Cat food is food intended for consumption by cats. Cats have requirements for their specific dietary nutrients. Certain nutrients, including many vitamins and amino acids, are degraded by the temperatures, pressures and chemical treatments used during manufacture, and hence must be added after manufacture to avoid nutritional deficiency. The amino acid taurine, for example, which is found within meat, is degraded during processing, so synthetic taurine is normally added afterwards. Long-term taurine deficiency resulting, for example, from feeding taurine-deficient dog food, may result in retinal degeneration, loss of vision, and cardiac damage.
The idea of preparing specialized food for cats came later than for dogs (see dog biscuits and dog food). This was likely due to the idea that cats could readily fend for themselves.
Most store-bought cat food comes in either dry form, also known in the US as kibble, or wet canned form. Some manufacturers sell frozen raw diets and premix products to cater to owners who feed raw.
Dry food (8-10% moisture) is generally made by extrusion cooking under high heat and pressure. Fat may then be sprayed on the food to increase palatability, and other minor ingredients, such as heat-sensitive vitamins, which would be destroyed in the extrusion process, may be added. Dry food is most often packed in multi-wall paper bags, sometimes with a plastic film layer; similar bag styles with film laminates or coextrusions are also used.
Canned or wet food (75-78% moisture) generally comes in aluminum or steel cans in 3 oz (85 g), 5.5 oz (156 g), and 13 oz (369 g) sizes. It is also sold in foil pouch form.
Vegetarian or vegan food
Ignoring the fact that cats are obligate carnivores, there are vegetarian and vegan cat foods available. Vegetarian cat food must be fortified with nutrients such as taurine and arachidonic acid that cats, as obligate carnivores, cannot synthesize from plant materials. Some vegetarian cat food brands are labeled by their manufacturers as meeting AAFCO’s Cat Food Nutrient Profile.
Vegan and vegetarian diets
Vegetarian or vegan cat food has been available for many years, and is targeted primarily at vegan and vegetarian pet owners. While a small percentage of owners choose such a diet based on its perceived health benefits, the majority do so due to ethical concerns. Despite this, most believe that a vegetarian diet is healthier than a conventional diet. There is much controversy over feeding cats a vegetarian diet. While there are anecdotal evidence that cats do well on vegetarian food, studies on commercial and homemade vegetarian cat foods have found nutritional inadequacies.
Many pet owners feed cats homemade diets. These diets generally consist of some form of cooked or raw meat, bone, vegetables, and supplements, such as taurine and multivitamins.
Food allergy is a non-seasonal disease with skin and/or gastrointestinal disorders. The main complaint is excessive scratching (pruritis) which is usually resistant to treatment by steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The exact prevalence of food allergy in cats remains unknown. In 20 to 30% of the cases, cats have concurrent allergic diseases (atopy/flea-allergic dermatitis). A reliable diagnosis can only be made with dietary elimination-challenge trials. Allergy testing is necessary for the identification of the causative food component(s). Therapy consists of avoiding the offending food component(s).
The broad pet food recalls starting in March 2007 came in response to reports of renal failure in pets consuming mostly wet pet foods made with wheat gluten from a single Chinese company beginning in February 2007. Overall, several major companies recalled more than 100 brands of pet foods with most of the recalled product coming from Menu Foods. The most likely cause according to the FDA is the presence of melamine in the wheat gluten of the affected foods. Melamine is known to falsely inflate the protein content rating of substances in laboratory tests. The economic impact on the pet food market has been extensive, with Menu Foods alone losing roughly $30 million from the recall.