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How much can you afford to spend on food for your kitty is your decision. In all my years with cats, I have seen what quality food can do for them. Large, established pet food companies have a large investment in maintaining the quality of their products, so you can trust them to give your cat or kitten the vitamins and minerals they need.
The best brands, that more vets and breeders prefer are: Iams, Eukanuba, & Science Diet. If these are out of your price range, then Kal Kan and Purina are good alternatives. However, if you feed your cat healthy cat food, the fewer visits to the vet you'll have to make because of cat health problems.
Iams, Eukanuba, and Science Diet may be premium cat foods as far as vets and PetCo are concerned, but if you consult an animal nutritionalist you will find out that is far from the case. In addition, some of them have been involved in the recall issues. There are much better foods out there, some sourced entirely within the U.S. and made from human-grade ingredients. Vets spend a VERY small amount of training time on nutrition compared with other topics, and are very likely not the best source of information on nutrition. Look into brands like Nature's Variety, Merrick, Felidae, etc. You will likely find that the increased cost is partially or fully offset by the fact that your cat will eat less, a result of getting more actual food and less grains and fillers.
The major brands are not all ways the safe bet. Vets endorse the brads that sponsor them.
Cats have special nutritional requirements, which are very different from the needs of dogs and people. Domestication has changed the behavior and appearance of cats, but not their digestive systems. They still have exactly the same nutritional needs that they have in the wild, and their food must precisely meet these needs or disease and organ failure will quickly take over.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must eat meat in order to survive. They are pure predators, and their diet in the home must mimic what they eat in the wild in order for them to be healthy. Good cat food must have the same nutrients in the same proportions as whole prey. Natural prey animals for cats are rodents, birds, insects, and sometimes amphibians. It's actually a myth that fish are standard fare for cats.
Carbohydrates and Vegetables
As cats evolved, their digestive systems adapted to accommodate the available food, therefore all food must be high in protein from good meat sources, not by-products. Their systems have very little use for plant matter and carbohydrates. Premium cat food does not contain grains and contains very little vegetable matter.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Amino Acids
Because the nutrients that cats need are already present in whole prey, their systems do not convert and produce necessary nutrients from their foods, but rely on the prey’s digestive system to do this for them. Many amino acids, vitamins and minerals necessary for life must be readily available in a commercial feline diet. Taurine, Arginine, Vitamin A, and magnesium are some examples of necessary additives, but there are many more.
Natural prey is sixty-five to seventy-five percent water. Domesticated cats evolved from desert cats where little water is available, so their bodies are adapted to extracting water from prey as their primary source of hydration.
Dry food contains very little water, so cats who eat dry food must increase their water intake in order to avoid dehydration, although many cats will not drink enough water to compensate. Their systems were not designed for the need to drink large amounts of water and it does not come naturally to them. Canned food has a significantly higher moisture content, so a diet that consists primarily of canned food will help prevent dehydration.
Any knowledgeable owner should know by now that Iams and Science Diet are brands that are on the BOTTOM of the quality scale.