Guest post by Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM
For the cat parent looking for commercial raw and ultra premium cat foods, there are plenty of choices, and lots of claims to wade through. Since these foods are often more expensive, how do you read the labels correctly and make sure you’re getting the right food for your extra cash?
Too often manufacturers throw out the terms “holistic” or “natural” which have little to no regulated meaning. “Holistic” has no definition in the pet food industry and can be used by any manufacturer, while “natural” has limited value since it only means that there are no synthetic preservatives in the food. (Synthetic preservatives are uncommon in the organic and ultra premium market.)
5 Little-Known Facts About Cat Food Labels
1. Check Out the Second Ingredient
Oftentimes consumers see a starburst on a pet food that says something like “Real beef: #1 ingredient!” What you may not know is that all meat ingredients (turkey, pork, beef, etc.) are added as “wet weight” while some of the other ingredients are added as dry ingredients. This is true for canned as well as for dry cat foods. This means that the dry ingredients may actually make up more of the nutritional value of the food than the wet beef (subtract the water that’s naturally in the beef and you get less volume and less nutrition from this ingredient than from the dry ones).
So the key is to also look at the second ingredient. This will tell you even more about the quality of the food you’re getting.
2. Labeling organic ingredients
Cat parents interested in organic food, don’t be fooled by confusing labeling! If a manufacturer labels a cat food explicitly “organic cat food,” this means that it must be over 90% organic. If, however, the label claims to be “made with organic chicken,” then the food may be significantly less organic.
3. Sodium panthothenate and thiamine monochloride: Don’t be afraid!
What are these strange words that most people can’t pronounce? Don’t fret, these are vitamins and minerals that are actually essential to optimal health and are helping to meet all of your cat’s nutritional requirements.
4. USA! USA! USA!
Many super premium foods may tout claims that they are sourced with only US ingredients. This is actually becoming harder and harder to do since more often the vitamins and minerals discussed above are only manufactured in Asia, and these manufacturers will have the most consistent supply. Many US pet food manufacturers need to utilize these sources. If a manufacturer claims 100% USA sourcing, this may not be entirely true. Most likely many of the true food ingredients, such as protein, are being sourced in the US, but if you’re concerned, you should contact the manufacturer.
5. How much protein and how much fat?
Check the protein content in the guaranteed analysis on the label. In a canned or raw cat food a high protein content would be 10% or higher. But with the increasing incidence of obesity in our feline companions, it’s just as important to pay attention to the fat content in a food. Typical prey that a cat would eat in the wild would have approximately a 2:1 ratio of protein:fat, or be even higher in protein.
To help curb weight gain you should look for a fat content that is half of the protein content. For example, if the protein is 12% then the fat content should be around 6% or lower. Too often the protein content will be 12% and the fat will be 10%. Not only are you predisposing your cat to obesity when feeding a food like this, you are also feeding something that is not similar to the prey they would naturally eat.
Dr. Joe is a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University’s program for Veterinary Medicine. He is a Consulting Nutritionist for The Wet Nose Press and PetCareRx. The information contained above is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian.
Photo by Sukanto Debnath, Flick Creative Commons