A lot of people think that vets don’t get much education in nutrition. In fact, as a veterinarian, I had XX hours of nutrition lectures, practicals, seminars, and workshops, not to mention many years of experience since. But what I recommend might still surprise you – it’s probably not what you’ve been told or read in online reviews!
The Vet’s Approach to Diet
Wet vs Dry
Should you feed your cat wet food or dry food? There are certainly pros and cons to each, and it can be hard to decide. As a veterinarian, and in the absence of any medical conditions, I would advise that you feed your cats a mixture of both wet and dry: around 75% of the diet calories should be from wet cat food, whilst the other 25% can be from dry food.
Food Brands to Avoid
The truth is, there are hundreds of food brands out there, and most will be just fine for most cats. But for those that want to go the extra mile for their cats, there are a few food brands to avoid. I would strongly recommend avoiding anything that claims to be vegetarian or vegan – it is unethical to feed these to cats, which have evolved as carnivores. I’d also avoid brands that seem to have spent more on marketing than nutrition. You can read reviews online, but I’d also follow our guide below to make sure you aren’t just picking the popular food, you’re picking a veterinarian-recommended cat food.
Wet & Dry Vet-Recommended Cat Foods — Our Favorites
Vet-Recommended Wet Cat Food Comparisons
|Best Overall||Purina Pro Plan Savor Adult||
|Best for Weight Loss||Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Weight Management||
|Best for Urinary Health||Hill’s Science Diet Urinary Hairball Control||
|Best for Weight Gain||Purina Pro Plan Critical Nutrition||
|Best for Sensitive Stomachs||Hills i/d||
Vet-Recommended Dry Cat Food Comparisons
|Best Overall||Hills Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care||
|Best for Weight Loss||Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic||
|Best for Urinary Health||Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Urinary Tract Health||
|Best for Weight Gain||Royal Canin Feline Health Kitten||
|Best for Sensitive Stomachs||Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Fiber Response||
The 6 Best Vet-Recommended Wet Cat Foods
1. Purina Pro Plan Savor Adult Cat Food – Best Overall
For discerning cats, the best wet cat food has to be the Purina Pro Plan ‘Savor’ range. There are lots of flavor combinations, all of which have been formulated to be complete and balanced without losing out on the texture that interests your cat. It’s also high in protein and contains added omega three and six to give your cat’s coat gloss and shine.
Best of all, like all Purina Pro Plan products, it’s made in the USA and backed by research done by veterinarians, nutritionists, and scientists. In fact, Purina Pro Plan is one of the few ranges that regularly do feeding trials to prove the nutritional content of their food. The results? Cats love it, and so do their owners. And even better – so do us vets! The only downside is that the tins are small, so you may need several per cat, per day!
2. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Weight Management Cat Food – Best for Weight Loss
Although not a prescription diet, this weight management food from Purina is one of the best wet cat foods on the market. As a veterinarian, I often use this as a less-expensive, non-prescription alternative for cat owners that struggle to afford some of the clinical and prescription diets. It has just 79 calories per can, meaning that it is easy for pet parents to portion.
Cats eating this food will get to have several small meals throughout the day, which is considered ideal for feline behavior as well as satiety (the feeling of being full). Cats that don’t feel full pester for more food, which can be a huge barrier to healthy weight loss. The protein content is also high at 54% (dry matter basis), which contributes to satiety and also ensures that cats don’t lose condition when they lose weight.
The main problem with this food is its palatability. Like many weight loss foods, palatability can be a concern and there are certain cats that won’t eat this food. Still, cats will be cats, and I’m the same with Ryvita so we can’t blame the food too much! On the whole, it has great reviews so it is definitely worth giving it a go if your kitty is on the porky side!
