Our assessment from not recommendable to very recommendable:
Table scraps and vegetarian food – dry food – canned food – self-cooked food – raw food
Leftovers from the table or vegetarian food – absolutely not recommended
These possibilities are not appropriate to the species and are out of the question, so we will only deal with them in passing. In the past it was quite common, especially in rural areas, to give the cat leftovers from their own food, perhaps a bowl of fresh milk. Although it should not be forgotten that these cats caught a significant amount of their food on the side, feeding table scraps was certainly anything but an optimal form of nutrition.
Dry food – not recommended
We do not see any advantages for the cat itself. For the cat owner, lower costs, convenient handling and storage, little work and low odor development are to be mentioned.
The shelf life is given as several months, which must be viewed with caution, as the unsaturated fatty acids contained can quickly oxidize when naturally preserved by vitamins, especially if stored incorrectly. Mold growth and the resulting toxins are also a common problem.
In addition to the obvious malnutrition mentioned above, dry food is the most unnatural food for cats. It is heavily denatured because it is dried in addition to the usual processing operations. They often contain cheap, inferior ingredients such as animal and vegetable by-products, as well as harmful additives such as preservatives. The processing changes or destroys fatty acids and amino acids. Enzymes, vitamins and antioxidants are destroyed by high heat, so that minerals, trace elements, vitamins and amino acids always have to be added.
For processing reasons, dry fodder must contain a high proportion of grain products and fibers so that it gets structure and can even be formed into lumps. The protein content, which appears to be high, is often mentioned as effective in advertising, but a large part of it comes from the grain it contains. Due to a different, incomplete amino acid pattern for the cat than that of animal proteins, vegetable proteins offer poorer digestibility for cats. Furthermore, due to the high carbohydrate content in the form of starch, cereals cause problems, since the cat, as a strict carnivore, is unable to adapt its metabolism to high amounts of carbohydrates. The consequences can be obesity, diabetes, diseases of the liver or pancreas. In addition, a high proportion of carbohydrates in the diet also reduces the digestibility of proteins. Adult dry food contains between 28 and 50% carbohydrates in the dry matter, depending on the variety, which corresponds to a vegetable content of 50 to 80%, whereby the so-called premium varieties without exception have an excessively high carbohydrate content of 28 to 43%, while kitten foods often contain slightly less.
Of course, you shouldn’t forget that feeds with different moisture contents cannot be compared directly with one another. If you convert the protein content of so-called premium dry food and canned food to dry matter, almost all canned food, but especially the better types, contain more protein and fat and less carbohydrates than the highest quality dry food. A comparison table can be found in the mouse vs. ready-to-eat food chapter.
Dry food does not clean your teeth, even if it is claimed over and over again. On the contrary, the strongest residues of the dry food lay on the teeth as a tough, sticky coating. The chunks are often too small to allow proper chewing and are sometimes simply swallowed whole. Since there are many cats who consume dry food and develop tartar, the manufacturers have been introducing so-called “Oral Care” products on the market for some time to eliminate this problem. Anyone who observes how a cat eats a prey animal and how long and thoroughly it chews it, immediately sees the difference, because cats are by nature made to chew much larger pieces than the small pieces of dry food.
However, in our opinion, the main disadvantage of dry food is the low moisture content of 8 to 10%. As already mentioned, cats rarely need extra water in the wild as they satisfy their need for water from prey, which contain an average of 70 to 75% moisture. When the cat is fed dry food, it is constantly forced to drink water contrary to its nature. Since cats do not develop a pronounced feeling of thirst due to their evolution, they usually only drink when it is absolutely necessary and when dehydration has already started. This is briefly reversed when the water is absorbed before the cycle begins again. This puts a strain on the whole organism, but especially on the kidneys and urinary tract. A cat would have to drink at least three times the amount of water it consumed in dry food to get the moisture content of 70 to 75% in natural food or canned food.
