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Once upon a time, pet owners had a very limited number of options to choose from when it came to commercial foods for their pet.
Today, however, the modern pet owners has a nearly unlimited array of options. Not only are the options endless, but pet food manufacturers pull out all the stops, doing everything they can to convince consumers to choose their products over their competitor’s. In some cases, this includes the use of misleading marketing terms and lofty health claims plastered on pet food packages designed to attract the attention of the average pet owner.
What is the Best Holistic Cat Food?
You do not have to be an expert in animal nutrition to be able to distinguish between a high-quality and a low-quality product. It does take a certain degree of knowledge about the nutritional needs of cats, but the process for comparing different commercial cat food products is actually quite simple. What complicates things is the inclusion of buzz words like “premium” or “quality” or “holistic” which may or may not be founded in truth. There are no rules for the use of such words in pet food labeling so many low-quality brands cover their food packages with pretty pictures and fancy words to misdirect the attention of consumers, leading them to believe that their products are better than they are. If you are serious about feeding your cat a healthy diet, take the time to learn what terms like “holistic” actually mean and how they apply to pet foods.
What is Holistic Cat Food?
If you take a walk down the pet food aisle at your local grocery store you will see dozens, maybe even hundreds of products from different brands and manufacturers. When you take a closer look at the individual packages, you will see a number of different marketing schemes at play. Some brands rely on the use of colorful pictures to attract the attention of consumers while others make dramatic health claims about their products. For some, it is all about buzz words like “premium” or “natural” – you will also see the word “holistic” thrown around in some cases. But what does the word “holistic” really mean in reference to commercial cat food?
When it comes to pet foods, there are few regulations regarding the use of specific words like “holistic”. Neither the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have set a legal definition of the word “holistic,” so pet food companies can use the word however they please. Though there is no legal definition of the word, the use of the term “holistic” makes certain implications about the product. The general definition of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is “relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than with individual parts”. Holistic medicine is commonly defined as, “the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit” or a practice that “integrates conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease… and to promote optimal health”.
Given these definitions, there are certain things you might come to expect from a holistic pet food. For one thing, you would expect all of the ingredients to be completely natural – no artificial additives or preservatives. You might also expect all of the ingredients to be of high quality and beneficial to the animal for which the food is designed – fresh meats, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables instead of by-products and fillers. Another important implication of the word “holistic” is that all of the ingredients included in the recipe are chosen for the benefit of the animal – they are not included to make the product more appealing to humans or to tempt the animal to eat something that it normally wouldn’t eat (think added colors, flavors, and dyes).
Though there is no legal definition for the term “holistic,” you can probably tell just by looking at the ingredients list for the product whether the term is being used solely as a marketing ploy or if its use is founded in truth. If you see high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, and digestible carbohydrates at the top of the ingredients list and you do not see any artificial or low-quality ingredients, the term “holistic” actually applies to the quality of the product. If you see an ingredients list filled with by-products, artificial flavors, chemicals, and preservatives, the term is probably being used as a marketing ploy to lead the consumer to think that the product is of higher quality than it really is.
What Makes a High-Quality Holistic Cat Food?
In order to understand what sets a high-quality cat food apart from a low-quality cat food, you first need to understand the basics about cat nutrition. All animals require a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrate in their diet. Cats in particular, however, are obligate carnivores which means that most of their nutrition needs to come from protein, specifically animal proteins. A cat’s body is designed to digest and absorb nutrients from animal meats and fats – it has a very limited ability to process carbohydrate. In fact, the only carbohydrates that wild cats get come from the stomach contents of their prey and they have already been partially digested.
Given this information, you may wonder why commercial cat foods include carbohydrates at all. While some pet food manufacturers use far too many carbohydrates, a small amount of carbohydrate in a cat’s diet can help to facilitate healthy digestion and to provide certain essential vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind, however, that the best carbohydrates for cats are digestible sources like cooked brown rice or oatmeal – gluten-free and grain-free options like tapioca, sweet potato, or fresh fruits and vegetables are also a good option. Ideally, however, your cat’s diet should contain no more than 10% carbohydrate from any source.
