Choosing the Best Type of Diet for Your Cat

By PetcoBlogger on Feb. 10, 2017


Every cat has unique needs, and every cat needs optimal nutrition to thrive. Sometimes, switching your cat to a special “diet” (also known as a “formula”) is a necessity. Due to age (life stage), sickness, food sensitivities, obesity, aging or unique needs, switching your cat to a specialized formula can be a great solution. Here’s what you need to know about the different cat formulas that are targeted at supporting your pet’s unique needs. There are also a few diets to avoid.

Where to start
When choosing the best food for your cat, or before switching your cat’s food, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian first. You can also ask one of the specialists found in Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores. They are trained to guide you to the best formula for your pet, based on life stage and unique needs. The first step to choosing (or switching) a formula for your cat is to go by age:

  • Cats under age 1 should be on a strict Kitten diet, including dry and/or wet food for kittens
  • Cats ages 1–7 (depending on breed), should be on an Adult cat diet
  • Cats over the age of 7 (depending on breed), should be on a Senior cat diet

Read more about what your cat should eat from kittenhood to the senior years

Common Cat Food Diets (Formulas)

Veterinary Prescription Food
“Prescription” cat food can only be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian, and in the past were only available through veterinarians. Now these formulas are available online at! Just like humans, cats may need Rx-based, therapeutic care to help manage a disease, illness, allergy or other unique need. Because they are scientifically based formulas, these formulas contain a special mix of ingredients that can have therapeutic qualities. Because of this, they tend to be expensive. Look at these formulas as not just food though; they have unique benefits and if your veterinarian is recommending a prescription-based food, there is likely a good medical reason.

Depending on your feline’s illness, your veterinarian may recommend adding a prescription cat food formula as a part of your kitty’s nutritional plan. Designed by veterinary nutritionists and backed by scientific research, prescription cat foods are specially formulated to help manage medical conditions like obesity, kidney disease, urinary tract crystals/stones, heart disease, diabetes, digestive health and many others.

One example of a prescription food is a formula targeted at helping to manage kidney disease. If your cat has kidney disease, your veterinarian may prescribe a kidney/renal formula as part of a complete treatment plan. Foods for kidney disease are specially designed to lower protein levels and improve the protein-to-phosphorous ratio.

Non-prescription Cat Food Formulas
Many cat food brands offer formulas that target unique needs, but do not require a prescription. These formulas are a more affordable option for those who want to target a unique cat need such as tartar control, hairball control or weight management. However, you may not find a non-prescription, over-the-counter formula that has the same effective mix of ingredients as a similar prescription-based formula. And for some medical needs, a prescription cat food may be the best option. Learn how to read a pet food label, and compare ingredients. You can also talk to your veterinarian or ask one of the specialists in Petco stores to assist you in choosing the best formula for your cat.

Weight Management formulas are lower in fats and calories to help your cat maintain a healthy weight and feel full and satisfied between meals.

Obesity may seem like a mild ailment at a first glance, but really, unhealthy weight gain can lead to much more serious health problems like arthritis, heart disease, breathing difficulty, diabetes and bladder cancer. There are many identifiable causes of weight gain in cats:

  • Overfeeding: Cats with unlimited access to food often become overweight. Feeding your cat too much can create fat cells that stay with a pet for life.
  • Overeating: Many inexpensive cat foods are loaded with salt and fat. This improves taste but can result in over-consumption.
  • Feeding habits: Feeding treats, table scraps and homecooked meals to your cat can lead to obesity.
  • Lack of exercise: Too much food and too little exercise (play) can cause your cat to gain weight.
  • Age: Older, less active cats may be prone to weight gain.
  • Gender: Female cats are more likely to experience weight gain.
  • Neutering: Spayed or neutered cats are twice as likely to become obese. Pet parents should be careful to adjust their pet’s diet for the slowdown in metabolism that might result from these important procedures.

So, don’t shrug off the fact that your cat is packing on the pounds, consult with your veterinarian to start developing the proper slim-down nutrition plan. Learn how to keep your cat from overeatingGettyImages-157427468.jpg

Indoor formulas support healthy weight, hairball control and litter box odor. Indoor cat formulas target the needs of cats that live an indoor lifestyle; many target several areas—such as weight management, skin and coat health and hairball management.

Urinary Tract formulas aim to produce a lower urinary tract pH for optimum urinary tract health.

Hairball control formulas contain higher levels of fiber to help prevent the formation of hairballs in your cat’s digestive system.

Oral health formulas are formulated to help reduce tartar and plaque build-up.

Limited ingredient diets contain fewer selective ingredients for cats with food sensitivities or sensitive stomachs. These foods are formulated to exclude ingredients that your cat may be allergic to. Finding the source of your cat’s allergies usually requires testing or feeding research. Sometimes creating a hypoallergenic diet can be as simple as switching cat food brands. Other times a hypoallergenic diet might be as radical as dropping commercial foods completely, and preparing fresh meals for your cat daily.

Skin and coat formulas tend to be higher in omega fatty acids to help maintain a healthy skin and coat.

Sensitive stomach formulas are formulated for easier digestion for cats with digestive sensitivities.

Spayed or neutered formulas can help maintain your cat’s ideal body weight after being spayed or neutered, when appetite may increase and energy requirements may decrease.

Grain-free formulas contain no corn, wheat, rice, barley or soy for cats with specific grain sensitivities.

Life stage formulas contain the proper balance of ingredients to meet the needs of kittens, adult cats, senior cats or all life stages (for multi-cat households).

Dehydrated raw formulas combine high-protein kibble and bits of freeze-dried raw to provide pure nutrition for digestive health.

Frozen raw cat foods are uncooked, minimally processed and contain natural enzymes for the digestive health of cats of all breeds and life stages. (Available in-store only).

Fresh (refrigerated) cat foods usually contain high percentages of fresh meat, poultry or fish as well as vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. (Available in-store only).

Diets to Avoid
Vegetarian: Cats are obligate carnivores, and they require high amounts of animal protein to survive. A vegetarian diet goes against a cat’s natural dietary needs. Using this diet will cause malnutrition in your cat, and can cause death.

All meat: While cats must get high amounts of animal protein to thrive, they also need nutrients from foods other than meat. Cats need proper amounts of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, which are not found only in meat. They also need certain essential amino acids that their bodies can't produce. One of the most important of these is taurine, which is found in cat food. Feeding an all-meat diet can make your cat susceptible to a multitude of serious health concerns.

The Importance of Exercise and Hydration
The right diet is nothing without proper exercise, so make sure you’re giving your kitty a great workout alongside great nutrition. Most cats are rambunctious wrestlers that get most of their exercise through play. So, make sure you are giving your cat the attention and interaction needed to exercise efficiently.

Your cat needs to stay hydrated, so always provide fresh, clean water and regularly clean their food and water bowls.

Learn how to choose the best wet food for your cat.

Shop dry cat food or wet cat food.

Talk with fellow cat enthusiasts.

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