Reviewing Cat Food – Making Sense of Cat Food Labels
Choosing cat food is a pretty difficult proposition even if you know what kind of cat food you want for your feline friend. That’s because making sense of cat food labels is not easy. You need to understand certain technical terms and their meanings with respect to cat food standards. There are some terms that are officially defined while others are just marketing jargon. However, with some knowledge about these matters you can read every label like a pro and make sense of it. This would be an immense help in comparing different types of cat foods out there and choosing exactly what you want without any apprehensions.
What’s in a name?
Different brands of cat foods may try to catch your attention with striking product names. If you think that this is just another marketing gimmick, you’d be right, but only partially. These dog food names do carry some information regarding the nutrient content of the respective cat food.
Cat food names are required to conform to certain standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials responsible for cat food quality regulation. For example, when a cat food carries the term “Salmon and Rice Cat Food,” it is mandatory that it should be 70% salmon and rice. If the name announces “Chicken Dinner,” it should be 25% chicken when it is in dry form, or 10% chicken in wet canned food. Likewise, any product with a ‘dinner’ suffix with an ingredient, the same rule should be followed with that specific ingredient. On the other hand, if the name just says “with chicken,” that pet food needs to contain just 3% chicken, and if it says, “Chicken Flavor” there won’t be any chicken at all in it, although it may carry chicken-like flavoring to make it more attractive and palatable to the cat.
Look for the “AAFCO Statement or Nutritional Adequacy Statement
This statement is important in determining how suitable a given food is for cats of different ages or situations.
When you find the following statements on the pet food packs, this is what they mean:
- Complete and balanced for all life stages – provides sufficient nutrition to cats of all ages and situations. It is good for both kittens and adult cats including pregnant and lactating ones.
- Complete and balanced for maintenance – sufficient nutrition for adult cats, but not for pregnant and lactating ones.
- Intended for supplemental feeding – not meant to be the regular diet of the cat as they may not meet all their nutritional needs, but can be used occasionally as treats in addition to the cats’ regular diet.
Cat foods without any nutritional adequacy statement can also be used as occasional treats.
The nutritional sufficiency of cat foods is determined by two different ways. If the AAFCO adequacy statement says “feeding tests,” the product has been tested on cats. These feeding trials typically take place over a period of 26 weeks during which eight or more cats are fed exclusively on this product. Following this, their weight, as well as other physical parameters, is checked, and their blood is analyzed to determine whether they had sufficient nutrition.
In the other method, the adequacy is measured through chemical analysis of the product, and the statement may carry the term “formulated” to acknowledge this fact.
Check the Nutrient Content
On the pack of the cat food, you should check the section that comes under the title “guaranteed analysis. The minimum crude protein and crude fat present in the food, as well as the maximum fiber and moisture content in the product, gets mentioned here. It may also contain some information regarding the vitamin and mineral content, the essential amino acid taurine, and the ash component in the food, even though it is not mandatory to state these.
Most cat owners know that protein should be the most essential constituent of a cat’s diet, and take pains to check and compare the amount of crude protein in cat foods before choosing a product. However, just comparing the amounts of crude protein is not enough. The reason is that, it is actually the quality of the protein and its digestibility that is more important than the quantity. For instance, protein from meat is superior and more digestible for cats compared to protein derived from the feathers of chicken or soybeans. So it is better to choose foods containing high-quality proteins than those with cheaper substitutes, even if the crude protein content is higher in the latter.
Study the Ingredients list carefully
It is mandatory to list the ingredients of commercial food products according to their weight, starting with the main ingredient. In the case of cat food, meat should be on the top of the list of any high-quality food since felines are obligate carnivores. However, canned food will have water as the first ingredient, but it will be immediately followed by meat, if it is of high quality. Bone meal, corn meal and beef tallow are often used as protein sources in cat food, but you should know that these are not as digestible and nutritious as meat.
But one thing to understand here is that the weight of the ingredients in the list is based not on their dry weight in the product, but on their original weight before processing. That means, when other protein sources like bone meal are listed as equal or lower in weight compared to the weight of the meat, the actual meat content may be significantly lower. That is because meat originally contained large amounts of water, unlike the meals which had been dry even before processing.
Another important thing to check on the ingredients list is the preservative used in the cat food. Since these products are processed and stored over a period of time, preservatives are necessary to prevent spoilage. There are two different types of preservatives:
- Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
- Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E)
- Butylated hydroxyanisole
- Butylated hydroxytoluene
High quality cat foods usually contain natural preservatives. Canned foods may be free of all kinds of preservatives as the caning process eliminates the need for preservatives. Canned foods keeps well until their seal is opened, but they shouldn’t be stored for long after opening.
Some potentially misleading claims
Some terms such as “natural” or “premium” used on the packs of pet foods can entice us into buying them. But the truth is that we have no way of verifying these claims unless they are backed by factual information provided elsewhere in the pack. The ingredients list provides the most reliable information regarding a product, and all other claims should be validated against it. Often, when the ingredients are compared, some other products that do not explicitly say “superior quality” or “premium” may turn out to be equally good or even better than the brands making such claims. Also, remember that, while AFFCO only makes the most necessary information mandatory, most high quality products voluntarily provide more useful information on their packs.
Check the amount of food you are actually getting
Pet foods come in all kinds of sizes and different types of bags to confuse the cat owners further. What you should be checking is not the size of the pack, but the actual net amount of food in the pack. It is mandatory to print the “Net Quantity” on the pack, and it shows the amount in pounds. Check this, and then calculate the price per pound of food in the different pack sizes and brands. This comparison will help you know the actual price difference between brands. Sometimes when you compare the prices of different packs, you may find that bulk buying can save you some money.