Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.
The Truth Is in the Labeling
I had been debating switching my veterinarian. But I made my final decision swiftly when I asked him what was a good food to feed my feline friend, and he recommended Iams.
My colleagues and I, working at a veterinarian hospital as vet techs and staff, all knew that Iams was one of the worst foods available for pets. However, we also knew that behind closed doors, veterinarians were being pushed to sell Iams, Eukanuba, and Science Diet pet foods.
If you look at its commercials, or at the promises on the package, you may perceive Iams as a good company producing healthy cat food. But it's easier to find out if cat food is good by looking at the label, not the advertising. A label tells the truth, or at least gets the closest to the truth. Learn to read a cat food label and list of ingredients.
Don't be impressed by the "shiny coat," "healthy teeth," and "healthy heart" Iams promises; most of these benefits simply derive from feeding any dry crunchy diet found at any store.
The truth is that like many other cat foods sold at supermarkets, Iams is full of fillers. Fillers are simply cheap ingredients used to save money. Fillers allow cat food producers to use less meat because fillers will make up the bulk of the kibble. Fillers are unnecessary to cats. Think about it, most fillers derive from corn. Cats have lived without corn throughout their history, so there is no reason why cats need corn now.
High carbohydrate levels derived from corn and other grain fillers have been associated with the onset of feline diabetes. Furthermore, fillers can cause food allergies. Cats need only five simple nutrients (besides water) to live healthy:
- minerals, and
- fatty acids.
Carbohydrates, preservatives, flavorings, colorings, and binders are not at all necessary and likely to be rather harmful.
The second biggest flaw of Iams is that it contains meat byproducts. This term means that the meat used in the product has been found to be inappropriate for human consumption; that is, meat from diseased or dead animals, or spoiled meat. This meat derives straight from the rendering industry.
Good cat food should list actual types of meat on the label, things like chicken, lamb, or fish. Any reference to "meat" in general, or worse, "meat by-products," means the material very likely came from the rendering plant.
One "pro" of Iams is that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help cats get glossy, shinier coats. Iams' promise of "healthy heart" derives from the presence of taurine, but keep in mind that taurine is added to most cat foods nowadays (even though it is not mentioned on the label) because taurine deficiencies have been related to blindness and heart problems in cats. Good dental health, another promised benefit, derives from the simple fact of chewing any dry kibble.
What Food Is Good for My Cat Then?
While Iams is not the worst cat food available on the market, it can be categorized as mid-grade, not the worst but a far cry from the best. There are many better foods with no meat by-products and no fillers.
More and more pet owners and nutritionists say proper foods are the key to a cat's health and longevity. I would recommend all feline lovers do their homework when it comes to choosing a good diet for their cat. While the best cat foods may be costly, the truth is "you get what you pay for," and owners investing in high-quality cat food will save money in the long run. Chances are that if cat owners do their math well, two plus two will make four, meaning that healthy diets will make healthy cats.
Looking for the best food for your cat? Watch Karen Becker's video for some pointers.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli
James on July 26, 2020:
Yellow cat is still hanging in there at 12 years on Wall Mart Friskies.
Mary Victoria Blackwell on July 22, 2020:
I have 2 cats, smokey is 5 and long hair and hard to get weight on, peazey is 2 and short hair and tends to be pudgy if i dont watch her food intake. I need a food for smokey which is hairball control. They are both on purina one now. Is there a better food for each?
Sal on July 15, 2020:
Rachel Ray is the best
Andrew on July 15, 2020:
I find this article funny. I actually started my cat on one of those healthy grain free expensive foods without taking a second thought. My cat actually become more unhealthy over course less than a year. She lost a lot of weight, and i got concerned. I switch her back to IAMs and she is now becoming more active, and maintaining a healthy weight. These smaller healthy brand aren't always what they say they are. They simply create value by hyping up their labels to sell it off as a "better product". When they at best would marginally better.
gajh on July 14, 2020:
I've been using supermarket canned cat foods for my cat I'm referring to the smaller round hands sorry I can't remember the name of it but my cat is 20 years old He's very happy and I truly believe diet is important but loving your cat and giving your cat attention in love is what mostly attributes to a cat's longevity.
