Unbalanced Cat Foods You’re Not Told About

Updated May 28, 2021

Around half of the wet cat foods being sold in my local supermarket are unbalanced. There’s usually no warning on the label to say so. (see list below).

Did you know this? I didn’t until recently, and it’s my job to know, so I’m guessing you didn’t either.

gourmet cat food

If a pet owner feeds too much of one of these, their cat will miss out on essential nutrients. It’s a wonder that we don’t see more problems. These foods will probably supply the energy, fat and protein requirements of an animal, but little else.

Pet owners are always being told that the foods they buy deliver all their cat’s needs. They’re not being told about all the almost identical ones that don’t.

Why Balance Matters

fancy feast tin

Nutrients in food are needed for a whole host of essential functions:

  • Vitamins are required in chemical reactions across the whole body
  • Minerals maintain bone strength and muscle function
  • Trace elements are needed for many enzymes to work properly
applaws cat tin

Deficiencies may not have an obvious effect, but they’re sure to damage health and wellbeing. In severe cases, especially with calcium or thiamine deficiency, death can ensue.

More commonly, we might see pets with reduced immune system performance, poor skin or coat health, lethargy or gut problems.

Unbalanced Cat Foods

These foods aren’t any more dangerous to pets than a big steak is to us. As long as you know they’re really just treats. This list is not exhaustive, so afterwards I’ll show you what to look for on the packets and tins.

  • All ‘pet meats’
  • Applaws tins & pouches
  • Black & Gold Cat Food tins
  • Dine Creamy Soup
  • Dine Desire (tins)
  • Dine Fine Flakes
  • Dine Melting Soup
  • Fancy Feast Royale
  • Gourmet Delight
  • Purina Feast Royale
  • Purr small tins (most, not all)
  • Smitten small tins
  • Snappy Tom Naturals tins
  • Ultimates Indulge
  • Your Majesty small tins

To avoid being sued, I need to say that it’s possible some of these foods are balanced and just aren’t saying so or disclosing their full ingredient lists.

It’s also worth noting how many fish varieties are made in Thailand, where the use of forced labour in their fishing fleet has been an ongoing concern.

How To Identify Unbalanced Pet Foods

dine desire tin
  • Look for very short ingredient lists like in the pictures
  • There will not be any use of the phrases “complete and balanced” or “nutritionally complete”
  • They won’t mention following AAFCO guidelines
  • If you’re lucky, it’ll say in tiny print “intended for occasional or supplemental use”
  • Sometimes they seem deliberately misleading, like saying “to be fed with a complete & balanced cat food” immediately followed by a recommended feeding guide showing the amount per day using nothing else!

Very few tell you, in my experience. Are you wondering why so many unbalanced foods exist? The answer is in the difference between supermarket and premium pet food.

And now, a bonus question:

How To Tell If Pet Food Is Irradiated

dog jerky treats
“Do not feed to…”

Irradiated foods are fatally toxic to cats and should never be fed. So why in heavens would any sane person give such a food to a closely related species, the dog? Answer: because they don’t tell us.

I’m working to get irradiation of pet food disclosed in labelling. In the meantime, look for the mysterious words “do not feed to cats” and in your head, translate this to mean “put me right back on the shelf”. I can’t promise that every food that says this is irradiated, but let’s play it safe until they’re forced to tell us.

Related: How to give a balanced diet to catsA biologically appropriate diet for cats

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

27 Replies to “Unbalanced Cat Foods You’re Not Told About”

    1. Hi Charlie. The soup alone would be a very unbalanced diet, which is probably stated in fine print on the back of the packet. Being watery, it would also supply insufficient nutrients, so if your cat is not eating other food, please get a check up straight away. Cats with FIV often need higher levels of intervention than others, but also usually respond well to treatment.

  1. Thanks Andrew, for a brilliant article.
    I wondered why they put “supplemental” food on tins of Ultimate I just bought (my cats love it)
    But I’ll seek different ones from now on. Thanks again.

  2. Are there any issues with raw commercial brands like Big Dog for cats or Leaps & Bounds?

  3. Below are my somewhat long account of evolving discoveries of what made our former rescue Siamese cat kitten, Natasha, happy.
    I did two things for ‘tasha whose coat in her mid-life years was sparse and dull. I sowed wheat grass from a health store and sowed this punnet of plants into quality potting soil in two black nursery seedling trays–one in use the other to alternate with the well-cropped. It sat in the light on the fireplace hearth extension. Tasha daily ate from the tray being an inside cat by choice.
    Next, I received a tip from a pet professional that administering orally electrolytes to her would benefit bodily function and enhance her coat–electrolytes not usually, if at all, part of commercial pet food formulations. Daily she was put on her back [which she hated] while a dropper of about 5 ml max of baby formula electrolytes [ from a US pharmacy] was put on the rear of her tongue. In about six weeks her thin dull coat had changed into a glossy, thick bear-like coat. She was young and agile at 20 years of age and still going strong. I experimented with the food, gave her pet vitamins, fed her grass-fed minced lamb, sometimes fish [but not canned tuna] and bought the best canned full-healthy formulas available.

