Organic vs. Non Organic Cat Food : A Want or a Need?

Many of us consider our pets to be valuable members of our families, so when it comes to feeding and making sure all of their needs are met, many Americans seek out premium or organic products that they believe will keep their beloved four legged friends in the best health possible. Last year, in 2019, Americans spent $95.7 Billion on Pet Expenditures, and $36.9 billion of this was spent on “Pet Food & Treats”. Given that the market for human organic food has skyrocketed, it makes sense that trends in pet food have followed suit. Of this $36.9 billion spent on pet food, a sizable portion came from the higher prices associated with premium organic food. There is not a clear consensus as to whether premium organic pet foods are truly necessary. In most cases, it’s up the pet owner’s judgement as to whether organic food is cost prohibitive or a strong investment into their pet’s health. 

Introduction to the Dietary Needs of Cats

According to Cornell University’s Department of Veterinary medicine, cats require a rather complex healthy diet of protein, fat, and dozens of nutrients in addition to constant access to safe and clean drinking water. However, due to their desert origin, cats are able to survive off less water per day than another pet of a similar weight. The dietary needs of cats are particularly unique due to two main factors: cats are both obligate carnivores and are of desert origin. An obligate carnivore is an animal who needs meat in their diet for survival, and the term came to being as a result of a long line of ancestral diets. Obligate carnivores need a high level of meat protein in their diet, and their bodies produce blood glucose through this meat rather than from carbohydrates. 

Throughout history, cats have consumed meat so consistently that their bodies have lost the ability to naturally produce amino acids. Their bodies require high levels of both taurine and arginine, minerals which are found almost only in animal protein. In fact, if a cat is to go without protein, their own muscles and body will begin to break down to fuel them. 

Cats’ digestive tracks are remarkably smaller than those of other mammals, and the cat’s digestive tract is equipped to process raw meat quite easily without an abundance of fermenting bacteria that other mammals use to process consumed plants. Thus, when deciding how to best feed your pet cat, it’s essential to stay away from vegan diets that will strip your four legged friend of the nutrients they need to survive and grow. Meat protein cannot be replaced with fish, either, as the fatty acids in fish can lead to a vitamin E deficiency in your pet.

Popular Subcategories of Commercial Cat Food

There are two subcategories of cat food, each with its own pros and cons. These two categories are canned food and dry food. 

Canned cat food tends to be more expensive, particularly because it must be refrigerated, making it more prone to spoiling or expiring. However, canned foods often sport more animal protein and fat than dry or semi moist foods. Canned foods also contain more water and will hydrate your pet more similarly to how they’d stay hydrated in the wild. 

Dry food is less expensive, can be purchased in large quantities, and has a longer shelf life. However, it differs from wet food in moisture content, and thus can lead to dehydration for your pet if they aren’t particularly fond of drinking enough water on their own. If a large bag is purchased, it must be stored in an airtight container to prevent the food from losing nutrients and maintaining the fats. 

In order to determine which is right for your pet, you’ll want to consider the age and activity levels of your pet. Foods are often labeled for where the cat is in their lifespan, whether that’s kitten, adult, or senior cat, and kittens will definitely need moist foods and raw meats to support proper growth and development. Senior cats will benefit from canned moist foods that are easy on sore teeth and are packed full of water that will help them stay hydrated as they age. 

Once you’ve determined the type of food that is best suited for your cat’s individual lifestyle and needs, you are faced with an important decision: to buy organic or non organic. Many pet owners opt for organic products for both themselves and their pets when they are financially able to, as the connotation is that these products are much healthier for us and this justifies their higher price point.

Organic products in general are quite popular; according to the USDA, organic food sales account for over 4% of total food sales, and ⅔ of shoppers regularly opt for organic foods. Thus, it makes sense that health conscious consumers will want the same quality for their pets as well.

There are fewer organic pet food brands than there are human organic food brands out there, but many of these brands are quite popular. Consistent with organic human food, organic pet food can also come at a considerably higher price point. This is another factor to take into consideration, as is weighing the costs and benefits for your pet’s health.  

What Is an Organic Cat Food?