You got to love your little kitty cat all the way through I've been loving my cat for 20 years I just left home must have gave him a hundred kisses before I left.
Karen Cozart on July 13, 2020:
I don't believe a word of this. If you are a tech in an animal hospital why would you take your pet elsewhere. BS
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 11, 2020:
Hi Ram Stanger,
Ads on these pages are not under our control, they appear randomly.
Ram Stanger on July 09, 2020:
Funny there is an advertisement supporting Science Diet as a top quality food. When I see a list that includes Science Diet,Blue Buffalo or Iam's I dismiss it. Look for a smaller family owned company. So does this reflect their intelligence or what they think of our intelligence. To advertise their product on an artificial that denounced it? I seen a stand in vet my last appointment she tried to sell me on Science Diet she didn't know me like my normal vet. I do contiguous research I would never feed my furrie's that junk. She stated the protein levels and whatnot are verified. Thats all well and good if you dont care what the protein source is. From road kill to peanut shells. And people who think shelter kills are not included, I ask you how dis traces of Euthanasia drug end up in foods? Through the meat source of course come on people you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes. Writer of articles claiming anything different are liar's!
A Edmond's on July 03, 2020:
What are the best food for my cats & dogs bare in mind my ono cat has two have Royal Cain uniriony food
Rachel on July 02, 2020:
I have 2 cats, 12yo and 13yo..
What is the best cat food to feed my babies?
Jose on May 14, 2020:
Some cats only live to 13 years i have one thats only had iams weight control her whole life and shes 21 years old now still living.
CJ on April 14, 2020:
I used to work at a rendering plant-your info is not 100 percent correct..all animals butchered for human consumption are "dead" and all of the scraps go the rendering plant for meal. There are no diseased animals-that is against the law.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 25, 2019:
Antoinette, I don't purposely ignore questions, it's just hard to answer dozens of questions when you work full time. I think you answered the question yourself, no cheap foods from supermarkets which are full of fillers. Dr. Becker's video at the end of the article has many suggestions on what to look for and what to avoid.
Antoinette on November 21, 2019:
I like how you ignore the main questions people ask about what is a good food then. Since most of the ones that people can afford from the super market are bad, with meat biproducts, can you pleaseeeee answer the question of what dry foods are actually healthy and good to feed to your cat/s???
AlexR on August 26, 2019:
You really don't always get what you pay for, because there are plenty of "natural" manufacturers ready to take whatever they can from the blind followers of fads. And so it seems there are two extremes in today's food landscape: Ultra-cheap and full of grain, and products marketed as super-premium "grain free" etc., with a hefty price even when some of 'them' are also rich in concentrated plant proteins and starches (as distinct from binders needed to keep kibble intact).
Although it may be harder to find, there is still a middle ground that satisfies typical nutritional requirements without costing an arm and a leg, potentially helping more folks to save for an unavoidable urgent need, veterinary or otherwise.
Even if it's not ideal, cats can utilize some plant-based ingredients in moderation, many with little allergy risk. I just tend to be wary of products listing heavy "fresh" meat first followed by a vegetable protein in an ingredient list going by pre-processing weight. And not all by-products are nasty, diseased rejects. They are more likely to be considered unappealing for human consumption (lungs, other organs...), but can provide part of a cat's nutrition in an ecologically sound way, vs. chucking all that protein in a landfill. For so many things there is a happy medium, as my healthy senior cats could attest if they spoke English. ;-)
SherryLD on August 22, 2019:
Very new. Just watched Dr Becker’s pet good review . Had no idea how trashed up it id
Lufetips1 on August 19, 2019:
Well, more technically, dogs are not exclusively carnivorous. "carnivore" and "omnivore" are just titles, and the argument as to what, exactly, dogs should be categorized as, rages on. They have some carnivorous traits, but also have the ability to digest carbohydrate-based foods. I personally prefer calling them 'hypercarnivores,' which refers to any animal that derives at least 70% of its diet from flesh/meat/etc.
