domestic life with cat

A cat’s diet should include the right mix of essential nutrients that can impact their oral, digestive, coat, and skin health. But if you’re new to cat ownership, you may not know what cat food ingredients should be included in their food and how these essential ingredients can impact a feline’s health. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know to help you choose the right product for your feline, how these ingredients can keep your cat healthy, strong, and thriving, and how to choose the perfect formula based on your specific cat’s needs.

Cat Food Ingredients to Look for

To maintain optimal health, a cat food should contain six essential nutrients that are appropriate for all life stages:

  • Water
  • Carbs
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Oils
  • Healthy fats

Any type of high-quality formula should provide this type of basic nutritional balance. Many leading cat foods are designed to meet specific needs, such as nutrients for seniors, kittens, or adults. Now, let’s learn more about these important ingredients and find out exactly what to look for when you’re shopping for a new food for your cat.

How to Choose the Best Dry Cat Food

Shopping for the best dry cat food can be tricky, since many are loaded with harmful fillers and additives that can cause all sorts of issues with digestive health, constipation, and poor coat and skin. So, how can you find the right formula for your feline?

kitten eating food

When in doubt, always read the label. When you’re on the hunt for the right dry cat food, pay attention to the order in which the ingredients are listed to ensure proper nutrition. Look for a dry food that lists meat as the first ingredient.  Additionally, the pet food should contain a limited number of ingredients. This will indicate dry food that has a low level of processing. Protein should always be listed first, unless you’re looking for special weight maintenance or gentle formulas for medical reasons.


Meat is the most important ingredient in a cat’s food. Look for food that has a meat content of at least 24%. Avoid pet foods that simply list the protein as meat or meat derivatives, or meat byproducts. Instead, focus on foods that contain whole meat sources, like wild caught fish, poultry and other sources of whole proteins such as:

  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Organ meats
  • Other types of fish

Chicken is one of the most common types of protein that you’ll come across and it’s loaded with all the right nutrients for the perfect meal and a proper diet. While chicken is often gentle on the stomach and less greasy than other types of animal proteins, some cats can become allergic if this is the only type of meat you’ve been giving your cat over the years. If you’re not sure what ingredient is causing an allergic reaction in your pet, skip the chicken and look for novel proteins, such as:

  • Duck
  • Venison
  • Lamb
  • Certain types of fish

Each of these options will make a complete meal for pets and contains all the nutrients related to skin and coat wellness


This ingredient is also important in a cat’s diet. This amino acid is easily produced by the human body. However, felines need taurine added to their food to promote good health. A deficiency in this amino acid can lead to heart disease, congestive heart failure, and blindness. Manufacturers have been including this amino acid in their pet food formulas for decades.

Healthy Fats

cat eating healthy cat food

A cat requires 24% of fat in their daily diet. These fats are just as important as protein. A cat food formula should include high levels of both healthy fat and protein. In most cases, felines are more attracted to food that contains a high concentration of protein fat. Many cat owners make the mistake of purchasing a low fat pet formula, thinking this will help prevent obesity, but in reality, a feline requires a higher fat content. If their meal is low in fat, a cat will often eat more to achieve this type of nutritional requirement. When you’re shopping for a new cat, look for the name of the fat source, such as turkey fat.


Cats are obligate carnivores. This means felines have no biological need for eating carbohydrates, such as grains. A cat may have trouble digesting some types of carbs. Additionally, many allergies in cats are triggered by carb content. Unfortunately, most brands of dry cat food heavily depend on the addition of carbs to hold all of the ingredients together.

Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs

If your cats need a product for sensitive stomachs, then looking for a more natural formula is a must. Making the switch to cat food without grains can solve many digestive issues and can improve both coat and skin health.

Go Grain-Free

Since grains are not a natural part of a feline’s diet, a cat can develop food allergies to grains over time. They may also develop digestive problems, such as irritable bowel disorder. This condition can cause chronic diarrhea, runny stools, vomiting, and painful cramps, shortly after eating. If you’re concerned your cat may be experiencing a grain allergy, then you must make an appointment with their vet to get to the root of their digestive issues and rule out which foods are to blame for their allergic reactions. If it is in fact grain allergies, then switching to a pet food without grains will usually solve the problem.


Prebiotics can be a crucial ingredient for pets with ongoing digestive issues. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that promotes a healthy gut. Basically, prebiotics are consumed by the healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. This type of fuel for the healthy bacteria will ensure that the population thrives. Additionally, the use of prebiotics can help counteract inflammation that’s caused by a diet that’s too high in fats.

Ingredients in Wet Cat Food

cat eating wet food

Most cat owners are already well aware that felines can be pretty picky about what they’re eating. Fortunately, when you know more about their diet requirements, feeding your cat a proper diet is simple. Finding a food that features the right ratio of fat, protein, and carbs for proper nutrition is a must.