3. Hill’s Science Diet Urinary & Hairball Control Cat Food – Best for Urinary Health
For cats that need a helping hand in the urinary department, veterinarians like to reach for Hills. This diet is perfect for cats that are prone to suffering from urinary issues, such as indoor cats and overweight cats. The key feature of this wet cat food is the careful balance of minerals to avoid crystals, sludge, and stones forming in the urinary tract. Struvite is one of the most common crystal types formed in our feline friends, and it is principally made of magnesium, so this is the most important mineral to balance. Being a wet diet, this cat food also encourages a more natural water intake for cats.
Please note that urinary problems can be severe and even fatal in cats. If your cat suffers from urinary issues you should discuss their diet choices with your vet. This food is not a cheaper alternative to the prescription diets, so if your vet prescribes Hill’s c/d or s/d you should use only that food or ask them for an alternative.
4. Purina Pro Plan Critical Nutrition Cat Food – Best for Weight Gain
Whilst the vast majority of cats are overweight, there are a few who need a helping hand with their weight gain. This is especially true of cats who have been ill, or who have recently been rescued. This food is high calorie at 208 kcal/5.5 oz can, meaning even cats who struggle to eat much should be able to get their daily calorie allowance. It’s even been formulated with a smooth consistency in case syringe feeding becomes necessary.
Please note it is very important to follow your veterinarian’s advice when it comes to your cat’s weight. Most healthy adult cats do not need to gain any weight, but if you’re not sure then your vet will be able to tell you whether they’re at an ideal weight or not, or you can read our guide below. If you think your cat is losing weight you should also take them in for a check over, as many medical conditions can contribute to weight loss, and simply feeding more will not correct the problem.
5. Hills i/d Cat Food – Best for Sensitive Stomachs
Wherever I’ve worked as a vet, we always have this on the shelf or in the back office. Not only is it ideal for inpatients being fed after surgery (it reduces the chance of us having to deal with an ‘explosive’ reaction if a patient has a sensitive stomach!) but it’s ideal for cats presented with vomiting and diarrhea, as it is easy to digest.
This food contains highly digestible chicken and pork as the protein sources. It also has plenty of fiber to maintain digestive tract health. Cats seem to love it but bear in mind that the stew consistency won’t agree with everybody, and picky cats can use the opportunity to leave the bits they don’t like, resulting in an unbalanced diet. Although this diet requires a veterinary prescription/authorization, most vets will be happy to recommend this diet for most cats, so it isn’t an arduous process.
6. Royal Canin Kitten Thin Slices in Gravy – Best for Kittens
This cat food comes very highly rated by vets and owners alike. It has been developed by scientists at Royal Canin to provide optimal nutrition for growing kittens. They’ve balanced for gentle growth whilst still providing energy for play, meaning this kitten food will keep your cat happy and well-fed to 12 months of age.
The protein content is 55% and they’ve named the protein sources, so you know exactly what it is that your kitten is getting. It also contains added vitamins, minerals, and taurine to ensure there’s everything your cat needs. They’ve even thought to make the slices smaller to make it easier for those tiny teeth and mouths! They’ve made the cans quite small though, which means you might get through several a day as your cat gets older.
The 6 Best Vet-Recommended Dry Cat Foods
1. Hills Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care Cat Food – Best Overall
It might surprise you that my number one dry food for cats is a dental care diet, but dental problems are very commonly encountered in cats and have now been proven to affect heart and kidney health. So what could be more important than looking after kitty’s teeth? Whilst most dry foods don’t seem to have any impact on dental health, the Hill’s t/d diets are clinically proven to reduce plaque and tartar build-up. The kibble shape, size, and texture helps to clean your cat’s teeth, therefore reducing the occurrence of dental plaque. It’s got the Veterinary Oral Health Council ‘Accepted Product’ seal, too- so you know it’s clinically proven to help with dental problems. If you’re going to feed dry food to your cat, I’d strongly recommend you buy a food that works as hard as this one at keeping them healthy. The only catch is the price tag- as a clinically-proven diet, it costs a lot more than the average bag of pet food at the supermarket! It’s also a prescription diet, which means it needs veterinary approval- but most vets will not hesitate to provide your supplier with the correct authorization.
2. Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic – Best for Weight Loss
We recently had a discussion about the best cat weight-loss food on one of our veterinary forums. And this product was named as the best dry cat food for weight loss by almost all of the vets that participated. It is scientifically proven to help cats lose weight – 88% of cats lost weight within just two months in one of their feeding trials. It contains satiety-enhancing ingredients to help your cat feel fuller for longer, so they won’t be pestering you at their food bowl. It also contains ingredients such as L-carnitine to activate your cat’s natural fat-burning mechanisms. Best of all, since overweight cats are so prone to urinary issues, Hills has developed this food to promote a healthier urinary environment.
3. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Urinary Tract Health – Best for Urinary Health
Purina Pro Plan has developed this food to protect your cat’s urinary tract. The food has been formulated to produce a low urine pH, which Purina has proven reduces the occurrence of some crystals in the urine. This means it’s less likely that your cat gets the most common types of bladder crystals or stones. They also reduced sources of dietary magnesium; this should reduce the chance of struvite crystal formation.
Although this diet has lots of great benefits, it’s not a replacement for a prescription diet, which can actually treat urinary conditions. If your vet recommends a prescription diet that your cat won’t eat, you should ask them for alternative suggestions to ensure your cat is still getting the benefits they need. It’s also often best to increase water intake for cats with urinary issues, so a wet diet is preferable to a dry one.
4. Royal Canin Feline Health Kitten – Best for Weight Gain
Whilst the vast majority of cats do not need to gain weight, elderly cats or those recovering from illness may benefit from extra calories to regain condition. And just giving them extra portions of their usual diet won’t necessarily be enough- sometimes their tiny stomachs can’t take in all the nutrients they need unless the food you’re feeding is calorie-dense. Kitten food is higher in calories and can be fed to adult cats for a short time to help them gain weight.
This kitten food from Royal Canin is manufactured to exacting standards by a well-respected company. At 369 calories per cup, it packs a lot of nutrition into a small portion. It also contains plenty of vitamins and minerals to ensure your cat is getting everything they need, even if their appetite is reduced.
Please note that if your cat is losing weight, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by your veterinarian. This food may not be safe if the reason for their weight loss is an undiagnosed disease.
5. Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Fiber Response – Best for Sensitive Stomachs
This dry cat food is recommended by many veterinarians for cats with sensitive stomachs. It has been carefully formulated to provide everything your adult cat needs in terms of nutrition, with easy-to-digest ingredients. This diet has plenty of fiber from many different sources- these promote normal intestinal movement, well-formed feces, and healthy gut bacteria. It also contains feline-appropriate prebiotics to provide those ‘good’ gut bacteria with everything they need.
Psyllium seed husks are also added as they absorb excess moisture to keep stools formed. Although this product requires veterinary authorization, most vets will be happy to prescribe to any cat suffering from recurrent vomiting or diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, or regurgitation after eating.
6. Hill’s Science Diet Kitten – Best for Kittens
This dry kitten food from Hill’s is one of the best products on the market for feeding your young and growing kitten. It’s manufactured in the USA using ingredients that exceed industry standards, and is loved by vets all over. The growing stage is the most important part of your cat’s life when it comes to diet – little deficiencies here can quickly add up, which is why it’s so important to buy from a scientifically-backed company like Hill’s, which does feeding trials to ensure their products are up to scratch.
Most importantly, this dry kitten food from Hill’s contains bio-available taurine to prevent dietary-related heart conditions. It also has balanced protein to encourage ideal growth rates and the Omega-6 DHA which is important for your kitten’s sight and brain development. They’ve even made the kibble small for little mouths! The only problem is the price tag- compared to many other brands, Hill’s is a lot more expensive- but I feel your kitten’s health is worth investing in and I regularly recommend this food!
