The 2022 cat-food shortage and what to do about it
These photos are from my local grocery-store pet-food aisle. The shelves are almost bare. There are few cat-food brands left, and few flavors and formulations. It’s possible that things are even worse at your local grocery or pet store.
What is going on?
In this post I’ll review the factors that are affecting cat-food availability in 2022 and what a loving cat guardian can do to safely feed their cats through this difficult time.
Why are there cat food shortages in 2022?
There are two main factors that are affecting the current availability of cat food, especially canned food: aluminum shortages and ingredient shortages.
Aluminum shortage is the bigger problem affecting your ability to buy wet cat food right now, so let’s address that issue first.
Aluminum shortages are affecting the wet cat-food business
Most wet cat food is packaged in cans. Most of those cans are made from aluminum, although some cat-food manufacturers use steel or tin-coated steel.
Demand for aluminum has been growing for the last several years, for a number of reasons, including:
Aluminum cans are great for marketing. Aluminum cans are the perfect canvas for fancy designs. They can be made into special shapes, and imprinted with stylish graphics. For these reasons, beverage companies love to package their products in aluminum.
Aluminum is cheap to make and transport. Aluminum is lightweight and cans can be designed for easy stacking, which makes aluminum cans cheap and efficient to transport. Aluminum is also less expensive to manufacture than many other types of packaging.
People have gone crazy for hard seltzer. Demand for hard seltzers, like White Claw, has exploded. Nobody had even heard of hard seltzer until 2013, and today hard seltzer is a $5.5 billion business.
Hard seltzer, which tends to be sold in aluminum cans, has put enormous pressure on the aluminum market. In addition, hard seltzer has stolen market share from beer, a product that is often sold in other types of containers, such as glass bottles and kegs.
People started drinking at home during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in demand for products sold in aluminum cans. Instead of going to a bar or restaurant and ordering a fountain drink, or beer on-tap, people started drinking their Cokes and Bud Lights at home.
Demand may have been up, but aluminum production has been down.
China is the biggest producer of aluminum in the world, and the U.S. is one of the biggest importers of Chinese aluminum. But Chinese aluminum production has been down.
First, the Chinese government tightened environmental restrictions in an effort to meet carbon-emissions goals, which slowed production of aluminum. Then, two terrible accidents at large aluminum factories – one in July of 2021, and one in April 2022 – had a devastating effect on the country’s ability to produce enough aluminum for export. 
Cat-food pouches are a good alternative to aluminum packaging
The good news is that some cat-food companies are addressing the aluminum shortage in unique ways. Look for more cat foods to be offered in pouch-type packaging, which eliminates the dependence on aluminum.
Currently, you can buy many quality brands in pouches, including Royal Canin, The Honest Kitchen, Wellness, Weruva, WholeHearted, Merrick, Natural Balance, and others.
Meat and other ingredient shortages are affecting the cat-food business
Aluminum shortages are not the only thing affecting the availability of cat food. The pandemic has caused meat prices to go up and other-ingredient availability to go down for these and other reasons:
Everything used to produce meat is more expensive. Fertilizers used to grow cattle feed is more expensive. Carbon dioxide used to keep meat cold is more expensive. Packaging is more expensive. Trucking is more expensive, too.
Labor shortages. Pandemic-related labor shortages are wreaking havoc on the meat business. Meat packing can be a physically demanding, but low-paying occupation and meat-packing companies are having a hard time recruiting enough staff. Before COVID, meat processors often hired immigrant workers from Mexico, but changes in immigration laws have reduced access to that source of labor.
Cat-food ingredients are often sourced overseas. Even if most of the ingredients in your cat’s food are sourced in the U.S., certain ingredients, like the vitamins and minerals that are added to pet food, are only made in other countries, especially China.
"Many countries import ingredients such as meat, minerals, and vitamins that are used to manufacture pet food," explained Dr. Maureen Murithi, a veterinarian who contributes to hepper.com.
The supply-chain issues that are affecting everything else we like to buy are affecting pet-food ingredients as well.
Adoptions are keeping demand for cat food very high
Demand for cat food remains very high thanks to continued cat adoptions. Cats are still being adopted at the same rate as they were during the peak of pandemic.
