There was a time, not so many years ago, when if you had a cat, you simply went to the local shop and bought a tin of cat food. There probably wasn't much choice, and you simply bought whatever brand the shop had, without giving it a great deal of thought. Some people didn't even do that; they simply fed the cat on scraps left over from human meal times, or if they lived in a rural area, they expected the cat to cater for itself and also keep down the local rodent population by catching mice and rats.
But things have changed. There is now a huge and bewildering variety of cat food. There are numerous brands of cat food, in both wet and dry versions. There is separate food for kittens, and for so-called 'senior' cats. Then there are grain-free foods, foods with extra meat content, raw foods, foods for cats with specific complaints, hairball food, obesity control food....the list seems to be endless. It can be very confusing, particularly for new cat owners.
So what should we be feeding our cats? What is the best food for them? Here we attempt to shed some light on the whole issue...
Cats are what is known as 'obligate carnivores'. That means they need to eat meat. So a cat cannot subsist on a vegetarian diet, and its nutrition should come mainly from meat. Most commercial cat foods state that they are 'complete' foods, which also means that all the vitamins and minerals a cat needs are added to the food. So if you buy any good brand of cat food, it should be reasonably good for your cat. If you decide to make up your cat's food yourself, you risk not having enough of some of the essential nutrients she needs, unless you do a great deal of research first. So you are really better off buying cat food than making up your own.
In terms of health, it really doesn't make much difference. Some people claim wet foods are better, and that dry foods are missing a number of nutrients that cats need. This may have been the case in the early days of commercial cat food, but it probably isn't now. Some cats prefer one type of food to another, and many cats like a mixture of wet and dry food. If your cat is being fed a lot of dry food, you need to make sure she always has plenty of fresh water available. But apart from that, it doesn't make much difference which food you give your cat.
Many people like to feed these types of things to their cat, since so many cats really like them. However, you should not make them the main part of a cat's diet. As mentioned above, if you do so your cat may miss out on essential nutrients. But so long as you feed mainly a good commercial cat food, there is no problem with letting your cat have some of these as treats, so long as she is not overweight.
The only exception to this is milk. A large proportion of cats are lactose intolerant, and milk will give them diarrhoea. If your cat likes milk, it is best to buy the special lactose free cat milk which is sold in supermarkets.
Does your kitten need to have kitten food, or is your Persian cat better off on Special Persian Cat Food? It probably doesn't make a great deal of difference. Kitten foods tend to be higher in protein for growing kittens, and have smaller pieces for immature jaws. Breed-specific food may have small differences, such as a well known Maine Coon cat food having large pieces of kibble for the large jaws of this breed. 'Senior' cat foods for older cats are often lower in protein and more easily digestible, but this can vary depending on the brand. If your cat likes these there is no harm in buying them, and it may do some good. But those of us who own several cats find that this never works anyway. I tried to give kitten food to my kitten, and he wasn't having any of it; he wanted to eat the same as the older cats. And it certainly didn't do him any harm.
This is where the whole thing becomes very complicated. If you read any cat magazine or website, you will find people extolling the virtues of various types of specialist foods like these for cats. The meat content of ordinary commercial cat foods is very low, they'll tell you, and you need to give your cats something better. Well, this is true to a certain extent, but generations of cats have lived healthily on most of these foods. They are unlikely to really harm your cat's health.
The raw food argument is another issue completely. Raw food is said to be more natural, but you should realise that cats in the wild eat the whole animal, not just raw meat but bones, organs and so on. It is not easy to replicate this diet. Also, it is very easy to pick up parasites and other infections from raw meat, no matter how careful you are. So if you do decide to try raw food for your cat, be very, very careful.
Then of course, your cat may have a say in this matter. I tried to change my cats over from a well known brand of commercial cat food, to a continental brand said to have a much higher meat content. It seemed like a good idea. The trouble was, the cats wouldn't eat the new food! I tried mixing small amounts in with their usual food, and gradually adding more of the new food, but they weren't fooled. And, being cats, they eventually won the battle.
Ultimately, you need to feed your cat a balanced diet which she likes and will eat, and probably any good commercial cat food will do. If you want to do more than that, then there is no harm in doing some research, trying different foods, and seeing if you can find something better. Some people say that they have done this, and their cat's health has improved a great deal. But to be honest, there is no general consensus as to what is the best cat food. So don't worry too much. It is a bit like human diets really – there are many opinions, and various trends and fads come and go, but ultimately a good balanced diet is all that is required.