Jennifer Van de Kieft
Food Rotation Diet for Cats: Rotating Brands and Proteins
A food rotation diet consists of not relying on one or two pet food companies, but offering your cat a variety of brands and proteins. It's great for nutrition, enrichment and preventing finickiness.
There are a lot of benefits to a food rotation diet and not many negatives other than it can initially take some trial and error to find foods your cat likes to eat.
Variety is good for optimal nutrition
Does eating one type of food provide adequate nutrition? That's definitely not how most humans eat. Nutritionists advise us to eat a varied diet with lots of different colored fruits and vegetables with proteins, healthy fats, and maybe complex carbohydrates. When living outside and depending on what's available in the area, cats might hunt for mice, birds and bugs. In certain areas, they might also eat lizards, snakes and frogs. Each pet food company does ingredients a bit differently in terms of what they use for protein, fats and added nutrients. When we use different companies and vary the proteins, it gives our cats access to a larger variety of nutrients compared with when we give them the same food all the time.
What's for dinner tonight? The same thing you had for breakfast, and the day before that, and the day before that. Really?
Varying the food contributes to enrichment. You might like to eat pizza, but would you eat it for every meal for months on end? The food your cat might have initially loved may become less appealing with time if that's the only food she eats.
There are different ways of providing a food rotation diet such as alternating foods at each meal, or weekly, or monthly. For my cats, every meal is like Thanksgiving, with a choice of options. That's easy to do when you have 5 cats, harder with one or two. I'm currently feeding my cats an assortment of canned food and Vital Essentials freeze fried raw food, which is their new favorite. I like the "Thanksgiving meal" as I call it because it provides options. Luke's favorite food is Weruva's Paw Lickin Chicken, but sometimes he chooses another option. Why? Maybe he's tired of it, or his body is telling him to eat something different today. Options provide cats with a feeling of control and make for less stressed cats.
Out of Stock! Or, worse, Discontinued
We saw this a lot during the height of the pandemic where certain cat foods were out of stock for a long period of time due to supply chain issues. Many pet guardians were in a panic since their pet was used to eating only one type of food and were desperately trying lots of others in order to get their pet to eat. And, every now and then, a food is discontinued. That happened to use 3 years ago when Nutro discontinued Max Cat, my cats favorite canned food. Luckily, they were also eating other brands and proteins. It was disappointing and frustrating since Max Cat was their favorite, but my cats were still eating and I was not desperate.
Safety - possibly the best reason to use a variety of food
Pet food is recalled more frequently than I feel comfortable with. Top companies regularly recall certain products due to anything from mislabeling the food to salmonella contamination. If that's the only food you're using and your cat is exposed to something dangerous, they are more likely to be harmed by it than if they were getting a smaller amount of that food. A good resource for pet food recalls, ingredients and a lot of scary information about the pet food industry can be found at The Truth About Pet Food which is a site run by pet owners keeping tabs on the highly profitable pet food industry.
When cats are not exposed to a variety of food, it may be challenging to transition them to other foods. Again, if their favorite is discontinued, this can be frustrating. Or, for medical reasons, you need to change your cat's food, they may not be as receptive if they're used to eating one type of food.
For all of these reasons, I feed my cats a large variety of different companies. I look for companies that use animal protein for the majority of the ingredients, not fillers like rice, soy, and corn. As obligate carnivores, cats need animal protein as their primary source of nutrition. The first 5 ingredients say a lot about a product.
Need help with feeding your cat? I offer a Feeding Advice Consultation to provide guidance on quantity, quality and best practices.
Jennifer Van de Kieft is a Certified Advanced Feline Training and Behavior Professional and Certified Pet Nutrition Coach residing in NYC and providing virtual feline behavior consultations worldwide.