Though certain plants like peas and alfalfa contain a good bit of protein, it is not as biologically valuable to your cat as animal-based proteins. Your cat’s body simply isn’t designed to process plant materials as efficiently as animal products. This being the case, a high-quality cat food should contain a significant amount of animal protein from high-quality sources like fresh meats, poultry, fish, and seafood. Fats are another important part of a cat’s diet because they provide essential fatty acids as well as a highly concentrated source of energy. Like protein, fats should come from high-quality animal sources like chicken fat or salmon oil. Many protein sources contain some level of fat as well, especially fish. Plant-based fats are not necessarily bad for your cat but they are best when they are used as a supplemental source of fatty acids, second to at least one animal source of fat.
Now that you know the basics of cat nutrition you will be able to understand what makes a high-quality holistic cat food. Based on the definitions provided earlier of the word “holistic”, you can assume that a holistic cat food will be formulated in such a way as to provide for the nutritional needs of cats without any unnecessary ingredients. Simply put, holistic cat foods should nourish your cat’s whole body by providing complete and balanced nutrition with no additives or fillers. A quality holistic cat food, then, will be primarily made up of high-quality sources of animal protein and fat with a limited amount of digestible carbohydrates. You may also see supplements like dried fermentation products (probiotics to help support healthy digestion), omega fatty acids (for healthy skin and coat), chelated minerals (for maximum absorption), and essential vitamins. If there are any ingredients that you cannot identify or that do not fit within these categories, the product may not actually meet the definition of “holistic”.
Tips for Interpreting a Cat Food Label
Having an understanding of cat nutrition and the requirements for a holistic cat food product is important, but it won’t do you any good unless you know how to interpret the information provided on a cat food label. If you know what you are looking for, the information on the label will tell you everything you need to know about a pet food product but there are three main parts that you should pay particular attention to:
- AAFCO Statement of Nutritional Adequacy – You may already know that AAFCO is responsible for the regulation of the production and manufacture of pet foods and livestock feed. But what you really need to know is that this organization has established minimum levels for the complete and balanced nutrition of dogs and cats in all life stages. These nutrient profiles are compared to the ingredients list for pet food products before they can be sold to determine whether they provide for the nutritional needs of cats in the maintenance state (adult cats) or the growth and reproduction stage (kittens and pregnant or lactating females). If the product meets the minimum requirements for the animal in the designated life stage, there will be a statement of nutritional adequacy somewhere on the label that looks something like this, “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles”.
- Guaranteed Analysis – All pet food labels are required to carry a guaranteed analysis which shows the minimum or maximum values for four specific nutrients – crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture. The minimum protein value recommended for cats is 35%. For fats, kittens require a minimum value of 8% and 5%. Fiber is a little bit different – you want to see a low number rather than a high number, no more than 10%. Keep in mind that these values are for dry cat foods – the guaranteed analysis for wet foods is usually a little different because you need to convert it to a dry matter basis to get the actual number. To do so, simply take the total moisture content of the canned food and subtract it from 100% – this will give you the total amount of dry matter. Then, simply divide that percentage (as a whole number) by the percentage of each nutrient (protein, fat, and fiber) to find the dry matter calculation. For wet foods, you want to see a guaranteed analysis with a protein value of at least 8% (ideally 10% or more), a fat value of at least 4%, and a fiber content at or below 3%.
- Ingredients List – This is the part of the label that tells you everything that goes into the product. These lists are formulated in descending order by volume, so you know that the ingredients at the top of the list are present in the highest quantity. Keep in mind that the ingredients list is generally compiled of pre-cooked ingredients – ingredients that have a high moisture level may see a significant reduction in volume by the time the product is cooked. This is particularly true for fresh meats like chicken which contain up to 80% water. When the product is cooked down to a moisture level around 10%, the actual volume of protein from this ingredient will be a fraction of the original. This is why meat meals are such a valuable ingredient in holistic pet foods – they have already been cooked to remove moisture so they contain up to 4 times as much protein by volume as fresh meats.