Other Health Needs
1. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Hairball – Best for Preventing Hairballs
As a veterinarian, I often see cats with hairballs. Whilst many causes of hairballs are medical, so a vet’s input is needed, dietary support can help cats to get rid of troublesome hairballs whilst the cause of the overgrooming is found. For long-haired cats especially, a good hairball diet can make a huge difference to your cat’s quality of life. This hairball diet from Purina has it all, and vets and reviewers certainly seem to agree that it is one of the best hairball foods on the market.
It’s high in fiber, which promotes good gut movement and helps to move your cat’s ingested hair through the gut, instead of piling up in the stomach. It also contains ingredients to support good coat and skin health- like Vitamin A and Omega-6 fatty acids- in order to reduce the need for grooming. As it’s complete and balanced- and backed by science- this product is safe to feed for life, making it an easy way to improve your cat’s wellbeing.
The only downside to this food is that it contains protein from lots of different sources, so if food allergies play a part in your cat’s grooming, this food may not be for them. Not working for your cat? Talk to your vet about ruling out allergies using a hydrolyzed protein diet.
2. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Indoor Care – Best for Indoor-Only Cats
You might be wondering why indoor cats need a different type of food. The reason is that indoor-only cats can be prone to a range of diseases that are rarer in outdoor cats- such as obesity and urinary problems. This range from Purina Pro Plan is specially formulated to help your cats avoid some of these issues. It’s low-calorie and contains natural fiber from chicory root to help to prevent hairballs. It’s also rich in Omega-6 for skin and coat health – which may help reduce the need for grooming in cats. This indoor cat food is also high in protein to help your cat feel fuller and maintain a healthy weight. The main problem with this food is that the pH and magnesium content are not formulated for reduced crystals, so won’t help to prevent urinary problems.
If your indoor cat is already overweight or has had urinary problems, another great option is Hills Prescription Metabolic + Urinary Stress, which combines a weight-loss food with urine-protection properties and calming ingredients.
3. Royal Canin Aging – Best for Older Cats
This product from Royal Canin really does it all for your senior cat. Aging cats have specific health needs, and this diet will help to provide the best nutrition for your cat as he or she ages. Royal Canin has carefully researched the effect of diet on kidney disease, and have balanced this diet to have lower levels of phosphorus to protect the kidneys. Older cats need lower levels of protein, but the protein should be high quality- at 28% protein, this diet meets your senior cat’s needs perfectly. It also contains added glucosamine and chondroitin for supporting healthy joints, although the levels aren’t as high as I’d usually recommend, so extra supplementation might be necessary. You also need to bear in mind that this diet is only suitable for senior cats without disease- if your cat is suffering from renal disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, dental disease, or joint disease, they may benefit from a more specialized diet.
There’s a lot of discussion as to the best pet food brands, and finding a ‘good’ one is very important to pet owners. All of the brands out there are competing for your purchase, so they use a lot of different marketing techniques to persuade you to buy. I highly recommend assessing a food using the WSAVAs guide and also reading The Savvy Cat Owner’s Guide: Nutrition on the Internet. The Pet Nutrition Alliance also went to the trouble of contacting all of the manufacturers of all of the brands available for sale in the USA and Canada in 2019 and asking them some of the questions recommended by the WSAVA. Their answers can be found here: Manufacturer Report.
Why have you recommended pet foods that contain by-products and grain?
One of the biggest pet nutrition myths out there is that grains are ‘bad’ and that diets should be made of ‘real ingredients, not by-products’.
What is a byproduct? By-products are the bits of animals that we humans don’t like to eat, especially here in the West. This doesn’t mean that these ingredients are bad (in fact, humans eat these parts of the animal world over), but they’d still be thrown away if we didn’t use them for pet food. This includes livers, hard-to-reach muscles like cheek muscles, and chicken feet; all of which are commonly recommended by raw-feeders, but as soon as they’re labeled by-products are considered ‘bad’.
The thing is, these are all perfectly good sources of animal protein. And in a world where people are starving and we have to consider the environmental impact of meat production, feeding pets the prime cuts instead of giving them to people can be an ethical conundrum.