As such, their diets are more versatile, as their systems can digest, and thus synthesize and convert from, many substrates that obligate (true) carnivores cannot.
There are only two known species (well, one species and one family) of animals that are obligate carnivores. One is a strange amphibian colloquially known as the 'walking fish,' but is more like a salamander that has evolved to live much of its life in water. It's called an axolotl. Even this creature will eat and successfully digest algae and other aquatic vegetation if necessary.
The other is the "felidae" family, which includes wild and domestic cats. They, unlike dogs, lack any of the physiological machinery required to digest plant (including fruit) based foods. They may eat some (cats are famous for chewing on grass and other common plants), whether they've conditionally trained to, or for its digestive and/or emetic effects, but CANNOT digest it.
Paying close attention to your pets' diets is critical, but I'd argue you need to pay specific attention to what you feed your cat(s). A lot of things a cat needs that he/she cannot get from, say, feeding them chicken from your fridge, include: vitamins A,D,E,K, the various B's, niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, among many other minerals (ions or otherwise), etc.
All that said, it is understandable that there are many animals that are being neglected, and those that would allow the overpopulation to progress are much at fault for their being far more animals on our planet that can be sufficiently supported. I am not going to chastise those that are giving an animal companion a comfortable life because they lack the knowledge and/or the resources to get the top notch stuff. 5 years i a human home is better than 10 struggling in a shelter or in the wild (for the domestically-derived creatures not built to be wild, and even those that are ... are consistently and unnecessarily eliminated anyway). Just educate yourself as to the signs of certain nutrient deficiencies and get them looked at if you see the smallest sign (dry dermis below the hair, restlessness, stunted grown, and muscular, and especially skeletal weakness, easy fracturing, and/or deformity are sure signs that trace elements are missing... problems with blooding / clotting, neurological issues like twitches or apparent extreme sensitivity is clear-cut vitamin deficiecy, etc.).
LacksScience on August 10, 2019:
This assessment isn't based on science. Please research the work by Tufts University as a starting point - Petfoodology. A lot of myths out there perpetuated by well meaning people, as well as marketed by the pet industry.
Meg on May 27, 2019:
I am owned by a big orange tabby. He weighs 13 pounds but he's very long and tall, 3 feet from nose to tail. He's 9 years old and his vet says he's healthy, sleek, handsome and I should keep doing what I'm doing. He eats Iams indoor cat food only. He won't eat wet food or people food. Well, that's not completely true. He licked an empty bowl of shrimp curry clean. Then he did it again. So, you never know. I trust Iams for Rufus. He is doing quite well.
Prucilla on March 15, 2019:
Read your article about IAMS cat food. I feed my kittens IAMS dry kitten food because the kibble is small for their mouths. I used to feed them Royal Canin Mother and Kitten Kubble, but the cost was not something i could support. I suppose if a person has only one cat they could resort to expensive foods. But i have seven as i also do rescue and often end up keeping some. I mostly use Friskies wet food and Fancy Feast wet food for kittens. My oldest cat was 14 when he developed colon cancer. My youngest is 5 months and all are healthy. My oldest daughter raised her cat to the age of 21 on Walmart's Special Kitty, one of the cheapest around. I dont believe cats need all this new age expensive food. In the feral population, cats are scavengers, eating anything that moves or generous handouts from people. They usually die of starvation or other animal attacks.
This article serves no other purpose than to try to make pet owners feel quilty for not spending unwarranted amiunts of money on natural foods.
DaynaF45 on March 09, 2019:
I only feed my cats Friskies wet food and Purina urinary tract health. No problems with their health.
