If you've ever felt confused about how to choose the healthiest cat food for your feline companion, you're not alone. The pet food recall in the spring of 2007 sent many spinning. Most pet owners are aware that pet food manufacturers are required by law to list all of the product ingredients in order of weight. While that is helpful, an organized checklist is more useful to take shopping. Here are some guidelines from top animal food experts.
Cat Food Ingredients in Order of Importance
LOOK FOR: Meat or fish named on the label with words like--chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, herring, salmon, etc. Also acceptable are concentrated named meat proteins like--chicken meal, turkey meal, lamb meal, herring meal, etc.
WHY? Cats are what scientists call "obligate carnivores". This means that they are designed to eat a meat diet. When you're choosing a food for your cat, you want it to have all the available nutrients to provide for good energy, strong muscle tone and a stable immune system so the meat protein source should be primary.
AVOID: Unnamed food ingredients with words like--poultry by products, meat and bone meal, meat meal, poultry meal, animal digest, etc. Also avoid protein fillers like--corn gluten meal, wheat gluten, egg product meal, soybean meal, wheat germ meal.
TIP: If you look at a cat food label and group all the grain ingredients together, they are often more primary than the meat pictured by manufacturers. This disguises protein ingredients that are inferior, portraying them as nutritious. Quality meat is a MUST.
REASON? Cat foods containing by-products, meat and bone meal or non-specific, generic meat meals are often rejected leftovers from the human food chain. That means they can contain "4-D" nutrient-deficient animal protein sources such as:
* Dead animals (including meat with sodium phenobarbital, the most common euthanasia drug though industry sources deny they use dead dogs and cats, however there are no laws or regulations against it).
* Dying animals (including those that FDA meat inspectors reject for the human food chain plus dying animals from zoos and pet farms).
* Diseased animals (according to federal meat inspection regulations, fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid, and citronella can be used to denature diseased meat before rendering).
* Disabled animals (including those who are too weak to walk due to disease or malnutrition).
2. Carbohydrates and Vegetables
LOOK FOR: Whole grains like brown rice and barley or starches like whole potatoes or sweet potatoes. Whole fruits and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, alfalfa, apples, cranberries, etc.
WHY? These whole grains and starches are actually digestible by cats providing a good source of energy. The whole fruits and veggies provide an excellent source of fiber plus natural occurring vitamins and minerals.
AVOID: Vegetable proteins and gluten, which are indigestible and cause allergies for cats, are made from refined flours, wheat, mill runs, brewer's rice, etc. Also watch out for processed fruits and vegetables like dehydrated potatoes, tomato pumice and alfalfa meal.
REASON? Vegetable proteins, especially soybean meal protein, have become favorites of pet food manufacturers because they are cheap sources of protein, giving them bigger profits and making it appear that cats are getting good protein. Glutens made from flours are merely cheap binders or "glue" in pet foods. Both sources can result in severe nutritional deficiencies.
3. Fats, Oils and Preservatives
LOOK FOR: Named fats from quality sources like--chicken fat, lamb fat, sunflower oil, herring oil, etc. Natural preservatives like mixed tocopeherols and Vitamin E from whole foods are preferable.
WHY? Fats and oils from named, nutritious animals and plants provide a rich source of essential fatty acids that help produce healthy skin and lustrous coats. The natural quality preservatives in proper balance to your cat's foods ensure they get all the necessary nutrients for life and good health every day.
AVOID: Fats from non-specific sources like--animal fat, poultry fat, vegetable oil. Also stay away from synthetic preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin.
REASON? Because the standards for pet foods are much less than for human food, pet food manufacturers are allowed to use rendered animal fat, vegetable fats and oils that have been rejected as inedible for humans. They can include rancid oils and fats or used restaurant grease, which have been disguised with flavor enhancers made from processed by-products. Plus synthetic preservatives like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and ethoxyquin can cause liver and kidney damage or even cancer. They are used solely for a longer shelf life, not nutrition.
4. Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements
LOOK FOR: Antioxidants from natural sources like fruits and vegetables. Vitamins like Ascorbic Acid, Beta Carotene, Biotin, etc. Chelated minerals may also be added like iron proteinate, manganese proteinate, etc.
WHY? These are all natural or food sources of quality nutrition and supplements ensuring your cat stays healthy and lives longer.
AVOID: Artificial flavors and colors. Another common additive is propylene glycol, a less toxic version of antifreeze used in cars.
REASON? The flavors and colors are added by the manufacturers to make them look more appealing to pet owners and taste more appealing to cats (and dogs). While propylene glycol adds a sweet taste to the food, it should NOT be part of your cat's daily food fare.
SOURCES: Pet Food Report from Animal Wellness Magazine, Fall 2007 at http://AnimalWellness.com; Animal Protection Institute "Get the Facts: What's Really in Pet Food," May 2007 at http://API4animals.org; Dr. Wendell O. Belfield, DVM, "Food Not Fit for a Pet" at http://Belfield.com.