Feeding the cat seems easy – just buy some kibble and pour it in a bowl every morning. But how do you know which cat food is the right one?
Every brand claims to offer the best and tastiest pet nutrition, yet the price points vary incredibly. Surely they can’t all be absolutely amazing; otherwise humans would be eating it.
Are you paying too much? Are you providing the best nutrition to your precious kitty? Does your cat actually like the food or are they just eating it to spare your feelings? These are the questions you should ask yourself rather than just giving up and picking out the packet with the happiest looking cat on it. Cats can’t speak to tell you what they need, so it requires more effort on your part, and ideally personalised advice from your vet.
Read on for a brief overview of some of the major pet food brands available in Australia, before going into further detail about how to choose the right food for your cat amongst the staggeringly huge range of options.
It would be an extremely long article to list every single brand of cat food product available across Australia – so we’ve kept the list confined to the most prominent and widely available brands. Exclusion from this list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sub-par product – it’s just not as popular or well-known
Many brands are produced by the same company, so we’ve divided up the list by parent company. There’s quite a lot of diversity within each group, so each brand should be weighed up individually on its own terms.
One of the biggest players in the pet food market, Purina manufactures a lot of different pet food brands. Below are the cat food brands manufactured by Purina:
The supermarket’s own branded cat food makes keeping your cat well fed much more affordable. The product range covers both dry and wet foods, with the latter coming in a range of tinned and pouch meals. All are formulated to meet the nutrition standards as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Cat Nutrient Profiles.
Smitten dry food is available in 1kg boxes, with two different flavours for adult cats (Beef, Lamb & Vegetables and Sardine, Tuna & Prawn), and one flavour for kittens (Chicken & Tuna). 400g tinned food is available in six different recipes, including one kitten-specific dish. Meal pouches are available in a choice of three different recipes sold individually (100g) or as boxes of twelve in combinations of two different recipes made from the same type of meat.
For a cat lover on a budget, Coles Complete Cuisine offers a wide range of choices while keeping grocery costs low. The range covers dry, tinned, and pouch cat food. The dry food range includes three different flavours, all available in 1kg boxes (as well as 4kg boxes for the Chicken & Salmon Flavour).
Coles Complete Cuisine tinned varieties include three different 85g single-serve meals, as well as six different 400g tins. Finally, the 100g pouch packs are available individually in three different flavours, or as boxes of 12 each with three different flavours. There are four different variety packs, one each for ‘meat’, poultry, and fish.
Taking a simplicity-focussed approach, Applaws cat food is grain-free, and claims to use a minimum 50% animal protein in every product. Applaws cat food is also said to be free from artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, and promises to never use cheap and unnecessary fillers.
The independent company produces a pretty diverse range of recipes, in single-serve tins, plastic pots, and pouches, as well as dry food. The plastic pots are ready-to-eat meals that save washing up kitty’s bowl – just peel off the lid and it’s ready to eat straight from the container. Recipes range from simple fish fillets and chicken breast pieces, to mixed meats with vegetables or cheese, to meats served in broths and jellies.
Started by a breeder to produce a pet food solution that uses only nutritionally beneficial ingredients, Black Hawk is part of the ‘real food movement’. The brand was founded in Australia and is locally made without the use of wheat, corn, soy, gluten, artificial preservatives, colours, and flavours, or unnecessary fillers. Uniquely, Black Hawk contains emu oil which provides omega 3, 6 and 9. The brand is claimed to help pets become happier, healthier, and grow shinier coats. The product range covers only adult cat food. Black Hawk can be purchased from pet retail stores.
While they’re best known for their chocolate (which is definitely not appropriate cat food), international corporation Mars owns a huge range of pet food brands. Some of the bigger names in cat food owned by Mars include the following:
Founded by a vet in New Jersey, USA, to help provide better nutrition to guide dogs suffering from severe kidney problems, Hills now is a major producer of specialised pet food for those suffering from injury or ailment. Hills started with its Prescription Diet product line, followed by the Science Diet brand and later on the Ideal Balance line.
Hills Prescription Diet foods are targeted towards cats managing or recovering from chronic or severe health issues, or recovering from surgery or other medical intervention. A few examples of these specialisations include urinary tract care, thyroid care, weight loss, joint care, and weight reduction. Each is available in a choice of dry or canned food.
Hills Science Diet uses the same principles behind Prescription Diet but for broader consumption for the everyday cat. It covers the expected range of cat foods – for various life stages, hairball prevention, dental health, sensitive stomachs, indoor cats, and weight management. Again, Science Diet covers both dry and canned foods.
The newest addition to the Hills menu, Ideal Balance, is more focussed on ‘natural’ ingredients. Hills Ideal Balance cat food contains no corn, wheat, soy, artificial colours, artificial flavours, or preservatives. A number of recipes are available to choose from in both dry and canned form.
