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Pouch or ouch? The truth about semi-moist cat food

Semi-moist cat food is one of the most popular types of cat food among numerous variants.

Usually sold in handy pouches, semi-moist products are easy-to-use, portioned as separate meals, and nutritionally complete and balanced. They offer a convenient alternative to wet, dry, raw, and homemade food, and you can set up tailor-made meal plans by adding different flavours.

Most importantly, semi-moist food is palatable, with manufacturers going to great lengths to ensure cats—and their owners—find the taste, smell, and appearance attractive.

Are they the healthiest option for your cat, though? Let’s take a look at what goes into semi-moist cat food and compare it to other available products.

Pouch or ouch? The truth about semi-moist cat food

Finger-lickin’ good!

Source: Pixabay

What is semi-moist cat food?

Semi-moist cat food usually consists of meaty chunks in gravy or jelly, with a moisture value of around 60 per cent.

The idea for semi-moist formulas popped up in the 1970s. The products targeted cat parents who wanted to feel good about their nutritional choices and focused less on feeding felines appropriately.

The original semi-moist food was introduced by Ralston Purina and came in various flavours, including:

  • Beef
  • Gourmet dinner
  • Tuna
  • Liver
  • Country dinner

Since then, semi-moist cat food has become the most widely bought product, accounting for up to 230,000 tons of a total cat food volume of 321,000 tons in the UK in 2018.

The most significant advantage of semi-moist cat food is its convenience.

Packaged in single-serve pouches, semi-moist cat food is portioned as a single meal for a typical cat of three to four kilogrammes. Food preparation consists of opening the pouch and pouring it into a bowl.

Most pouches are available in cartons of ten or 12 pieces, making shopping and storage easier. The cartons are usually single-variety, so you need to buy several different cartons to get alternative flavours.

Many manufacturers offer age-adjusted semi-moist pouches, including:

The food is easily chewable and therefore suitable for cats with dental problems, although you may have to introduce a regular oral hygiene regimen to make sure food particles don’t get stuck between your feline’s teeth.

What are the typical ingredients in semi-wet cat food?

Besides being convenient to buy and use, many semi-moist cat foods are also cheap to produce.

In the case of the most popular semi-moist brands, the food is often high in:

  1. Gelling agents
  2. Grains and cereals
  3. Undefined meat sources
  4. Artificial colourants

Gelling agents

Gelling agents make the product look attractive to humans and cats by helping to form meat-like chunks or morsels.

The most common gelling agents used in semi-moist cat food are:

  • Guar gum
  • Cassia gum
  • Kappa carrageenan

They have no nutritional value to cats, and some evidence suggests that specific gelling agents may even be harmful to cats in the long run.

Grains and cereals

Many popular semi-wet products list grains and cereals among their ingredients. They bulk a product up and reduce the need for meat, which is among the most expensive ingredients.

While ingredients such as wheat gluten or corn starch are not harmful to cats, they cannot replace meat as an efficient protein source for a feline.

Undefined meat sources

Many companies are cagey about what is really in the product.

The most popular brands generally list “meat and animal derivatives“ as the first item in the ingredients list, often followed by a statement that at least four per cent of this is the flavour variant named on the pouch, so you may see something like:

  • Meat and animal derivatives (at least four per cent chicken)
  • Chicken and meat derivatives

If your cat has a sensitive stomach or is prone to food allergies, you may find that the food triggers an adverse reaction as it is impossible to tell what meat has been used.

Manufacturers of budget pouches using these vague descriptions can buy whichever ingredients are cheapest at the time of production. Your so-called chicken dinner may, in truth, contain no more than four per cent chicken, while the product is full of:

  • Animal parts not usable in human food
  • Bones, beaks, claws, or hooves
  • Offal or organs that would otherwise be discarded

Artificial colourants

Many semi-moist cat foods are attractively packaged and look nutritious, but the ingredients list may reveal that the product contains caramel colourants. Caramel colouring gives the product its characteristic meat-like appearance and enhances the aroma for the buyer, while the buyer’s cat cannot even taste it. As a simple carbohydrate, caramel colouring is far from beneficial for your feline.

Artificial additives and preservatives

Many semi-moist foods feature a long ingredients list with substances like:

  • Sodium tripolyphosphate
  • Taurine
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Disodium EDTA
  • BHA and BHT as preservatives

Added minerals and vitamins as separate ingredients suggest that the main components of the food are not nutritionally rich enough to give cats what they need. BHA and BHT are chemical preservatives linked to various forms of feline cancer.

