I would choose a food high in moisture, high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates. In addition to overall better nutrition avoid dry food especially for male cats because of urethral obstructions. Freeze-dried raw is great and it does not require refrigeration. Just keep the bag sealed with the zip closure. Simply rehydrate and serve.
Cats are obligate carnivores and are metabolically designed to consume diets with the following general composition:
1) animal (not plant)-based protein (>50% calories)
2) moderate fat (~20-40% calories)
3) very low carbohydrate (1-2% calories)
4) water-rich (~70%)
“A second study looking at the impact of dietary protein concentrations on the preservation of lean body mass following neutering also reported a loss of lean body mass on average of 1.2% when cats were fed a diet containing 30% protein DM (Nguyen et al. 2004). When the cats were fed 53% protein DM they reported an average accumulation of 4.2% of lean body mass.” Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition. Wiley.
“there is no evidence that protein restriction is of any benefit to healthy older dogs and cats.” … “the authors do not recommend protein restriction in older dogs and cats unless indicated by an underlying disease.” Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition. Wiley.
Urethral obstructions are most often seen in male cats and are life-threatening. A blocked urethra can cause death in a matter of days.
Unlike other species, cats don’t have much of a thirst drive and are designed to get the moisture they need from their food. Dry cat food provides only about one-tenth the amount of moisture cats receive from prey animals, living foods, and even commercial canned diets.
The vast majority of kitties fed dry food diets live in a state of chronic mild dehydration. This puts significant stress on the kidneys and bladder, which contributes to the development of FLUTD and urethral obstruction.
“there is a controlled study of growth in kittens fed a homemade raw diet, commercial raw diet, and commercial heat-processed diet that showed decreased stool volume and improved fecal consistency, better overall weight and body composition gain, and no adverse effects including infections in kittens fed the raw chicken homemade diet.” Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, Stamford, CT, USA
HOW TO DETERMINE QUALITY?
Quality can vary greatly and it is affected by the source, type of ingredients, formula, heat, processing, fiber, and ash content. Ingredients can look the same as listed but protein can be poor, moderate, or high quality. For a food to be high quality it needs to be both highly digestible and contain the proper amino acids available to have actual nutritive value once digested.
Good vs. Poor Digestibility: The term digestibility coefficient refers to the percent of a food that the dog absorbs into his or her body during the process of digestion. As a rule of thumb, dry dog foods with digestibility values of 75 % or less will be of very poor quality, those with values between 75 and 82 % are classified as moderate in quality, and foods with digestibility values that are higher than 82 % are of high quality. If you see products with 88 % or more reported digestibility, you have a rock star. https://thesciencedog.com/2017/02/01/digestibility-matters/
Protein is required in the diet but "animals do not have a requirement for protein per se but have an amino acid requirement."  Proteins are made up of amino acids and dogs have a requirement for 22 amino acids like other animals. “10 are essential and must be provided in their diet. "Proteins that provide optimal proportions of all essential amino acids are referred to as high quality proteins."  Quality proteins are highly digestible and provide usable essential amino acids. Protein quality and digestibility can be affected by ash content, cooking time, temperature, and fiber content.  “Proteins of plant origin generally have lower digestibility than animal proteins because plant fiber and carbohydrates lower digestion, due to a reduced degradation rate of nutrients in the gut and increase bacterial activity”  “a large portion of protein in cereal-based dry pet foods typically comes from grains, including rice, corn, wheat and barley.
We are missing two important measurements to help us choose pet food. Overall (dry matter) digestibility and amino acid digestibility. This is important because commercial pet foods are represented as “complete and balanced” and our animals are generally not fed a wide rotating variety of foods that could negate a nutritional deficiency.
There are also differences in forms of protein. e.g. raw, cooked, dehydrated (heat or cold), meals, and by-product meals. There can be vast differences in the quality of meals. Meal quality is affected by the quality of the ingredients, cooking time, and processing temperature.
Nutritionists at the University of Illinois measured the protein quality of four types of pet grade chicken.
Steamed chicken (cooked to 200 degrees F for 10 minutes)
Retorted chicken (processed as in canned foods; cooked at ~ 250 degrees F for 30 minutes)
Chicken meal (rendered/dried)
The results of this study showed that steamed chicken (cooked to 200 degrees F for 10 minutes) had the highest digestibility and had the highest “digestibility values for all of the essential and non-essential amino acids” – greater than 90 percent for all but two amino acids.
1. Steamed chicken – high quality
2. Raw chicken - high quality
3. Retorted Chicken (Canned) - moderate quality
4. Meal - low quality
For cats addicted to dry foods Vital Essentials has raw Freeze-Dried Mini Nibs that are complete and balanced meals providing high protein, low carbs that has the crunch some cats prefer.
There are many options for raw freeze-dried foods that can be rehydrated to provide cats a high moisture balanced diet.
Here is a great resource: Lisa A. Pierson, DVM CatInfo.org
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