Grains are also getting a bad reputation. This is because pet foods follow human food trends, and whilst humans are playing around with grain-free, paleo, low-carb diets, manufacturers of pet foods play on that when marketing their foods. Grains provide excellent sources of nutrients not found in high quantities elsewhere, so they’re often added for this reason.
The grain-free argument for cat foods is often augmented by the definition of cats as ‘obligate carnivores’- it’s a common misconception that this means that cats can only eat meat, but this is incorrect. In fact, ‘obligate carnivore’ means that cats have to eat meat to survive- they can’t be vegetarians, as they need nutrients that are not present in vegetables. This doesn’t mean they can’t eat anything other than meat though, as any owner of a cat that likes to steal bread, cake or carrots will tell you!
In other words, your cat needs to eat nutrients, not ingredients- and the ingredients list is not a good indicator of the quality of pet food. You can read more about why here: Stop reading your pet food ingredient list! – Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School and here: Why you shouldn’t judge a pet food by its ingredient list.
How much food should I feed my cat?
All cat foods state on the label the calorie content and suggested feeding guidelines in cups or tins so that you can work out how much to feed your cat based on their weight. However, it’s important to remember that every cat is unique and will metabolize their food differently. Cats also have a huge variation in ‘normal’ weight, from 5.5 pounds to 18 pounds or more!
First, you should work out your cat’s weight and body condition score (BCS). The body condition score determines whether or not your cat is overweight, and in the case of the 9-point scale, it even approximates how much overweight your cat is. You then need to work out the calorie allowance for your cat. Your local veterinary clinic will usually offer a free consultation to determine this, or you can go to the Pet Nutrition Alliance’s calculator to get a recommended feeding amount in calories. You can then use the ‘food’ tab to type in the calorie content of your pet’s food (found on the back of the packet, usually in the ‘guaranteed analysis’ section) to get a recommendation for the number of tins or cups you should be feeding your pet each day. If you’re mixing wet and dry food, don’t forget to split the daily calorie allowance between the two so you don’t overfeed your cat.
What treats can I safely feed my cat?
Everybody loves to treat their pets, and as a vet, I always calculate a treat allowance into a meal plan for cats. In order to make sure your pet doesn’t end up overweight, you should definitely consider their calorie allowance when it comes to treats. Nutrition experts recommend that no more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories come from treats, and don’t forget to take those calories out of your calculations for daily food allowance!
As for what sort of treats – there are lots of cat treats on the market that are suitable- as a vet I like to opt for dual-purpose treats such as those that help with dental health or hairballs. I’d definitely steer clear of ‘human’ food though, as flavorings and ingredients can be toxic to cats, and it can be really hard to find out how many calories are in a ‘small bit of tuna’.
Is it OK to mix wet and dry cat foods?
Absolutely! In fact, I generally recommend feeding a combination of wet cat food and dry cat food. Research is beginning to show that wet cat food is closer to the real moisture content of the natural prey diet; and since cats aren’t good drinkers, getting the right amount of water in their diet is more important than it is for dogs. Having said that, wet cat foods don’t benefit dental health. Not all dry foods do, either! As a vet, my go-to recommended mix is to feed 70-80% of calories as wet food, and the remaining 20-30% as dry kibble – ideally something that helps with dental disease, like our number one dry food above.
What sort of cat bowl should I get?
Although lions in the zoo are different from your cat in many ways, the fact remains that both need enrichment when they eat. In fact, part of our duties as owners are that we allow our cats to express natural behaviors- like hunting. The wild ancestors of our domestic cats would have spent most of their day hunting; our pet cats can eat a bowl of food in minutes, leaving them with hours of the day to fill. For your cat’s mental and physical health, you should consider feeding them with puzzle feeders that allow them to express some of this natural behavior. Many types of puzzle feeders are available, from the ‘treat ball’ style all the way through to those designed like mice for your cat to ‘hunt’.