The bottom line is that pouches might be convenient and relatively cheap, but they are usually not the best choice for your cat.

Artificial additives and preservatives

Diet? You calling me FAT?

Source: Pixabay

What are the high-moisture cat food alternatives?

If you appreciate the high moisture content of semi-moist cat food but don’t like the composition, your next best bet is to opt for canned cat food. It has the convenience of semi-moist products but brings real nutritional value to your feline’s diet.

The best tinned cat food contains around 80 per cent moisture, fulfilling your kitty’s need for water considerably better than dry biscuits.

The manufacturing process allows the makers not to use gelling agents, so you are more likely to find canned food that closely mimics your cat’s natural diet.

The best wet cat food contains:

  1. A high animal protein percentage
  2. Adequate animal fat levels
  3. Low carb amounts

A high animal protein percentage

Cats need animal protein to cover their amino acid requirements—vegan nutrition doesn’t work in the feline world.

While they can derive amino acids from grains and cereals, animal protein is more efficient, so your feline doesn’t need to eat as much to get the required nutrients.

The best canned products are grain-free and contain over 50% animal protein.

High percentages of animal protein also help with your cat’s skin and coat condition—your feline should shed less and produce fewer hairballs on a diet rich in meat.

Adequate animal fat levels

Animal fat is an excellent energy source, so the healthiest way for your cat to take calories is by eating animal fat. It also delivers essential fatty acids, such as:

  • Linoleic acid
  • Arachidonic acid
  • Omega-6 and omega-3

They help maintain cell membrane structure, resulting in improved organ function and healthier healing response.

Animal fat also tastes great, so you don’t need any artificial flavour enhancers to get fussy eaters to wolf the food down.

Low carb amounts

Cats do not eat carbs in the wild, so your domestic kitty is also not supposed to have them in their diet.

Carbs deliver fast-release energy or bulk up a product but quickly turn into fat if left unused.

In case your feline is on a carb-rich diet, you may notice:

  • Energy spikes similar to a sugar rush
  • Lethargy shortly afterwards
  • Weight problems
  • Diabetes and pancreas issues in later life

These symptoms are particularly common in indoor cats that have little opportunity for exercise.

High-quality canned products give your cat the necessary nutrients without the redundant fillers often found in semi-moist food.

Low carb amounts

These are treats, right?

Source: Pixabay

Can Untamed compete with semi-moist cat food?

Untamed is on a mission to give your feline the best of the best. Our products are created to the highest standards and based on what your cat needs and loves. Every Untamed meal is made according to the following principles:

  1. High levels of animal protein
  2. Vet-formulated recipes
  3. Human-grade ingredients
  4. Ethical manufacturing

High levels of animal protein

With more than twice the amount of animal protein that you find in most commercial semi-moist meals, Untamed will help your feline build strong muscles, keep a shiny and sleek coat, and maintain healthy body weight.

The high protein levels in Untamed also help prevent cystitis, bladder stones, and other UTIs—all in small, digestible portions.

We refrain from using any known allergens (such as grains or cereals), so your cat is less likely to experience gastrointestinal problems, food sensitivities, nausea, constipation, or weight issues.

Vet-formulated recipes

All Untamed formulas have been developed in collaboration with vet nutritionists, so your cat will get everything needed for a healthy life.

Whether your feline is a majestic Maine Coon, a kitten in the process of starting solid food, a Bengal queen happily going through pregnancy, or an elderly Persian with no teeth, you can be sure that their health is being looked after with Untamed.

Human-grade ingredients

All the ingredients that are used to make our food are fit for human consumption because your kitty deserves nothing but the best! We don’t use animal derivatives or nasty flavour enhancers.

Our dishes are gently steamed, not aggressively cooked, ensuring that harmful bacteria are destroyed and the goodness sealed in.

Human-grade ingredients


Image (c) Untamed

Ethical manufacturing

Untamed is a responsible cat food manufacturer. All our packaging material is recyclable, and we do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint during the production and distribution processes.

With all this goodness, isn’t it time you let your kitty try our food and feel the Untamed effect personally?

How can you try Untamed?

If you want your feline to get the best, now is the time to ditch the unhealthy pouches and move to the nutritious goodness that Untamed offers!