Chrissie on March 04, 2019:
Dry kibble does not promote healthy teeth!
geri Shangreaux on January 17, 2019:
Hard to know, I feed my cats Iams(Senior and the high protein and Fancy Fiest for years, two died at age 15, and he is is 15 still very healthy. Hard to know like I said.
G. Irene Stowell on September 25, 2018:
I recently changed my cat's diet to Purina dry food. I gave her some in a bowl she liked it so much she tore into the bag to get more. I have a picture of her sitting next to the bag with a bunch of holes in it and food pouring out. would you like to see the picture might be a good advertisement picture?
Chris on May 13, 2018:
That's B.S. that Iams is one of the worst. My cat only eats dry Iams grain free cat food now for 23 years and has never been sick. She has only gone to the vet for shots. That's it. Don't act like a "know it all"! Everyone has their different experiences with cats. Maybe your cat was sick to begin with. This article is such bogus crap :(
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 07, 2018:
Natasha, I hear you. Back in the days I worked for a vet's office, vets sometimes were using McDonald's hamburgers to entice sick, old or recovering dogs to start eating.
Natasha on March 01, 2018:
My cat will starve for days and not eat any healthy dry food. No different flavors or brands. Only wet food and cheap dry food. If i have to choose between him starving or him eating less healthy food, I’ll settle for the latter.
Donovan on December 03, 2017:
Hey, answer Hong and Jeff.
Also, while you're not an actual veterinarian, it does not mean you're not knowledgeable. So since you speak on the subject: where did you study nutrition? And where did you get your definition of "by-product," specifically where it relates to "diseased, dead or spoiled meat" exclusively.
As well, how are veterinarians being "pushed" to advocate for specific products that are not available only with a prescription and thereby include no form of possible kickback from the companies?
I used Purina when younger because I never thought about it. At some point I started looking into different foods because my cat(s) would eat so much and lay around and get fat. When I switched them to Iams, they got slimmer, ate less, became more active, did indeed have shinier, softer coats and were all-around healthier pets. They are still healthier pets.
Companies don't make money by killing your pets. If disease and otherwise destructive diets were linked to specific pet foods, they would not survive in the market. If any product was found to contain "dead, diseased and spoiled" meat, it would be reported on heavily because people love their pets and the sensationalization of the piece would run all over networks, social media and radio nonstop until Purina or Iams or whoever was avoided by 90% of consumers.
If you're actually qualified to talk on this subject, show us your credentials. Otherwise, show us where you get your information.
Min on October 21, 2017:
What is better, Purina or Iams. I know both have the awful fillers but I can only afford store brand, I wish I had more money to buy better food, but some food is better than none, right?
Hong on June 22, 2017:
All of those brands you suggested have chicken by product. So what is your recommendation list of brands that are all natural. Full of bogus to me. Just don't feed them cheap food.
Jeff on June 02, 2017:
Wasn't aware Iams was supposedly so bad for cats. My cat is very picky and that's one of the only Brands he eats. He's over 20 yrs old now and aside from hyperthyroidism he developed last year in his old age, he is Very healthy
SVA on January 06, 2017:
I tend to feed my cats grain-free food, I switched them over after my oldest, a now 11 year old female, started having urinary tract issues (constant infections, about once every two months, and these were true infections as my vet was doing urinalysis using a needle straight to the bladder). I'm sure aside from infection she was likely having general irritation/crystals in her urine from the food she was eating. A food switch and a few sanitary shaves later, she has not had one for about 4 months. However, I'm not the only one who does the shopping here, and when my roommate goes shopping, he buys the supermarket stuff. I've talked to him about it and he doesn't listen, and I don't always have the time to go get the food myself when they need it and I don't want to waste an entire bag. I worry sometimes that the occasional week of cheapy food will cause issues again, I'm considering starting to buy in bulk. It can be a little pricey but grain-free food is always cheaper than a $300+ vet visit.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 22, 2016:
Glad to hear your kitties are feeling better! Iams formulations have improved since I wrote this article, but it sounds like people are still having problems with it, according to reviews and personal testimonies.
seahorse on December 19, 2016:
We have 3 cats, and the youngest of the 3 got severe allergies, hair falling out, scratching, itching, and significant weight gain, from IAMS. The older cat also became hypothyroid and weighed 16 lbs when she should have weighed about 8 lbs. Took away the IAMS and everyone is much better now. Unfortunately, they won't eat the expensive meat based food, so we still are using a mix of Friskies and Rachel Raye's gluten free meat-based kibble, but they are all doing much better!
