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CHOOSING A FOOD

You'll find lots of choices available when it comes to choosing food for your cat. How do you decide which one to pick? Here's a guide outlining types of foods as well as quality levels for each type.

There are three basic types of food: dry, semi-moist and canned.

Dry Food

Upside: It's the most economical choice. Dry food isn't stinky, can be stashed anywhere, and won't spoil if it sits in your cat's dish all day. Dry food particles are also the least likely to accumulate on your cat's teeth and contribute to dental plaque.

Downside: Some cats find dry food less appealing than semi-moist and canned foods.

Semi-Moist Food

Upside: Like dry food, semi-moist food doesn't need to be refrigerated, so it's easy to use and store. And most cats think it's a pretty tasty choice.

Downside: Cost. Semi-moist is more expensive than dry, and the high sugar content can cause problems for cats with certain conditions such as diabetes and dental disease.

Canned Food

Upside: Our feline friends pick canned food paws down. That makes it a good choice if you've got a finicky eater.

Downside: It costs more than dry, especially when you consider that canned grub can contain more than 70 percent water by weight. Canned food also spoils quickly once it's been opened, so you can't leave it out all day.

There are three quality levels of cat food: generic, name-brand grocery, and premium. They differ in cost, quality, convenience, and palatability.

Generic Food

Upside: They are inexpensive and can be found in some grocery and discount stores.

Downside: You get what you pay for. Generic foods aren't especially nutritious or easily digestible. And because generic chows contain fewer calories than higher-quality foods, your pet must eat more to get the same nutritional value - which leaves you with more cleanups.

Finally, ingredients in individual generic brands vary from bag to bag, which could upset your pal's stomach. Manufacturers will use the cheapest ingredients available to them at the time the food is produced so different batches of the same brand will have different ingredients, and abrupt changes in your cat's diet might throw his digestive system off.

Name-Brand Grocery Foods

Upside: These foods are generally nutritious and often cost less than premium foods.

Downside: The ingredients in name-brand grocery foods still may vary based on price and availability - and they might upset your cat's stomach. Cleaning up after gastrointestinal upset of any kind just isn't fun.

Premium Foods
Upside: These eats provide optimal nutrition. They include high-quality ingredients and the formula won't vary from bag to bag. Manufacturers also offer many premium foods developed specifically to meet adult and older cats' nutritional needs.

Downside: A bag of premium food costs more than a bag of generic or name-brand grocery food. But your cat actually eats less food because premium diets include higher-quality, more digestible ingredients. This makes their cost comparable to grocery brands - and it means fewer cleanups for you.

Most veterinarians recommend the premium variety because they are the most consistent, high-quality source of nutrition for your pets. At some point, your cat could develop a health problem such as kidney or intestinal disease, which requires premium foods that are developed specifically to manage these conditions. Your veterinarian will advise you if your cat needs one of these premium therapeutic foods.