You will see the Untamed effect in no time:


The Untamed effect

Week one

●     Your feline should be more energetic, and you should see less mess in the litter tray

Month two

●     Your kitty will start to develop a more muscular physique

●     Energy won’t be a problem—you may have trouble keeping up

Month four

●     You should notice your feline’s coat starting to gleam

●     Hairballs and shedding should gradually reduce

For life

●     Your cat should manage their weight naturally and have an efficient immune response to various illnesses

Getting your kitty’s first taste of Untamed is as easy as one, two, three:

  1. Tell us about your feline friend
  2. Check out your personalised meal plan
  3. Order your cat food trial pack online

Once your trial pack arrives, your cat can decide which flavours they like best.

Tell us what has been devoured with the most gusto, and we will replenish your kitty’s new favourite food every month. Our cat food subscription and delivery plan allows you to relax and have some fun with your cat instead of fretting over what they eat. 

How can you try Untamed?

This is more like it!

Image (c) Untamed

What should you check before you buy semi-moist cat food?

If you still favour the convenience of semi-moist pouches, you should always check what goes into the products you buy.

Good semi-moist food is available, but you have to know what to look for. Thankfully, all the information you need is on the label, as follows:

  1. Flavour designation
  2. Ingredients list
  3. Guaranteed analysis

Flavour designation

Strict rules govern the naming of cat food, and your pouch of choice contains all the necessary info in its name.

The flavour of each pouch tells you how much of the stated meat source must be in the product, namely:

Flavour designation

Percentage of the named meat in the product

“flavoured with”

Up to 4%


Between 4% and 14%

“rich in”

More than 14% but less than 26%

A named meat source, such as in Untamed’s Chocka Chicken

Over 26%

As an example, your cat’s favourite “beef flavour dinner“ pouch may contain less than four per cent beef.

Ingredients list

By law, ingredients must be listed in descending order by volume, so the largest single ingredient should be first on the list.

Meat as the first ingredient is a good start, but you should also check further down the list for:

Ingredients list tricks


Ingredient splitting

Be cautious if you see anything like:

●     Ground yellow corn

●     Corn meal

●     Corn gluten

These are all the same ingredient, but splitting them by nutrient type makes each item smaller, so the meat remains in the first place

Long lists

If the ingredients list is long, this may mean that:

●     Vitamins and minerals have been added to compensate for low-quality primary ingredients

●     Artificial additives have been used

The shorter and more precise the list, the better the product

Obscure meat types

Be wary of:

●     Animal derivatives

●     “Meat“ as a sole description

●     Meat derivatives

If any of these terms are among the ingredients, you could be buying a product with a changeable recipe

Guaranteed analysis

The guaranteed analysis tells you how much of the following is in the product:

  • Crude protein
  • Fat
  • Carbs
  • Moisture

High protein and fat percentages do not necessarily mean a good product—both these nutrient groups could be plant-based.

You should compare the ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis to ensure the product contains high levels of definable meat. The ideal values to look for are:

Nutrient type

Ideal percentage

Animal protein

Over 50%


Up to 20%


Less than 3%

The best products have:

  • Clearly defined type of meat as the first ingredient
  • A short, clear list of ingredients
  • High protein values, with low or zero carbs

Should you be worried about feeding semi-moist food?

You want your feline to enjoy a long and healthy life, and your nutritional choices can make a huge difference.

Sticking with low-quality semi-moist pouches may be enough for your feline, as long as the food is complete and balanced.

Low-value nutrition can have long-term effects on your cat’s health, most commonly on:

  1. Weight management and mobility
  2. Organ health and function
  3. Digestive health

Weight management and mobility

Cats‘ nutritional needs change as they grow older, but the basic requirements always remain the same. The food should help felines:

  • Remain mobile
  • Keep a stable weight (especially important for neutered cats)
  • Retain muscle mass even when they get old

High animal protein levels should be your first tick box item when choosing cat food because they are essential for your feline's well-being.

Organ health and function

Your cat’s organs are sensitive and prone to various issues at all life stages.

The most common problems are:

  • Skin conditions
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism

Digestive health

Every cat suffers from an upset tummy once in a while, but your food choice can help ensure that:

  • Digestive problems are rare
  • Recovery is quick and serious conditions like anorexia don’t happen

The better the food you choose, the longer and happier life awaits your cat.