Chip Waple from Friendsville,TN on August 22, 2016:
If your kitty cat is suffering with kidney disease, it is imperative that you feed your cat high quality wet food only.
Renilouise on July 14, 2016:
My cat lived 20 years on Science diet yet it also has meat by products. However she loved to hunt and ate her own mice. That's what kept get going I'm sure.
Renilouise on July 14, 2016:
But you just said cats wont go near meat that is already dead. it has to be a fresh kill. So how is it they will eat meat thats been frozen or in the fridge a few days? The longer the animal is dead the more Taurine vanishes. And all meat is ripened in the butcher shops before they even get to the store. I have had cats my whole life, and that is over 60 years and never have I been able to get any of them to eat raw meat. But when they killed something themselves, they ate it right up because its a FRESH kill. However many cats wont even eat their fresh kill unless they are starving. PS, someone is behind your chair in the video. I saw the hand.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 17, 2016:
See Dr. Beckers video I have added in the article above for a pointer.
Teresa on April 17, 2016:
What do you recommend for dry cat food? I always thought Iams & Purina were good choices because they are so expensive & my cat went crazy for Iams when I bought it one time to see if she would like it & she did.
I've been feeding her Purina Cat Chow which is less expensive than the other Purina dry food but I've been wanting to switch her food to something of a higher grade because one bag of cat food lasts her a long time. So what do you recommend that isn't filled with fillers?
Howie on October 22, 2013:
Thanks. Cheers back' Funny thing' I wrote to Imas and ask them how was their pet food any good if they had meat by products in it'and other junk as well' That was 2weeks ago' and they never wrote me back' I guess the truth hurts! also saturday night is turkey night for my guys' I get 2 pounds of pure chipped turkey from the deli' they love turkey night!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 21, 2013:
Howie, good to hear you are feeding your cats a premium food and offering them spring water to drink! Your kitties are sure lucky to have you, cheers!
Howie on October 20, 2013:
Yes' I'm glad to! You do get what you pay for!! I also give my cats spring water' tap water has led in it and other junk as well! I need Blue Buffalo my the truck load the way my guys eat!! They love it' To their health!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 20, 2013:
I am glad you are seeing such good improvements Howie, better products can make a world of difference!
Howie on October 20, 2013:
I use to feed my cats friskies' BIG mistake all they did was throw up from it; then i put them on Blue Buffalo' they bin on it for a month now and their coats are like silk and their breath smells a lot better' no more of the other crap! no more MEAT BY PRODUCTS!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 12, 2012:
If you visit your local petsmart you will notice their aisles are divided in aisles ranging from cheap supermarket food to grain-free premium cat foods. I would definitively look in this aisle.
guest on January 12, 2012:
So what is a better cat food then?
Derrick on December 17, 2011:
im so sad because i lost my job, and all i can afford now is the store brands. :( fcking sucks. out of the store brands i choose iams cause it seems like the best of the worst. oh well.
Dormouse on November 01, 2011:
Personally in our house, we differ our cats food from buying different brands of pet food (most expensive to fair price - a mix of wet and dry) and see which one our two prefer the most. I also believe that the amount of exercise cats get daily/weekly (both in and out) should help with health. (that's just my theory anyway)
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 02, 2011:
As a wife of a hubby that likes to eat chicken livers sauteed with onion, I know you feel alarmed but it is not the livers, hearts or intestines per se, it is the way rendering plants collect these parts and that they may come come from diseased animals. May I suggest a great book that is a real eye opener? "Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food." By Ann N. Martin. NewSage Press (1997).
