rich paté from Wellness has chicken as the first ingredient in a nutrient-dense, grain-free recipe that includes antioxidants, taurine, vitamins, and minerals. (3-, 5.5-, and 12.5-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
Amazon’s in-house brand, Wag, offers a variety of affordable options in wet and dry food for cats. The chicken and giblets recipe features chicken with fruits and vegetables. It’s available in packs of 24 3-ounce cans.Shop on Amazon
This grain-free wet food, made in the USA, leads with trout and salmon and includes fruits and vegetables. (3- or 5.5-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
This paté, made with organic turkey and chicken plus brown rice, includes essential amino acids like taurine. The broth is a great way to add much-needed hydration to your cat’s diet. (3- and 5.5-ounce cans)Shop on Chewy
If you are trying a new cat food on your furry little gourmand, be patient. Experts recommend doing it slowly, first mixing a small quantity of the new food in with the old, and upping the proportion of new food every day or two. While your cat is adjusting, keep an eye on not just what they’re eating and how enthusiastic they are about it, but how their stomach is handling it. In other words, watch for vomiting or diarrhea.
If your cat repeatedly turns their nose up at the new food, accept that you may have to back down or try another brand or formulation. A stubborn cat can refuse to eat altogether, which puts them a risk for hepatic lipidosis, a serious health condition. This PetMD article has additional, extensive advice on transitioning your cat to a new food.
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