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Like humans, our furry friends can get tired of eating the same food daily. If you’re looking to mix up your cat’s diet but are unsure where to start, we’ve got you covered.
This article will take a close look at the best ingredients you should look for in cat treats, some ingredients to avoid, and a few human foods you can give your feline as a treat.
Buying cat food and cat treats shouldn’t be overwhelming, but sometimes it is. With a seemingly never-ending number of treat options available, it can be impossible to determine what treats are healthy for your four-legged friends and what treats to stay away from.
This section will cover all the nutritious ingredients you should look for when choosing cat treats.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need a diet that consists primarily of meat. When choosing treats for your furry friend, try to find treats that list meat as the first ingredient.
High-quality meat contains all the nutrients, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals your four-legged friend needs to stay happy and healthy. You can find single-ingredient freeze-dried cat treats that will fit the bill perfectly.
However, as you may know from buying meat for yourself or your family, it is important for your cat to consume quality meat. You can ensure your cat’s treats contain real meat by looking at the packaging and ensuring the meat is described as “fresh.”
The healthiest meats for felines are fish, poultry, and beef. Fish such as salmon and tuna are good for your furry friend because they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and essential vitamins and minerals.
Poultry such as chicken and turkey are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein, making them an ideal ingredient to look for in your cat’s treats. Beef in small quantities can also be beneficial for your cat because it contains several nutrients that your cat’s body does not naturally produce but needs to stay healthy.
You may notice that your cat naturally has an affinity for fattier meats such as pork. However, try to avoid treats made with bacon or other pork products because they are usually higher in fat and have less nutritional value for your feline.
Taurine is another essential amino acid that your cat needs to ingest in their food to stay healthy. Your four-legged friend needs taurine to support the health of their heart, eyes, stomach, and immune system. However, cats cannot produce taurine on their own, so they have to get it from their food.
Luckily, taurine is found in animal flesh, so any real, fresh meat treats will also contain taurine.
Although treats primarily made from meat will undoubtedly be the most attractive for your four-legged friend, you should also look for fruits and vegetables in your cat's treats. Felines can digest various fruits and veggies, including cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, pears, bananas, carrots, beets, and green beans.
Fruits and vegetables contain prebiotic and probiotic fiber that boosts your cat’s digestive system. Additionally, similarly to how you may eat certain produce for its antioxidants, your cat can also benefit from the antioxidants in fruits and veggies. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radical molecules.
Now that you know what to look for in your cat’s treats, let’s dive into all the ingredients you should know to avoid when picking out a special snack for your feline friend.
We can’t say enough about how important it is that your cat gets real, fresh meat in their diet. However, there are several misleading ingredients you should look out for when buying treats that might look like meat but are low-quality substitutes.
First, when you see meat by-products listed as an ingredient in your cat’s treats, you may consider choosing another type of treat. Chicken by-products or beef by-products can refer to any part of the chicken or cow that is leftover after the rest of the meat is processed.
If treats claim to contain meat by-products, they may actually contain hoofs, feet, feathers, horns, and other parts of the animal that are not beneficial for your feline.
You should also look out for treats that contain rendered fat. Rendered fat is often used as a flavor enhancement for cat food and cat treats to make them more enticing. However, rendered fat can contain harmful microorganisms such as Salmonella and toxins.
Generally, it is advisable to avoid all treats with artificial ingredients, artificial flavors, or treats that claim to contain chicken flavor rather than fresh chicken.
Some crunchy cat treats contain food dyes such as Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, all of which have been documented to negatively affect human beings. Although there is less research regarding the effects of artificial colors on felines, these products have no benefit for your cat and may put them at risk.
Additionally, cats use their sense of smell and taste to decide whether or not they will eat food. That said, when food dyes are added to cat treats, they are added purely for the owner's benefit. Given that color has nothing to do with whether or not your feline will like a treat, there’s no need to buy treats with added color.
You should look out for several chemicals and preservatives that are not beneficial for your feline’s health but are often added to soft cat treats. Many low-quality soft treats contain propylene glycol (PG) because it adds moisture.
However, this ingredient is derived from ethylene glycol (EG), which can be harmful in high doses. Three preservatives are often added to cat treats that you should avoid if possible.
These preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin. BHA is a known carcinogen that may negatively affect your cat’s kidney and liver. Ethoxyquin is often found in fish meal and may also negatively impact your cat’s health.
However, preservatives are not always listed on the label. For this reason, it is best to avoid treats with preservatives completely. If you need to buy treats with preservatives, you can try to find some with natural preservatives, such as vitamins C and E.
Although everyone associates cats with milk, dairy is actually not good for your four-legged friend. Although dairy is not nearly as toxic as some of the chemicals and preservatives listed above, you should try to avoid treats with dairy if possible because it can upset your cat’s stomach.
If your four-legged friend gets their paws on too much dairy, they may experience diarrhea or vomiting. Eating dairy over a long period can also lead to obesity, so it is best to avoid cheese and dairy if possible.
If you search for manufactured cat treats but can’t find anything packed with good ingredients and free from the bad ones, you might want to try making healthy cat treats at home.
Making your cat’s food at home is generally not advisable because it can be very difficult to ensure that they are getting a blanched, nutritious diet full of all the acids, vitamins, and minerals they need.
However, treats are different because they do not have to be perfectly nutritionally balanced, given that they should only make up a small percentage of your cat’s diet. As previously mentioned, if you want to make your own cat treats at home, it is best to start with a lean, healthy protein such as chicken, fish, or meat.
You can use the following recipe to make simple, nutritious cat treats at home.
You can use canned chicken, tuna, or salmon if you do not have fresh chicken on hand. Just remember to use plain, unseasoned canned meat if you have to make a substitution.
