Why do Cats Love Commercial Foods so Much?

Cats are naturally fussy, but can become obsessed with cat food. Some scarf it down while others forage all day. But looks are deceiving. Every trick in the book is used to entice cats into eating ultra processed, highly unnatural food. Addiction to this inappropriate food takes care of the rest.

Best Fed Cats - image of a bowl of dry cat food
Photo by Pic Panther | Pixabay
"The love for a food is not a measure of its healthfulness." – Best Fed Cats 

At first glance, cats seem to really love cat food. But there is more than meets the eye. What we are mistaking for a love of a particular food is simply a culmination of several factors.

These range from the nature of commercial foods to the cat's unique environmental circumstances. To fully understand the cat's behaviour around these foods, we have to consider what they are up against.

Careful Engineering

Given a level playing field, cats would not even look at commercial cat food 1. These foods are so far removed from a cat's programmed ancestral diet, that they literally have to be tricked into eating them.

...duplicitous trickery

Pet food manufacturers carefully engineer their foods to be highly palatable and enticing. For one, pungent animal digests 2 and fats are sprayed on dry foods to make them irresistible.

Once cats are tricked into eating these ultra processed products, addiction is set into motion by carnivore inappropriate ingredients. Cat food is excessively high in carbohydrates, grains, sugar, salt and fat.

They are the very things that we also become addicted to on a junk food diet.

...carnivores addicted to junk food

Despite the fact that cats live in our homes, they are still strict carnivores 3. Their wild ancestors ate – and continue to eat – nothing but prey animal tissues.

But just as easily as we become addicted to starchy, sugary, fatty foods, so too do cats. What chance do they have to not become addicted if they are fed these foods day in and day out?

...empty calories keep them coming back

As obligate carnivores, cats have a high performance physiology, designed to be fueled by fresh, raw animal tissue. They lack the ability to fully digest, absorb and utilise ultra processed food, even if it is meat-based 4.

On top of this, they are unable to obtain any nutrients from the high volumes of vegetables and fruit in commercial foods. Cats have not evolved to eat any plants and these are largely empty calories to them 5, 6.

They tend to constantly eat and even overeat commercial foods in efforts to meet their unique, high nutritional requirements. This constant foraging and overeating are mistaken for love of a particular food.

...we are made to believe that cat food is the best option

Cat food manufacturers and most veterinarians assure us that ultra processed cat food is the best choice. We are told that they are nutritious, scientifically balanced and complete as well as health promoting.

We have all heard these assertions and we believe them. We are made to think that all other foods fall short of these man-made marvels.

...the full bag of tricks

All of these statements are nothing other than sales talk. Why veterinarians – whom we trust – recommend these products so resolutely, is a complex issue for another day.

Best Fed Cats - Image of cat resting in an indoor cat tree basket
Photo by Eric Han | Unsplash

Environmental Factors

In addition to the tricks of the pet food trade, there are also environmental factors that maintain the use of commercial cat food.

...early programming

In absence of a cat mother, we teach our cats what to eat. And what we are taught by pet food manufacturers and vets, we pass on to our cats. Over time, cat food imprints on them to the point where they will eat nothing else.

In most households, commercial diets are fed to the exclusion of all other foods. Cats develop a preference for these foods despite them going completely against their obligate carnivore biology.

Early food programming is powerful and resistant to change. Cats will continue to eat these foods because they are familiar, accessible and also highly addictive.

Over time, indoor cats will no longer recognise their ancestral diet – the food they have evolved to eat.

Best Fed Cats - image of kitten eating kibble
Image created from photo by master1305 | Freepik

...lack of options

Cats eat what we provide them with. As pets in our homes, they do not have many other food options. A few will continue to hunt in urban areas, but this is an existence fraught with danger. For the sake of brevity, this point will be clarified at a later stage.

For the sake of brevity, this point will be explained at a later stage. For the safety of cats, urban hunting should be minimised as far as possible.

So, if they can't hunt, the only other option is to accept the food we provide them with.

...easiest option for us

A large part of why we continue to buy commercial cat food is their affordability, accessibility, and unbeatable convenience. Plus we have such a wide selection of products to choose from.

When all these boxes are ticked, why would we even look at other options?

...our desire to do what is best

We love our cats unconditionally and will not intentionally harm them.

Strong convictions underlie everything we do and do not do. The same goes for what we buy. As long as we believe that commercial cat food is best for our cats, we will continue to use these products without even thinking about it.

If you want a more factual and research driven look at commercial foods, loo no further. Why is Commercial Cat Food So Bad? provides the opportunity for cat carers to learn as much as possible about the foods they are feeding.

This three part discussion takes an in-depth look at the pet food industry, popular ingredients, the quality of cat food and associated health effects. It will also look at a series of workable solutions.

To give some idea, exactly why veterinarians are so partial to commercial diets is an interesting sub-topic considered in part 2. In addition, there is a time and a place for everything. The conditions under which commercial foods are warranted is a sub-topic looked at in part 1.

Finally, solutions and strategies that are in greater harmony with the cat's unique physiology is a running topic in part 3. These discussions are information dense, eye opening and aim to answer all of the questions related to commercial cat food.

...food selection research offers further insights

A future post looks at what cats will choose to eat if they are given freedom of choice. The research study results are fascinating. This post is well worth the read to anyone who has ever wondered about this.

The next post looks at the knee jerk things we tell ourselves about commercial cat foods that are actually untrue. Until then, stay happy, stay healthy!

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1 Hodgkins, E.M. (2007). Your cat: Simple new secrets to a stronger, longer life. New York: St Martin’s Griffin.

2 Animal Digest (n.d.-b). In Wikipedia. Retrieved on March 3, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Animal_digest

3 Driscoll, C.A., Menotti-Raymond, M., Roca, A.L., Hupe, K., Johnson, W.E., Geffen, E., Harley, E.H., Delibes, M., Pontier, D., Kitchener, A.C., Yamaguchi, N., O’Brien, S.J. & Macdonald, D.W., (2007). The Near Eastern origin of cat domestication , Science, 317, 519– 523.

4 Taylor, B. & Becker, K.S. (2013). Dr Becker's real food for healthy dogs and cats: simple homemade foods (4th ed). United States: Natural Pet Productions.

5 Pierson, L.A. (2016). Feeding your cat: Know the basics of feline nutrition. In Cat Info. Retrieved September 11,2017, from http://catinfo.org/

6 Bernard , M. T. (2011). Raising cats naturally: How to car for your cat the way nature intended (2nd ed). United States: Blakkatz Publishing.

The information provided on the Bestfedcats.com website is educational and informational. We are here to give guidance on how to feed a properly balanced raw diet. We also offer advice on how to improve the diet of the modern house cat. Please note that we are not veterinarians. We are not here to give veterinary advice. Best Fed Cats will not be held responsible for any adverse reactions to your cat based on the information on our website. The health of your cat depends entirely on you. We expect you to use your knowledge of your cats, their circumstances and their health – in conjunction with a trusted veterinarian – to determine if any advice provided on this site is appropriate for your cats.

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