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Is Grain Free Cat Food a Good Choice?

A Different Take on Feeding Your Feline

By Meredith Alling. January 06, 2014 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

cat sniffing a large bowl of food

Grain free cat food is becoming more and more popular among pet parents, but is it a good choice? Learn here how to choose the best diet for your cat.

There is a lot of talk in the pet community about grain free foods, and you might be wondering what’s causing all the hype. Many scientists believe that a grain free diet is more appropriate for cats because they are carnivores, and foods rich in proteins rather than grain-based carbohydrates more closely resemble their natural diet.

But is a grain free cat food the right choice for your cat?

The Gripe with Grains

Grains like corn, wheat, and rice are the foundations for many cat foods. This is because they are cheap to produce and allow the food manufacturer to meet the carbohydrate requirements for their foods while saving some money.

These types of grains, however, can cause problems for some cats. Some cats are allergic to grains, and others have a hard time digesting them. Some scientists believe that this is because cats weren’t designed to do so -- they lack a salivary enzyme called amylase that helps to break down carbohydrates like corn and wheat before they reach the stomach. Cats do, however, use amylase secreted by the pancreas during digestion in the intestines.

A wild cat’s natural diet would contain more protein, and they would likely ingest only small amounts of carbohydrates through the proteins (or animals) they consumed.

Grain Free Advantages and Disadvantages

Some cats do great on grain free diets while others do not. Let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • Grain free diets can contain more of the ingredients that your cat would be eating in the wild. Proteins like fish and meat are found in greater amounts in some grain free foods. (However, some manufacturers of grain free foods simply substitute other highly glycemic carbohydrate sources like potato and tapioca, which are similar to grains in their nutrient makeup.)

  • Some cats develop an allergy to grains, and grain free diets aim to eliminate the ingredients causing the sensitivity.

Disadvantages:

  • Because grain free foods can be higher in protein, they can also be higher in fat. Be sure that you are feeding your cat the appropriate portion size so that they do not put on weight.

  • Grain free foods that contain more protein will likely be more expensive. However, you will probably be feeding your cat smaller portions because of the high protein, so this may make up for the price difference.

How To Shop For Grain Free Cat Food

Talk to your veterinarian about whether a grain free food is a good choice for your cat, and ask for brand recommendations. When shopping for grain free cat food, be careful not to be tricked by labels that say “all natural” or promise to make your cat healthier than anything else out there. You can get the full story by checking out the ingredients and nutrient analysis on the back of the bag or can.

Just because a food is grain free doesn’t mean it will be right for your cat. Always check with your veterinarian before switching your cat to a new type of diet.

More on Cat Nutrition

Cat Nutrition for Male Cats
What to Feed a Cat: Female Cats
Nutrition for Feeding a Senior Cat

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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