In the United States, the specifications for a product to be classified as organic are quite strict. Cat foods that are labeled “100% Organic” include only ingredients from animals who have been raised naturally and free of all chemicals or antibiotics, and have agricultural ingredients from crops that have been treated pesticide free for the past three years.

While these are products that are labeled “100% Organic”, you will likely also find pet foods labeled “Organic” or “Made with Organic”. These indicate different levels of purity; “organic” means that 95% of the ingredients meet the USDA’s qualifications, while “made with organic” indicate that at least 70% of these ingredients meet the standards (although this percentage can be higher, up to 95%). 

Thus, when seeking out an organic pet food, it’s a good idea to pay clear attention to these labels to make sure that you know you’re getting exactly what you’ve paid for, especially since organic pet foods are likely sitting at a higher price point than non organic foods. This is due to a smaller quantity available because of non commercial farming practices and the increased cost to the inputs to production of organic food. 

Natural Foods (Non-Organic) 

The alternative to organic cat food is natural cat food. Natural products differ from organic ones in that they are able to contain small traces of synthetics or additives that are necessitated by the production process. The ingredients are also allowed to be subject to heat process, fermentation, or extraction that deems the product non organic. 

Differences in Nutritional Value 

Surprisingly enough, studies found that the difference in nutritional value of organic versus non organic pet foods was quite minimal. Organic foods have higher levels of fatty acids, a tad more antioxidants, and higher amounts of phosphorus. However, we aren’t exactly sure as to if these small increases result in tangible health benefits. 

Observed Benefits of Organic Pet Food 

While there are definitely considerations such as cost that will factor into your decision to opt into or abstain from purchasing organic pet food, there are true benefits to opting into organic. The first is that organic foods have to be free from chemicals and pesticides, which makes the foods much more digestible for your pet, leading to a reduction in your pet’s digestive disorders and a potential higher quality of life for them.

If your cat has been vomiting or having clear stomach issues after meals, the switch to a food free from chemicals and additives will likely help to clear this up. If your cat has skin irritation or other allergies, organic food that is free from flavor enhancements and processed colors should also help them protect their coat and prevent skin infections. 

Another benefit to purchasing organic cat food is that you are likely supporting smaller local farmers who are not contributing to adding toxic chemicals that destroy our wildlife.

For some owners, the ethical benefit outweighs the increased cost to the product, as it feels justified that products that have been hand treated and hand picked come at a higher cost than commercially mass produced products. If ethics and sustainability are a passion of yours, there are organic pet food brands out there that are conscientiously sourced and produced with minimal waste and use recycled packaging. 

Making the Decision 

When it comes to making the decision as to if you will feed your cat organic or non organic food, there are a few factors we want to keep in mind. First, consider the higher cost of the organic products as well as your cat’s current state of health. For a cat who is experiencing irritation or digestive issues, making the switch to organic can be truly beneficial for their health and improve their quality of life. In addition to helping their existing health conditions or allergies, the absence of chemicals and additives will likely improve your cat’s energy levels and quality of life. 

However, if you think that organic pet food isn’t a necessity in your household, you can raise a perfectly healthy and long living cat on natural foods. Natural foods have not been processed with synthetic chemicals, however are able to have small traces of synthetics and additives due to the production process. The AAFCO allows these traces because pets do need a minimal level of these synthetic ingredients, and their presence doesn’t devalue the nutritional content of the food. 

Choosing how to feed your cat can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as with human bodies, proper nutrition will lengthen lifespan and increase their quality of life. In many cases, investing in proper nutrition will actually save the pet owner money in the long run, as veterinary costs will be lower.

A cat owner doesn’t have to make a decision between wet and dry foods, and cats will likely benefit from a mix of both. Just as we wouldn’t want to eat the same thing every day, neither do they! Providing them with a proper mix of both will make sure that they get enough hydration from the wet foods and open accessibility of dry foods.

Whether you choose to feed your cat organic or non organic products, this understanding of their nutritional needs as well as how to utilize both wet and dry foods will help you give your pet the longest and healthiest life possible. As to if organic or non organic cat food is best for your particular situation, that’s up to you!