If you’re not certain whether or not the formula is a good option for your pet, start reading labels. Most types of wet formulas feature a short and simple ingredients list on the label, so reading these types of labels are much easier than picking apart and googling all the different, complex ingredients you’ll find in kibble.

Better Taste

Cats often prefer eating wet over dry because it’s richer in moisture compared to kibble. Many cats have trouble getting enough hydration from water alone since they usually distrust standing water.

Additionally, canned food does not have as many carb-based fillers, such as corn, as kibble, so they tend to offer better nutrition. The right wet food will promote fat resistance, while improving muscle growth and healthy body mass as cats grow.


In wet food, be sure to look for high amounts of moisture. If you don’t feel that your cat drinks enough water, wet cat food can be a great way to help keep your pet hydrated.


Just like with kibble, a high protein content, derived from a whole meat source, will be vital to your cat’s health.

Vitamins and Minerals

Look for vitamins and minerals derived from natural sources, such as herbs and veggies. Some vitamins and minerals have to be added artificially since they don’t naturally occur in the wild. However, for the most part, a feline can benefit from food that’s vitamin rich, just like people do.


Antioxidants are naturally found in plants such as veggies and fruits, and in the body. Common types of antioxidants include compounds called carotenoids and vitamins E and C. A healthy blend of a variety of antioxidants can be more effective compared to higher levels of a single antioxidant.

Healthy cell function results in the production of damaged molecules called free radicals. Free radicals steal components from other cell molecules and are highly unstable. As they steal from cellular molecules including DNA, protein, and fat, they spread damage. This damage has a chain reaction effect, causing damage to entire cells, which leads in eventual death. This process is called peroxidation. This process is useful since it can help destroy parasites, germs, and cells that have outlived their usefulness.

However, if this process is left unchecked, it can result in the destruction or damage of healthy cells.

A diet that contains the right levels of antioxidants can prevent the widespread cell destruction by donating components that have a stabilizing effect on free radicals.

Ingredients to Avoid in Wet Cat Food

wet and dry cat food

Just like dry pet food, there are certain cat food ingredients in canned that you’ll want to avoid, such as harmful additives and preservatives.

You don’t want your cat’s food to be loaded with fillers, such as corn. This ingredient offers no nutritional value and is instead just used to keep cats feeling full, when in reality, the food should contain whole ingredients such as a high level of lean protein.

Steer clear of a food that contains too many carbs. This issue is more commonly found with dry cat foods, which require some type of filler to hold the food together. However, some wet foods will fill out their recipes with empty carbs.

If you’re not sure if your cats have a grain allergy, it’s best to steer clear of a wet food that’s loaded with grains and opt for a grain free food instead. Grains is one of the most common ingredients that cats develop an allergy to, over time.


While some cat owners may believe that preservatives are a must in cat food and that they’re not harmful, unnatural additives can do more damage than good. Cats need a diet that contains wholesome ingredients, so you should rule out any products that are loaded with additives. Below, I’ll go over some additives to avoid.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole BHA & Butylated Hydroxytoluene BHT

Both BHT and BHA are preservatives that are commonly added to a wide range of processed foods and are designed to prevent the food from changing color, flavor, odor, and will prevent the food from spoiling. These additives are commonly used by pet food manufacturers, even though there are natural, safe alternatives available. Unfortunately, many studies have shown that BHT and BHA are carcinogens. These preservatives can increase an animal’s risk of cancer, can negatively impact cell development and can cause an enlarged liver.

These preservatives may also cause behavioral problems in pets, according to some animal trainers, veterinarians, and animal behaviorists.

But cat food manufacturers don’t have to use these harmful ingredients, since there are natural preservatives available.

You must avoid products that contain BHT and BHA. Instead, look for pet foods that contain natural preservatives, such as rosemary, vitamin E, citric acid, and vitamin C.

Association of American Feed Control

Cat foods aren’t as closely regulated as human foods. However, production processes and nutritional content and quality has improved over the years.

The Association of American Feed Control does not have any regulatory control over cat food. Instead, it’s an independent organization that consists of members from the FDA and the State Department of Agriculture. This organization writes model bills that are often accepted as state law. The AAFCO has established nutritional requirements for dog and cat food and has also established the legal definitions for all animal feed and food ingredients. They are also responsible for the labeling requirements of all types of cat and dog food. Because of the AADF, most states require a guaranteed analysis of the ingredients in pet foods, for nutritional control purposes.

Final Thoughts

This extensive list of important ingredients in wet and dry pet food will ensure you choose a pet food formula that’s designed to promote a healthy weight, immune, coat, and skin wellness and provide the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your cat needs to thrive. Remember, always avoid products that are loaded with artificial flavors, preservatives, and fillers. Instead, look for a pet food that contains natural ingredients, whole foods, and added supplements such as prebiotics and probiotics, to boost digestive health and ensure you’re feeding your pet a complete formula.