Taking a few minutes to review these three parts of the pet food label should be enough to give you a good idea of the quality of the product. If the product does not carry a statement of nutritional adequacy from AAFCO, it is neither a quality nor a holistic product and you shouldn’t use it as a staple diet for your cat. If the guaranteed analysis doesn’t meet the minimum value requirements for protein and fat, or if it contains too much fiber, it isn’t a good choice for your pet. If the ingredients list shows too many low-quality ingredients or if the important ingredients do not appear at the beginning of the list, you should move on to the next option. It is as simple as that.
Recommended Brands for Holistic Cat Food
If you think that a holistic cat food might be right for your pet, take your time when comparing different options. Keep in mind that just because a pet food package has the word “holistic” printed on it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true – it is up to you to review the information on the label to determine the quality of the product. To help you get started in looking for holistic cat foods, consider some of the top-rated brands of holistic cat food reviewed below:
Smalls for Smalls makes fresh, human-grade cat food carefully formulated for your cat based on a profile you create when you sign up. Smalls for Smalls recipes are great because they have a high protein content, providing your cat with the nutrition he or she needs to live a healthy lifestyle. They also have high water content, which will help keep your cat hydrated. They would be considered holistic because they do not add any fillers or artificial flavors or preservatives. The recipes focus on the nutrition needed for your cat and nothing more!
Because cats are primarily carnivores, most of their nutrition should come from meat, and in Smalls for Smalls recipes, they do just that. Chicken is obviously the most abundant ingredient in this recipe. Human-grade ingredients are fit for human consumption, so there is no guess work involved in figuring out if this food is safe for your cat or not. If you want to provide your cat with a wholesome meal with ingredients you can trust, Smalls for Smalls is a great choice.
The Holistic Select pet food company has been producing and manufacturing high-quality diets for cats and dogs for more than 10 years. This company has a strong commitment to quality when it comes to providing nutritious diets for pets and they follow a holistic approach to nutrition, ensuring that their products are designed to nurture the whole body of cats and dogs. Every Holistic Select recipe is made with a Unique Digestive Health Support System which includes digestive enzymes, dietary fiber, prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive botanicals to ensure that your pet gets the maximum nutritional benefit from each bite. Additionally, all products are made with fresh, natural ingredients like healthy proteins, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and omega fatty acids.
The Holistic Select Company offers a selection of both dry food and wet cat food products. There are four dry food recipes to choose from including two adult recipes, one recipe for adults and kittens, and one recipe specially designed to promote healthy weight in indoor cats. These recipes feature quality animal proteins like chicken meal, duck meal, turkey, sardines, and salmon. In addition to these dry food formulas, Holistic Select also offers seven holistic canned food recipes. All of these recipes are completely grain-free and they are formulated for cats in all life stages. These recipes feature quality proteins like turkey, shrimp, ocean fish, and tuna in formulas designed to appeal to a cat’s cravings for natural flavors. Any of these products would be a good choice in holistic cat food for your pet.
The Blackwood Pet Food Company produces slow-cooked pet foods in small batches to ensure quality and safety. This company was founded as a family-owned company in Ohio and it is still known for producing high-quality, hand-crafted recipes. Not only does Blackwood produce quality products, but their food packages are designed to tell you exactly what you need to know – the amount of protein, fat, and fiber in each serving as well as a promise that no corn, wheat, or soy ingredients were used in the process. Every one of Blackwood’s products are slow cooked instead of being extruded like most commercial pet foods – this leads to enhanced starch conversion for increased energy and stamina in your pet. Read more about this process on the Blackwood website.