If you don’t have time to make your own cat treats at home but still want to give your feline a tasty treat, you can give them a small amount of certain human foods. You can use the following human foods as treats or food toppers to make your furry friend happy.
If you want to spoil your feline, you can give them some fresh, lean meat such as chicken, ground beef, turkey, or steak. Ensure that when preparing meat for your cat, you do not use seasonings or sauces.
It is also important to ensure you never give your cat chicken on the bones. As you probably know, your cat has sharp teeth that can crack a chicken bone. It can be very dangerous for your cat to gnaw on splintered bones, so you should avoid giving them to your cat at all costs.
Another high-protein snack you can give your cat is fish. If you have sardines or salmon for dinner and want to save a tasty morsel to prepare for your cat, you can safely give them some as a treat. Like meat, remember to leave the fish unseasoned and cook it in olive oil rather than butter to reduce the fat content.
You can safely give your cat apple slices if they seem to like the flavor. However, the seeds, stems, and leaves of apples contain cyanide which is poisonous to cats, so make sure to remove all harmful parts of the apple before giving it to your cats.
You can also give your cat sliced bananas or berries for a healthy, nutritious snack. Make sure to thoroughly wash berries such as strawberries and blueberries before feeding them to your feline because pesticides on the fruit can be harmful to cats.
Another tasty snack for your four-legged friend is cooked eggs. Given that raw eggs can contain harmful bacteria, it is best to scramble up an egg before you give your cat a little bit.
Although there are certain human foods that your cat can safely snack on, there are several human foods that you should avoid giving to your cat.
Some of the most harmful human foods for cats include:
Everyone, humans and cats alike, loves a treat. Whether it’s a yummy piece of chicken for your cat or a chocolate muffin for you, a treat can make anyone’s day better. However, just like you can’t eat a diet composed of only bacon and cookies, your cat can’t only eat treats.
Treats should only ever make up 10 percent of your cat's diet. For example, if your cat weighs about 10 pounds and needs to eat 300 calories daily, they should never have more than 30 calories worth of treats.
These numbers mean that the kibble or wet food you choose for your cat is extremely important because it will make up most of their diet.
Given that what you feed your four-legged friend is so important, you might be wondering what type of cat food is best for your feline. Depending on how old your cat is, their lifestyle, and food preferences, they may need a different type of kibble.
This section will dive into the best types of cat food for kittens, adult cats, indoor cats, overweight cats, and cats with an allergy or intolerance to grain.
It is important to buy food specifically made for kittens if you have a furry friend between birth and six months. Optimeal Kitten Vital Nurture Chicken & Rice Recipe is designed to keep your kitten energized and healthy while growing during those first months.
Additionally, fresh chicken is the first ingredient. This kibble does not contain any chicken or poultry by-product meals, so you can know with certainty that your kitten is getting their energy from a healthy protein source.
There is often more variety available for food for adult or senior cats. The most important thing to consider when buying food for your four-legged companion is ensuring it contains all the nutrients your cat needs to thrive.
Some kibble, such as Optimeal Turkey & Barley Recipe Nutrient Balance, supports healthy digestion and your feline’s skin and coat. With vitamins A, C, and E, as well as Zinc and Selenium, this dry food offers full nutritional support for your cat.
If your cat is an indoor cat, it may be harder for them to get as much activity as outdoor cats. That said, kibble made specifically for indoor cats may be beneficial for their digestion and overall health.
Optimeal Chick & Brown Rice Recipe Indoor contains a natural fiber blend that includes prebiotic fibers from dried chicory root and FOS to support a healthy digestive system. The proteins in this recipe are also highly digestible, which will keep your cat’s stomach happy and healthy.
Obesity is a dangerous condition for your feline, which can decrease their quality of life and increase the risk of developing life-threatening conditions such as type 2 diabetes. For this reason, if you notice your cat gaining weight, it is important to take steps to ensure that they lose a pound or two and return to a healthy weight.
To help your cat lose weight, you can try giving them dry food such as Optimeal Turkey & Oatmeal Weight Management. This formula contains fresh turkey and 40 percent lower fat levels. However, increased protein levels ensure that your four-legged friend gets the protein they need. This kibble also contains L-Carnitine, the amino acid that supports a healthy metabolism.
There is a lot of debate about whether cats should eat grains. Although grain-free diets have become popular, there is no need to cut grains out of your cat’s diet unless they have an allergy or intolerance to grains.
If your feline cannot digest grains well, you can try giving them food such as Optimeal Real Shrimp & Salmon In Savor Sauce Tender Morsels. This wet food is complete and balanced but does not contain grains. You may also want to consider giving your cat wet food if they struggle with hydration or have a health condition that makes staying hydrated extremely important.
There are no set rules regarding when and how many treats you give your cat daily. However, it is important that you are not overfeeding your cat. That said, if you want to give your furry friend daily treats, try to make sure the treats are small, nutritious, and low-calorie.
Again, there is no correct way to give your cats treats, so you can reward your feline whenever you feel it is fitting. Treats can be especially helpful when training your cat, especially if they are food motivated.
You can try giving your cat a small treat after they use the litter box or whenever they play with a toy instead of a shoe or a piece of furniture. Regardless of what positive behavior you are trying to enforce, treats can send a powerful message to your feline that they have done something well.
Although treats should only make up 10 percent of your cat’s diet, they are a fun way to add variety to your furry friend’s palette. When looking for treats, try to find options that contain fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables.
Avoid treats with meat by-products, chemicals, preservatives, and rendered fat. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always make your own healthy, nutritious treats at home.
Factors influencing the food preference of cats | NIH
Research Update: New insight into grain-free cat diets | NIH
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