Pamela on October 02, 2011:
Excuse me, what you do mean livers, hearts, and intestines are not fit for human consumption.... I know a lot of ppl who eat them and a lot of cultures where that is part of their culinary cuisine. Are you racist?
Have you ever seen an outdoor cat, they often eat the entire bird/ mouse except for the head, which includes all components. Think about that.... cats evolved for thousands of years to be able to consume that type of diet and digest those components. With that said, indoor cats don't have the flora in their stomachs to handle this myriad of new bacteria, but that doesn't mean that they can't get cooked non-diseased byproducts of animals which are perfectly fine for animal consumption. I don't see it any worse than eating fully loaded antibiotic overloaded chicken that we eat. Cats are born scavenger/ hunters... they'll be fine.
Karen N from United States on September 25, 2011:
The best food for your cat is meat, it's what their body was designed for. Commercial pet foods is little better than eating at McDonald's.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2011:
It is not the fact of those parts specifically per se (of course I know cats eat livers, hearts, intestines and all!) it's the fact that these are products not fit for human consumption, what this means is that the rendering practice collects all sorts of waste and this can include euthanized animals, road kill, and meat from diseased animals. Not to mention spoiled waste of little nutritional value. According to the book ''Food pets die for'' ''If a pet food lists "meat by-products" on the label, remember that this is the material that usually comes from the slaughterhouse industry or dead stock removal operations, classified as condemned or contaminated, therefore unfit for human consumption.'' Here is a link:
nellie on September 24, 2011:
yes, and cats are hunting animals. not a human. cats eat by products. i used watch my cats eat bugs they would eat the whole thing from the wings, legs and the all the insides. so stop comparing cats to humans. cats and humans have different nutrional needs. it is immpossible to do.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 11, 2011:
Nellie, not all cats suffer from health issues from eating Iams, just as not all people eating sweets get diabetes. Chicken as the first ingredient is not always good, if it contains chicken by products you are dealing with head, feet, entrails, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, stomach, bones, blood, and intestines, all parts not good for human consumption.
nellie on July 08, 2011:
my cats eat a mixture of iams and purina one. and fancy feast canned. none of them have the health issues u have said. most iams food does contain chicken as the first ingrident and so does purina one. so it one better cheap foods.
Anna on May 27, 2011:
Sorry everybody but here's the real reason: Iams, Purina, Purina One (usually), Alpo and others do not have Acidophilus in them. No acidophilus, little to no life.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 17, 2009:
Wow that's amazing, good to hear he did not need insulin, very likely you must have caught it on time. Thanks for posting.
clevelandcloset on August 17, 2009:
I agree completely - my cat was diagnosed with feline diabetes which WENT AWAY COMPLETELY after changing his diet and eliminating high-carbohydrate foods. Cats should eat meat not corn.
Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on July 05, 2009:
Thank you soooo much for explaining how to read pet food labels. I have four cats, but only one of them has any interst in the hard, crunchy food. That is the one who is clearly having allergies. I am glad to have this knowledge going in to talk to the vet about what food I should switch him to. If Eukaneuba is not significantly better than Iams which is not significanly better than Purina.... they better have a good suggestion for my little Gremlin. He's scratching all his fur off!
Hello ktpdx, too. Haven't seen you about in awhile and you are looking most fetching, I must say.
KT pdx from Vancouver, WA, USA on July 05, 2009:
Right on target! I used to work for a pet food company doing demonstrations/helping people choose pet food. It's amazing how many people would come in complaining their pet was scratching and had dander, but when I asked them what they were feeding they said it was one of the grocery-store brands! So many people don't know what you pointed out about veterinarians recommending what the pet food companies want them to sell, too. I'm glad someone else other than me is saying this on HubPages too, because it's something people need to know!