Blackwood offers holistic pet food products for both dogs and cats, but their selection is fairly limited. There are five so-called Everyday recipes to choose from – an Original formula, one for Kittens, one for Adults, one for Seniors/weight control, and one for Indoor cats. In addition to these formulas, Blackwood also offers a selection of grain-free and canned food recipes. The two dry food formulas are Chicken Meal & Field Pea and Duck Meal, Salmon Meal & Field Pea. Canned food options include Ocean Fish & Vegetable; Turkey, Tripe & Veggie; and Chicken, Salmon & Veggie. All of Blackwood’s products are made with high-quality animal proteins, digestible carbohydrates, and fresh fruits and vegetables. They have a guaranteed minimum of 30% protein, an average of 17% fat, and no more than 3% fiber.
With a name like Earthborn Holistic, you can expect this company to offer high-quality pet food products made with fresh, natural ingredients and that is exactly true. The Earthborn Holistic pet food company follows a wholesome approach to pet nutrition, using quality ingredients in formulas that are designed to nourish the whole body of cats and dogs. Each formula this company offers is nutritionally balanced, formulated to support the physical and mental health of pets. Holistic cat food products from Earthborn Holistic feature quality animal proteins, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, and a precise blend of essential nutrients, all combined in formulas that are highly palatable and healthy for cats. There are both dry food and wet food options to choose from.
As is true for many holistic pet food companies, Earthborn Holistic offers a limited array of options but each recipe is formulated for maximum nutritional value. There are three dry food recipes including the Feline Vantage formula which features chicken meal and brown rice, plus a blend of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids for a strong immune system and healthy skin and coat. There are also two grain-free dry food options – Primitive Feline and Wild Sea Catch. These products are formulated for adult cats and kittens, made with grain-free carbohydrates like peas and potatoes. Earthborn Holistic also offers seven wet food options, all of which are grain-free. These formulas feature quality proteins like chicken, mackerel, shrimp, salmon, whitefish, beef, and liver. All of these formulas are made with gluten- and grain-free carbohydrates and they are loaded with natural flavor.
The Halo pet food company started with a kitten named Spot who, as he grew into adult, became plagued by health problems. Spot’s owner tried everything to improve his health but didn’t see any real results until she created her own all-natural, holistic diet. The company has been offering high-quality, holistic pet food products since 1986 and they continue to follow the same standards for quality that they always have. Halo offers their customers what they call the “Halo Difference” which promises real animal proteins (no rendered meats or by-product meals), natural recipes, and no artificial ingredients. Each and every one of Halo’s recipes is designed with a holistic approach to nutrition, formulated to support whole-body health in cats and dogs. Another factor that sets the Halo pet food company apart is the fact that they donate 1.5 million bowls of food to animal shelters around the country each and every year.
Halo offers a selection of dry food recipes, wet food recipes, and freeze-dried kiblets for cats and dogs. There are two main product lines in dry food formulas for cats – Vigor and Spot’s Stew. The Vigor line includes two grain-free dry food products made with quality proteins like chicken, turkey, whitefish, salmon, and lamb. Spot’s Stew comes in eight different flavors, half of which are grain-free. Two of these formulas are designed for healthy weight maintenance, two for indoor cats, two for cats with sensitive stomachs, one for adult cats, and one for seniors. For wet foods, Halo offers three Vigor formulas, four Impulse recipes, two Spot’s Choice shredded recipes, four grain-free Spot’s Pate options, and six Spot’s Stew recipes. Any of these products would be a good choice for your cat.
If you are serious about keeping your cat in excellent health, you should definitely consider feeding him a holistic cat food. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to sift through the many options available at the pet store to find a high-quality product that actually fits the definition of “holistic”. Using the information in this article you can cultivate a deeper understanding of your cat’s nutritional needs as well as an understanding of what goes into a holistic cat food so you can make an educated decision when choosing a commercial cat food product for your pet.