Cat Food Ingredients: What Should Go Into Your Cat's Food?
Providing your cat with a nutritious diet is essential to her health and quality of life. The best way to keep her healthy is to educate yourself about the best cat food ingredients and how they benefit your furry friend.
Cat food labels will tell you which ingredients are in the can or bag, but they won't tell you how and why those particular components are good for your kitty, so it's important to be informed before you start filling up your shopping cart. Each cat food brand also has its own idea of what your pet should be eating, and not all of them are in agreement. The Hill's nutritional philosophy is built upon a foundation of high-quality ingredients, research
Pet food labels must follow guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM), and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an entity that defines and regulates the ingredients for all commercially sold pet foods. FDA-CVM and AAFCO requirements are very specific, down to how each ingredient must be identified and in which order. Items in pet food must be listed in descending order according to their weight (meat is measured at precooked weight).
For example, a common misconception is that cat and dog food contains poor-quality animal by-products. AAFCO defines the word "meat" as pertains to pet foods down to the part of an animal it can and can't come from, and explains how that meat must be prepared. It also requires companies to list which ingredients (such as ascorbic acid, a vitamin) are included as additives to balance the cat food nutrition.
AAFCO has also established what it calls "the 95 percent rule:" Any pet food with a name that implies it contains mainly one ingredient must contain 95 percent of that ingredient by weight, not including added water (or 70 percent if accounting for added water).
Cat Food Ingredients and Their Benefits
The most important nutrients found in ingredients to look for when choosing the best cat food are protein, fat
Certain vitamins and minerals are vital to a cat's well-being, reports VetInfo, including calcium, vitamin A, iron, magnesium
In the wild, cats obtain the nutrients they need by eating the entirety of their prey — bones and all (as shown by your shredded toy mice, your little furball is a fierce hunter on the inside.) With domesticated cats, it's up to pet parents to provide a meal with the right ingredients.
Necessary vs. Unnecessary Ingredients
When searching for the best cat food ingredients for your fur baby, look for a food that provides just what your cat needs without any unnecessary additives.
Ingredients such as meat, vegetables
According to AAFCO guidelines, "natural" ingredients are those "not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur in good manufacturing practices." When looking for the best cat food ingredients, natural foods such as those found in cat foods, include important proteins like chicken, vegetables
While perusing cat food labels, you'll also come across long-winded terms that are not immediately decipherable: butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) or mixed tocopherols (BHT). These are chemical and natural preservatives that keep the food fresh. The Daily Cat points out that mixed tocopherols act as an antioxidant and are a derivative of vitamin E. Other additives provide amino acids: L-lysine, L-threonine, DL-tryptophan, to name a few. Under AAFCO, they must be included in the list of cat food ingredients, and there are regulations as to the allowable amount that is included.
Wet Food vs. Dry Food
Another question in the search for the best cat food ingredients is whether you should buy wet food, dry food or both. Both types are nutritionally complete, meaning that neither one is better than the other in terms of nutritional requirements. In the wet food or dry food debate, there are pros and cons to each choice.
Canned food is great for portion control and contains more water, which helps cats — especially those who are ill — stay hydrated. But, it also can be more expensive and messier, and, because cans with leftover food have to be refrigerated after opening, your cat might snub the cold food. You can heat leftovers in a microwave, but make sure that it's cool enough to eat before serving.
Dry food is a good option because it can be stored for quite some time properly sealed within the bag, so you can buy in bulk, making it more cost-effective. However, it is important to note that even dry cat food has an expiration date, so make sure you are only feeding your cat food that is still within the acceptable freshness range.
Cats are well-known for being picky eaters, so your choice might depend upon the type yours chooses. Experiment with wet and dry types, especially with a kitten. You even can add a bit of water to
Researching Cat Food Ingredients
There is no doubt that if you are researching cat food ingredients, then you want to provide the best care for your cat. An educated cat parent is a better cat parent for it. In your research, you will likely come across a host of different nutritional philosophies (much like you will for your own nutrition), and you will also likely encounter a number of sites that provide you with unsubstantiated claims based on personal bias. It's important to not fall victim to these opinions because you can put your cat's health at risk just trying to follow what you read on the Internet. This can be true of friends and family — while their advice is no doubt given with the best intentions every cat situation is a little bit different, and therefore should be treated as such. Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns about certain cat food ingredients and whether or not the claims are true or false. They are truly the best, and most educated,
If you are interested in changing your cat's meals in a significant way, we recommend speaking with your veterinarian first. Self-treating based on ingredient profiles could be problematic, especially if you're considering eliminating an ingredient. For instance, as noted above, cats require meat for proper nutrition, so a vegan or vegetarian meal plan is not a healthy choice.
Work closely with your vet to determine the best cat food ingredients, and you'll find the nutritionally balanced option that's right for your feline friend.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to