Finally, some good news, even if it’s wrapped in not-so-good news.
What should you do if you can’t find your cat’s favorite food in 2022?
(*This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.)
It’s scary to walk into your local pet store, the one you can always count on to carry your cat’s food, and find your kitty’s favorite minced fish and shrimp entrée completely out of stock.
Maybe your cat is a picky eater and you worry that he won’t eat anything but his fave. Or maybe your cat has a sensitive tummy, and you worry that switching foods will cause an upset belly.
First, remind yourself that this is a temporary situation. The cat-food shortage will eventually sort itself out. You only have to find a solution that will get you and your cat through until it does.
Your cat is on a special diet, or eats a prescription food
This is the only situation that can get tricky during a time like this one.
Cats with food sensitivities or allergies, urinary-tract health issues, diabetes, or other medical issues, can’t be asked to “make do” with whatever food is available.
Contact your vet to see what alternative foods will work with your cat’s condition first. Multiple brands typically make special diets for specific conditions, and one might be available in your geographical area if the other is not. Also, your vet may have access to cat-food distributors or other sources that are unavailable to you directly.
Check online sources, too. If you don’t already purchase your veterinary cat food from Chewy.com, consider doing so. They currently have a wide range of veterinary diets in stock.
How to keep your cat well-fed during the cat-food shortage of 2022
If your cat doesn’t have any specific dietary requirements (picky eater doesn’t count), you can still keep her well-fed during this cat-food shortage. Here’s how. But first:
Don’t hoard. You’ve searched all over your city for your cat’s favorite food and you finally, finally find a stash at one store. The temptation to buy everything on the shelf is going to be very strong.
But pause. You love your cat, but you also just love cats, right? There is probably another sweet little kitty in your neighborhood who also won’t eat anything but XYZ Brand’s Whitefish Paté, too.
Buy enough to enable your cat to transition to another type of food, but not enough to wipe out the entire supply in your state.
Use your current supply to transition to another quality cat food. Your cat doesn’t need to go hungry, even if she “says” she’ll only eat Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers’ Beef.
The key is to transition your cat to a new food s-l-o-w-l-y. A slow transition to a new food brand, flavor, or formulation is the key to preventing a bellyache. And she might not even notice that she’s no longer eating the “only” type she professed she’d eat.
How to transition to a new cat food
Veterinarian and behaviorist Paola Cuevas of excitedcats.com recommends this process:
- Start with a 90/10 mixture of the old food and new food. Imagine cutting your cat’s dinner into 10 little equal-sized chunks. Take one chunk of the old food out, and replace it with one chunk of the new food. Do this for two days in a row.
- Increase the new food to 25% of the meal. Divide your cat’s dinner into four equal-sized chunks. Take one chunk out, and replace it with a chunk of the new food. Do this for three days.
- Provide a 50/50 mix of old food and new food. Do this for three days.
- Switch the ratio to 75% new food and 25% old food. Do this for three days.
- After around 11 days of transitioning, you can safely feed only new food.
“The idea,” said Dr. Cuevas, “is to give the cat, and his digestive system, an opportunity to gradually adapt to the new food.”
Consider switching to dry food in the short run. The main advantage of dry food during this cat-food shortage, is that it comes in bags, not aluminum cans. You may still be able to find dry food in your local supermarket or pet store.
There are many good reasons to feed cats only wet food, including kidney health. But cats can do very well on dry food, especially if you take great pains to make sure your cat is getting enough moisture in other forms.
First, read this post, “Wet food or dry food: which is better for your cat?,” to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of cat-food formulation, before you pass judgment.
Many cats do well consuming only dry food their entire lives. If you can convince your cat to try a little dry food, you’ll probably be able to sleep a little better at night, knowing she won’t go hungry.
The main concern when switching from wet food to dry food is that dry food is dry. Cats can be fussy about drinking water (read this post, “Why won’t my cat drink from her bowl?”), and many rely on the moisture in their canned food to get enough.
You will have to do more to ensure that your cat is getting enough water if you switch to dry food. Here are some tips:
- Keep water bowls far away from your cat’s food and litterboxes. Cats drink more water when everything is kept separate.
