Feeding Your Cat Basics (cont.)

What is natural or “holistic” cat food? Is it worth the extra expense?

Does a cat food have to be natural or “holistic” to be a healthy cat food? The USDA says a product can carry a “natural” claim if it has been minimally processed and contains no:

  • artificial flavor
  • coloring ingredients
  • chemical preservatives
  • other artificial or synthetic ingredients

Are there certain chemicals and preservatives you should avoid in your cat's food? Not necessarily. Preservatives in pet food help to slow the breakdown of food and to maintain its nutritional value longer. “Preservatives such as ethoxyquin, BHT, and BHA are important antioxidants in pet food,” Bough says. “These products have been used in pet food for more than 25 years, and when used in specified amounts, have not been found to cause harm to pets. In addition, there are natural preservatives, such as Vitamin E, that help preserve pet food.”

No regulatory definition exists for “holistic” cat food. “It's used as a marketing term,” Larsen says, “and every company has a different definition for it, so it's not particularly useful.”

If you're looking into cat foods with these kinds of claims, a talk with your veterinarian may be useful, Bough says. It's helpful to keep in mind that high-quality, more expensive brands -- whether natural or not -- are sometimes a better deal in the long run. That's because, with more nutrients readily absorbed, she says, pets may not have to eat as much food per serving.