Not all cat food is the same – there can be a drastic difference between different brands and product lines. Unfortunately it can be the case that cheaper is riskier, as it may use more cheap nutritionally deficit fillers or it may not be compliant with Australian standards. This can also happen at the top end of the price range, which is why it’s so important to read the label.
The Australian pet food industry is largely self-regulated. In 2011, industry representatives, the RSPCA and other relevant stakeholders developed the Australian Standard for the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (AS 5812-2011) which sets base standards for pet food nutrition, safety, and marketing. However, adherence to this standard is voluntary – check the packaging to see whether or not it states to be compliant with AS 5812-2011. Also, according to the RSPCA, the regulation of ‘pet meat’ products is seriously lacking.
One longstanding issue with pet food safety in Australia is the use of sulphur dioxide, sodium sulphite, and potassium sulphite as preservatives. These can cause potentially fatal thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiencies in cats and dogs. AS 5812 includes a requirement that any pet food product containing any of these preservatives must contain sufficient thiamine, to prevent a deficiency.
Cats have different dietary needs at different stages in their life – that’s why you’ll see different foods labelled for different kinds of cats.
There are also specialised food products available for special needs cats. If your cat has any chronic health issues, you should consult your vet about the appropriate diet to keep them healthy and happy.
The following ingredients should be avoided in cat food products:
There’s no clear consensus as to which type of cat food is better – dry or wet. ‘Wet’ cat food refers to all soft food types that come in tins, packets and sachets. Both wet and dry cat foods are nutritionally complete, provided they meet the Australian Standard. Dry cat food is generally considered to be good for teeth, while wet is considered good for bone and muscle development. However, it’s not a huge difference between the two. In the end, the choice comes down to personal preference (of both you and the cat) and your vet’s advice.
It’s generally considered good to chew on something that requires a bit of work from the jaw and teeth, to keep both strong and healthy. Dry cat food can also be more convenient for pet owners – it can be left out for longer without spoiling. That means for busy owners who fill their cat’s bowl quickly on the way out the door in the morning don’t need to worry about the food becoming unsafe before they get home to dispose of any leftovers. While dry food is more energy dense, it also has low moisture content and can have more carbohydrate and less protein compared to wet varieties. Dry cat food is generally cheaper than wet.
Many cats find wet food tastier. It’s certainly much closer to the natural diet of raw meat. If you’re concerned about your cat getting enough hydration, wet food is an easy way to increase water intake. You can even add more water and mix it into the food before serving. While content varies widely, wet cat foods generally contain more fat and protein (and fewer carbohydrates) than dry foods. However, wet food is less energy dense.
When choosing a wet food, avoid those with empty fillers such as corn and rice. Wet food spoils quickly, so it’s best served under supervision so that the uneaten remains can be taken away quickly. Eating wet food that’s been sitting out in the open for a few hours (particularly on a warm day) is a fast way to end up at the vet! Opened wet food should be stored in a sealed plastic or glass container (not in the tin) and kept refrigerated. It usually doesn’t last more than a couple of days after opening. Wet food is much more expensive than dry food, so many cat owners choose to feed their cat a mixed diet of dry food and wet food.
Unlike humans and even dogs, cats are obligate carnivores. They cannot get all of the nutrients they need from plant sources. There are also numerous plants that humans happily eat but can be toxic to cats. The most important nutrient that they need that cannot be sourced from vegan food is taurine. Some synthetic taurine does exist, but it’s not yet clear whether or not it’s a sufficient replacement for the real deal. There are some vegan pet food brands, such as Vegan Pet, which are claimed to be vet-approved. However, don’t necessarily take their word for it – consult your vet. It’s generally not advisable to make your cat eat completely vegetarian or vegan cat food.
Cats are vulnerable to permanent and life-threatening organ damage if they’re fed an inappropriate diet. Prioritise the health of your fluffy little dependent first.
While the supermarket may naturally be considered the go-to for feeding your precious pet, as it is for humans, you should consider beyond supermarket shelves. As with many products, supermarkets don’t necessarily stock the highest end or even the greatest range, although it is convenient to do your cat’s grocery shopping at the same time as the human grocery shopping.
Cat food can be purchased from pet supply stores, online retailers, and sometimes direct from the manufacturers themselves. It can be cheaper in the long term to buy bulk cat food online, particularly if you’re buying the higher end stuff. Just make sure that you’re buying a reputable brand – do your research. If you’re considering an unfamiliar brand, it’s well worth your time looking for reviews and pet care forums to see what other cat carers’ experience has been with the product. Your kitty’s health and wellbeing is well worth your time.