- Consider using ceramic or steel bowls, which cats prefer, instead of plastic. Plastic can change the taste of the water it contains, which some cats don’t seem to like. (Read more about bowl types in this post, “What kind of food bowl or water dish should I buy for my cat?”)
- Offer multiple drinking stations, especially in multi-cat households, so a cat can feel comfortable quenching her thirst without getting ambushed.
- Consider using a cat water fountain like this model by Veken, or this one by PETLIBRO. Some cats just like moving water.
- Try adding flavors to a cat’s drinking water to pique her interest: chicken broth or the water from a can of tuna, for example. Make sure neither contain garlic or onion, which can be harmful to cats. (Read about foods that are toxic to cats.)
Only make your own cat food with guidance. Cooking for your cat is a very loving thing to do. And with the right guidance, it is possible to make nutritionally balanced cat food at home.
But it's not something you should undertake without professional advice. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they are required to eat only meat. Dogs and humans, by contrast, are omnivores, meaning we can eat all kinds of foods, so we can be more flexible.
You can't just feed your cat any meat, however, and meet all of his nutritional needs. Cats are unable to manufacture certain essential amino acids, especially taurine, which is required for heart, eye, nerve, brain, and immune health. These, and certain vitamins and minerals, must be supplemented in just the right amounts.
You can, for an extremely brief period of time (a couple of days at most), feed your cat plain cooked meat or fish to tide you over. But it’s not a long-term solution. Be careful not to rely too heavily on canned tuna, however, because it is high in mercury.
If you are considering preparing your own cat food on an ongoing basis, first consult a veterinary nutritionist.
You can find a directory of board-certified veterinary nutritionists on the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists website:
Directory of Veterinary Nutritionists
According to Dr. Sehaj Grewal of The Melrose Vet, you can also purchase "from scratch" food prepared by someone else. "There are a few companies that make food from scratch such as just food for dogs," Dr. Grewal explained.
Although I can't personally recommend any particular cat-food delivery company, you can consider purchasing from-scratch food from companies like Smalls, Nom Nom, Cat Person, and Milk Pet. Check with your vet before switching to one of these products.
The last couple of years has been stressful for all of us, and for reasons that always seem to be changing. For some, the cat-food shortage of 2022 can feel like a last straw. As the losses and stresses pile up, an inability to feed our cats – the ones who have been there and seen us through it all – can feel like an unbearable additional challenge.
But with a little creativity and a little flexibility you can do it. You and your cat can wait out this blip in history.
Remember that cat-food companies want to sell you their products. They are working hard to figure out the best way to get their food to your stores. It will happen.
Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!
Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
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 Detrixhe, John.
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 WPRI.com. “'Not Completely Covid-19's Fault': Here's Why There's a Wet Cat Food Shortage.” WPRI.com, WPRI.com, 16 Feb. 2022, https://www.wpri.com/business-news/not-completely-covid-19s-fault-heres-why-theres-a-wet-cat-food-shortage/.
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Daniel, this is an incredibly frustrating time. I often feel the way you do when I’m shopping for my own groceries. (Is there a REASON mayonnaise is suddenly $7 a jar?). I can’t speak to any company’s pricing strategies, and we may find out later, when historians look back, about any possible price gouging that occurred during this strange time in history. But it makes sense that more people are purchasing less-expensive brands of cat food than they were before when all of their other household expenses have risen so dramatically, or that people who usually buy aluminum-canned food now have no choice but to buy their less-preferred brand that happens to come in steel. What you’re experiencing at your Walmart store could be a supply/demand problem as much as anything else.
No explanation can alleviate your very real frustration, however.
This rings a bit hollow when you consider that it seems Walmart always has enough of the more expensive foods, but continually runs out of the more affordable foods which tend to be packaged in steel cans, rather than aluminum. It looks suspiciously like a way to force people to pay 3 or four times the price for a given quantity of cat food, because they can’t allow their pets to starve.
Roger, You are so right about the water fountain. Cats can be fussy about drinking water (I’ve written a whole post about it here: https://thecatisinthebox.com/blogs/kitty-contemplations/why-wont-my-cat-drink-out-of-her-bowl ), and a water fountain is a great thing to try if you are concerned about your cat’s water intake. Thanks for the advice!