    She required freshly changed water daily and couldn’t be conned by a circulating water device. [My friend’s cat insisted on drinking from the kitchen tap].
    Lastly, she would spring up her 180 cm cat tree and hide in a covered section spying down on where we were moving around. A tall cat tree for hiding can be a cat’s own space from sometimes house commotion and noise and that, I should think, benefits feline nervous systems; such space necessary for dogs to voluntarily retire at day’s end.

  4. I used to supplement my 3 indoor cats’ diet with Dine (they all loved it). My oldest cat is now recovering from chronic pancreatitis (and suspected triaditis) by switching to a low-allergen diet. Even just removing Dine and replacing it with a veterinary diet wet food made a huge difference in the IBD symptoms that were increasing over the years. I really wish I’d discussed his diet and episodes with a vet long ago

    1. Hi Leslie. That’s really interesting and not all that unusual either. However, it’s worth pointing out that for the majority of cats, these foods in moderation are perfectly fine.

  5. The Dine Finest Serve packets actually say they “are formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AFOOO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for adult cat mainrenance”

  6. Thank you so much for this. I have been feeding my cat Purr and after reading your article I checked the carton. In small print it says it is a complementary food only. I had not noticed this before and very grateful that you wrote this article and I can now get a proper balanced food for my cat.

  7. I think you need a lesson in why some natural and grainfree cat foods do not claim complete and balanced, it is because they over achieve on essential amino acids like tryptophan and methionine. I know this is the case for Gourmet Delight, because the meat is real, not processed. Perhaps first find out about the products you are insulting, have you ever contacted the manufacturers to ask them? I think not…

    1. Hi Jason. There’s really no such thing as overachieving, and in fact oversupplementation would be more likely to be harmful than helpful. It’s all about the nutrients that are missing. Bear in mind the risk I would take in making any false statement concerning such a major industry.

  8. Applaws is a fantastic food for cats it’s the best thing on the market you holistic lunatics need to get over it and stop hating on it its all natural it’s better then the crap vets sell like Royal canine and black hawk my cats are healthier then ever since switching over all the politics from the big companies and vets wanting to push their over priced crap food won’t stop people switching to it

    1. Hi Ray. The purpose of this article is not to criticise any foods, but to alert cat owners to the fact that many of them will not supply all of a cat’s nutritional needs, something not all of them are stating clearly enough.

    2. Yes totally agree Ray! Also, Applaws clearly state their wet food should be ‘complimentary’ to their dry food, which provides all the nutrients a cat needs in their diet.

      1. I’m not sure that calling it a ‘complementary pet food’ is clear enough that the food is unbalanced. Below this it states: ‘Feed with other Applaws complete wet and dry cat food for a balanced diet’ which is hardly any clearer especially since I cannot find a balanced wet variety in my two local supermarkets.

  9. Thank you for your informative article.
    I now feed my two cats wet and dry food from the Vet. But I do still give them some ‘Dine Creamy Treats,’ after grooming, and as a training aid. I’m sharing your article with family and friends (some feel they can’t afford to change to the Vet products), but at least now than can make informed choices.

  10. We use Felix wet food our cats love it, we also have plenty of good quality dry food on offer & they love some fresh hot chicken as a once a week treat. Very interesting artical, I found a lot out about cat food when on of my old cats had kidney failure & did not like the food the vet could supply, so I had to go searching through the supermarket shelves for appropriate food. Most of it is gelatinous rubbish.

    1. Even though my cat loved it… Felix nearly killed my kitty 🙁 He’s allergic to something they put into it.

      1. Out of legal correctness, we should say that your cat became sick because of a suspected adverse food reaction associated with an ingredient, but it’s very hard to prove.

      1. Hi Margie. I’ll have a look myself the next time I’m in the supermarket – not all ingredients are declared on Australian food labels anyway so it would be hard to tell.

  11. I have found a really good wet cat food made in New Zealand it is called Feline Natural my cats love it.

    1. Thank you for a great article. Are there any suitable tinned foods for cats that have no medical issues?

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