Cat food has come a long way in the last century. The first commercial pet food in America was a dog biscuit from England that arrived circa 1860. And while there's no record of how many pets were in America at the time, there are now approximately 81 million cats living in American households. To meet the needs of this huge population, cat food has not just grown in quantity, but it has advanced in quality and variety, too.
Walk down the aisles at a pet store and you'll see food for growing kittens, aging cats and fat cats. There is food that helps avoid urinary tract trouble and food that prevents teeth and gum problems. There's food for sensitive digestive systems, food that prevents hairballs and food for indoor cats. How do you know if your cat needs to be eating any of these specialized foods? Here's information to help you to decide:
What the Categories Mean
Specialized food bought in a store can target the unique nutritional needs in a cat's life stage, as well as lessen the chances and help control certain health problems. Nine cat food categories to choose from include:
How to Choose and Introduce a New Food
First, keep in mind your cat's age, since some foods are linked to a cat's stage of life. For the other categories, consider the health concerns you have for your cat and buy foods that will help lessen the chances of those problems.
Cats are famously finicky about food, so introducing a new food requires attention on your part. "I recommend easing a cat onto a special diet over a period of a week," says Dr. Flecker, who offers this sequence:
The Bottom Line
Above all, when considering your cat's food, go for the best you can buy. "I recommend premium quality cat food," says Dr. Flecker. "Ideally, it should be food that has been tested in food trials." To find out if a pet food company has done this, simply check the company's web site or call their customer care telephone number and ask.
The advances in cat nutrition must be working, as the percentage of cats older than six years of age has nearly doubled in just over a decade, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dedicated animal lover Amy Reichbach of Los Angeles, Calif., can attest to that fact. Reichbach's beloved cat, Iris, accompanied her through college and into the early years of her marriage. "As she got older I gave Iris the best senior diet food," says Reichbach, who adds that Iris lived to be nearly 80 in human years.
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