Even if this is vehemently denied by dry food producers and sellers, several studies have shown that cats take in too little fluid when they are fed dry food instead of wet food. One study found that the volume of urine is reduced by half when consuming dry food. Further studies show that cats that are already infected with struvite crystals have a lower healing rate and a significantly higher relapse rate if they are treated with diet dry food instead of diet canned food.
To compensate for the lack of fluid, the urine is more concentrated, which means that the bladder is emptied less often because of the small urine volume. Since crystals precipitate more easily in concentrated urine, supported by the fact that the urine remains in the bladder for a longer period of time, the formation of struvite or oxalate stones is promoted. Earlier studies have found indications that the magnesium content in the feed, in conjunction with a low amount of urine and an alkaline pH value in the urine, which is caused by the high vegetable content in the feed, leads to struvite crystals. Therefore, the magnesium content in dry food has been drastically reduced, and so there is a permanent undersupply of this important mineral, which can lead to deficiency symptoms. Furthermore, attempts are now being made to acidify the urine with the appropriate ingredients in the feed in order to lower the pH value. As a result, calcium oxalate stones, which form in an acidic environment, have recently increased in cats.
Struvite and oxalate stones are common; there are even more and more cats that develop both forms one after the other or at the same time. The resulting bladder infections and kidney diseases also occur more frequently. Nowadays, on the basis of numerous studies, it is assumed that reduced fluid intake and, accordingly, reduced urine volume play the most important role in the development of urinary tract diseases, while the urine pH value and magnesium content of the feed do not seem to be as decisive as once assumed has been.
Canned food – recommended
First of all, it is easy to use and can be stored for around one year. The 70 to 80% moisture content is a great benefit as cats are naturally used to getting their moisture needs through food. On average, canned food contains more protein and fat and less carbohydrates than dry food, and in this respect, too, it suits the cat’s natural diet. Canned food contains between 0 and 30% carbohydrates in the dry matter, whereby some of the types of food that are regarded as high quality have a particularly high amount of carbohydrates and thus a high vegetable content. Therefore, one should study the labels carefully and choose varieties that contain a high content of animal ingredients, without too many by-products and with no or very little grain. The brands and varieties should be alternated in order to avoid an over- or under-supply, especially of minerals, trace elements and vitamins, as there is no complete, optimal ready-made feed and the ingredients sometimes differ considerably.
There are great differences in quality; with a few exceptions, most of the canned food declared as complete feed contains less protein and fat in the dry matter than the cat’s natural diet. They often contain cheap, inferior ingredients such as animal and vegetable by-products as well as harmful additives such as preservatives, flavor enhancers or sugar, which almost always applies to the so-called supermarket varieties. Fatty acids and amino acids are changed or destroyed through processing and sterilization, while enzymes, vitamins and antioxidants are destroyed by high heat. For this reason and because the ingredients are not balanced from the start, minerals, artificial vitamins and amino acids must be added, especially taurine, the absorption of which is reduced by the Maillard reaction that occurs during the manufacturing process.
Depending on the quality and energy density, cats usually have to eat a relatively large amount of canned food in order to roughly cover their nutritional requirements, which is especially true for the inexpensive varieties. Many unusable components have to be excreted, so that the cat excretes large amounts of foul-smelling feces. The food itself smells very intense, when a can is opened the smell spreads everywhere. The food is made of a soft paste that promotes dental disease as the cat usually cleans its teeth by chewing. High quality canned food is relatively expensive.
Homemade food – recommendable
First of all, of course, the biggest advantage is that you know exactly what is going into the feed, as you buy high-quality ingredients yourself. You can use a high percentage of high quality meat with just a few vegetable ingredients, preferably vegetables. You should only cook the meat briefly in as little water as possible and use the cooking water with the food. If this diet is appropriately balanced with supplements, the quality is certainly better than finished feed. The food contains moisture, which caters to nature. It is possible to offer the cat larger pieces of meat, which is good for dental health, but not to the same extent as raw meat, since cooked meat can be softer and more fibrous. Provided the diet is balanced, it is recommended. For sick cats with a seriously disturbed immune system, to whom you may not want to give raw food, this form of nutrition represents an alternative to ready-made food. In our opinion, there is no reason for healthy cats to cook the food. However, it can be helpful to do this temporarily if the cat wants something cooked but not raw yet. Instructions can be found under feed conversion.