- Related Read: Best Cat Food Mats – Reviews & Top Picks
How long does wet cat food last if it’s not opened?
This varies between brands and even by batch. Your cans of cat food will come with a use-by date on them. Food should be used before the end of this date in order to be safe and nutritious. Depending on how long the food has been on the shelf since its production, you should get a year or more to feed the food to your cat. You should store it in a cool and dry place, and take care that no tins are damaged if you’re planning to store them for a while.
How long can wet food remain in the bowl?
If your cat doesn’t eat all of their portion of food, you should discard any remaining wet food after four hours – sooner, if it is a warm day. The moisture content of wet food makes it ideal for bacterial and fungal growth, and it’s also prone to attracting flies. Since many mycotoxins from mold can cause issues for your cat, keeping the food fresh is important.
How long does canned food last once it’s open?
You should store open cans of cat food in the fridge. They should also be covered- you can purchase correctly-sized reusable plastic covers. Stored in the fridge, your cat’s food should last 24 hours after opening. If not stored in the fridge, you should discard any unused food after four hours.
What if my cat stops eating a certain type of food?
Cats will be cats! They’re famous for being persnickety, fussy and they change their minds all the time. So, if your cat stops eating a certain type of food, but still has an appetite for other foods, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Cats don’t generally like change, so first, you should check whether you’ve moved your cat’s bowl or changed their bowl. If your cat seems to suddenly prefer wet to dry, it’s also a good idea to get their teeth checked out. Otherwise, you can mix a little of their old food with the food they do like, increasing the amount of old food over time until they’re eating the old food again. Try to do it slowly enough that they don’t notice- several weeks may be necessary for some cats!
Buying the right cat food for your cat is probably harder than you thought, but hopefully reading my veterinary insight and reviews will have made your job a little easier. The first thing to do is get the right food for your cat’s life stage – kittens, adults, and senior cats need different foods. For most adult cats, I recommend a combination of wet food and dry food in order to get the benefits of both. Since wet foods can afford to be a bit more exciting, I recommend the range of flavors in the Purina Pro Plan Savour Adult range – it’s formulated by experts to provide everything your cat needs, whilst remaining appetizing for your cat. Adding in a dry diet can help your cat’s dental health, but only if you choose a diet specifically formulated for dental care. I recommend the t/d diet from Hill’s, which has been clinically proven to reduce plaque and tartar on your cat’s teeth.
- The Vet’s Approach to Diet
- Wet & Dry Vet-Recommended Cat Foods — Our Favorites
- The 6 Best Vet-Recommended Wet Cat Foods
- 1. Purina Pro Plan Savor Adult Cat Food – Best Overall
- 2. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Weight Management Cat Food – Best for Weight Loss
- 3. Hill’s Science Diet Urinary & Hairball Control Cat Food – Best for Urinary Health
- 4. Purina Pro Plan Critical Nutrition Cat Food – Best for Weight Gain
- 5. Hills i/d Cat Food – Best for Sensitive Stomachs
- 6. Royal Canin Kitten Thin Slices in Gravy – Best for Kittens
- The 6 Best Vet-Recommended Dry Cat Foods
- 1. Hills Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care Cat Food – Best Overall
- 2. Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic – Best for Weight Loss
- 3. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Urinary Tract Health – Best for Urinary Health
- 4. Royal Canin Feline Health Kitten – Best for Weight Gain
- 5. Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Fiber Response – Best for Sensitive Stomachs
- 6. Hill’s Science Diet Kitten – Best for Kittens
- Other Health Needs
- Buyers Guide
- How much food should I feed my cat?
- What treats can I safely feed my cat?
- Is it OK to mix wet and dry cat foods?
- What sort of cat bowl should I get?
- How long does wet cat food last if it’s not opened?
- How long can wet food remain in the bowl?
- How long does canned food last once it’s open?
- What if my cat stops eating a certain type of food?