It takes time and labor to shred and cook the ingredients. During the cooking process, important enzymes, vitamins and proteins are destroyed, changed or transferred to the cooking water. Cooked protein is not as easy for the cat to use and is more difficult to digest than raw. You need to have a very good knowledge of how to supplement your diet accordingly. a. Vitamins, minerals and taurine. Under no circumstances should you give boiled bones, as cooking bones will become brittle and split, which can cause injuries. Self-cooked food should be kept in the refrigerator for a maximum of 2 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months, the shorter the better.
Raw feed – highly recommended
A varied, balanced raw food largely corresponds to the natural diet of cats and, in our opinion, is the healthiest and most species-appropriate food. It has a natural moisture content, which corresponds to the cat’s need to meet its water needs through the food it consumes. The entire body specializes in ingesting and processing small amounts of very high-quality animal food. It has been found that cats digest raw food much faster and with less residue than ready-made food. Since the ingredients of the raw feed are used very well by the body, there is no burden on the metabolism because it does not have to process and excrete any poorly usable or indigestible substances with the associated breakdown products.
It is therefore not surprising that cats get along with very small amounts of this food and accordingly excrete little excrement, which is well-shaped and hardly smells. Raw food naturally ensures the correct pH and concentration of the urine. The species-appropriate food contains natural, vital proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants in a balance and composition that cannot be imitated in the laboratory with individual inferior ingredients. You are able to buy the ingredients like fresh meat and vegetables yourself and you know exactly what the prepared feed contains. Although raw feed is of much higher quality, it is usually no more expensive than premium finished feed.
The effects of a healthy raw food diet on the general condition are obvious: the cats are in top condition and show a balanced nature, a strong, lean and muscular physique as well as healthy skin and shiny fur. Feeding-related problems such as tartar and gum disease do not arise in the first place. Most cats fed raw food have shiny white teeth, especially when given the opportunity to regularly chew pieces of meat or bone. But even if the cat does not want to chew larger pieces due to a change at a later age, raw feeding seems to have a positive effect on the teeth, probably because there are no starchy or sugary food residues on the teeth, as is usually the case Finished feed is the case.
This form of nutrition supports the immune system in an optimal way, so that the animals have a low susceptibility to diseases and parasites. Breeders have found that cats stay healthy, strong and have plenty of milk during the rearing phase of their kittens. Kittens that are given their first solid food in the form of raw food are spared the problems that often arise, such as diarrhea, which can arise from supplementary feeding with ready-made food or baby food. The strong young animals grow into healthy, resilient cats.
In the meantime, thousands of cat and dog owners, some of whom already have thirty or more years of raw feeding experience, have proven that so-called lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, pancreatitis, liver or kidney dysfunction, urinary tract diseases, hormone disorders, digestive problems or allergies do not even arise due to the right raw food diet and some of these diseases can even be cured after switching to raw feed.
Unfortunately, many people only begin to worry about the right nutrition for their cats when the child has literally fallen into the well and the cat is sick. Even if raw feeding can promote the healing process in some diseases, it should not be seen as a treatment or remedy for sick cats, but as a healthy and species-appropriate form of nutrition that helps to keep the cat healthy and nutrition-related problems and diseases do not arise in the first place allow.
You should first study the matter in detail and acquire a sound basic knowledge of nutritional science and the special nutritional needs of cats, because unbalanced raw food can do more harm than good. There is also some work involved in getting the fresh ingredients and making the food. Fresh raw feed can be kept in the refrigerator for a maximum of 2 days, frozen it should not be stored longer than 2 to 3 months, the shorter the better.