When it comes to our cats, we always want what is best for them. Whether that is toys, snacks, or foods. However, there are several brands of cat food out there, so which is the best one for your cat? The answer to this lies in the nutrition label. However, if you do not know what you are looking for, this can be a daunting task. To make this task simpler the next time you are browsing the cat food aisle, we have compiled a list of everything you will need to know in order to read cat food labels like a pro.
1. Product Name and Packing
Every package will contain the product name. This is different from the brand name that typically tells you about the manufacturer. The product name tends highlight what kind of cat food it is and key ingredients. For example, the product name will tell you if it is cat food or kitten food. Though it may not seem like a big deal at first, cats and kittens have different nutritional needs at different stages of life and therefore their food will be different. Furthermore, the product name typically highlights important ingredients which tend to be proteins such as fish, chicken, beef, etc. Certain cats will prefer certain meats over others so this can be helpful if you notice that your cat prefers a certain cat food or not. For example, our cat, Jimmy, refuses to eat Turkey.
Do not let the food packaging fool you. Just because a cat food packaging is bright and exuberant does not mean it has good nutritional value. Vice versa, just because a packaging is boring does not mean it has bad nutritional value. Always check the nutritional value of the food before deciding whether it will be a good addition to your cat's diet. As they say, do not judge a book by its cover.
2. Understand Key Terms
Whether you are shopping at the petstore or online, be sure to familiarize yourself with certain lingo. It will help you better assess the nutritional value of a given product.
- Ingredient List: Though simple at first, ingredient lists are very important. Ingredients tend to be listed in order of decreasing weight. For example, the highest weight ingredient will be listed first. However, moisture content of the food will affect this list depending on whether the food is wet v. dry, and whether the ingredients tend to be moisture heavy such as chicken.
- Moisture Content: Since cats need a significant amount of water for their urinary and digestive health, it is important to choose foods high in moisture content. Typically, dry foods contain ~10% moisture while wet food consists upwards of 85% moisture.
- Guaranteed analysis: This tells you the minimum and maximum levels of certain nutrients such as protein, fat, and fiber. Keep in mind that this, which tells you the nutritional value of the food, is different from the ingredients (each ingredient adds certain nutrients to give an overall nutritional value of the food).
- Nutritional Adequacy: This tells you what type of cat the food is intended for. For example, is it for kittens or adult cats? Indoor or outdoor cats? Reproducing cats?
- Feeding Directions: This will tell you the recommendations for the amount and how often to feed your cat. Of course, every cat is different so be sure to consult your veterinarian to see what is best for them.
- Statement of responsibility: This will tell you the manufacturing company and how to contact them should you have any questions, comments, or concerns.
3. Nutritional Value:
The nutritional value of the food is the most important element to consider when choosing which cat food is best. This nutritional value label will be essential to your cats health, and will always be found in the "Guaranteed Analysis" section. This will tell you the percentages as well as the variety of certain nutrients. These will typically list protein, fiber (which includes carbohydrates), vitamins, minerals, and water. The percentages indicate how much of each your cat will receive per serving.
4. Check the first 3-4 ingredients
Whether you are buying wet food or dry food, be sure to check the first three to four ingredients. If these are protein, you are in good hands. Water weight can also affect this list as meat typically tends to have high water weight such as chicken. If you see a type of meat + meal (i.e. chicken meal), this just means that the meat is dehydrated. If this tops the ingredients list, that cat food most likely has an adequate amount of protein. Also be sure to choose those that list specifics such as the type of meat rather than generic labeling such as "meat".
If you are putting your cat on a healthy diet to lose weight, be sure that these ingredients do not contain grain and carbohydrates such as potatoes and other veggies as these will not help your feline friend lose weight.
5. Processed vs. Natural
When choosing what type of food to feed your cat, you may see words such as "natural", "organic", or "made with organic ingredients". Here is what they mean:
- Natural: No chemical alteration to the ingredients
- Organic: Must have at least 95% organic ingredients
- Made with Organic Ingredients: Must have at least 70% organic ingredients
Here, natural or organic are the best way to go as these are similar to what feline's ancestral carnivores encountered in the wild.
Finally, just because the food is processed, does not mean it is bad. Cat food such as dry food has antioxidants and has to be processed to a certain degree so it can maintain its safety and integrity for a longer period of time. However, you want to be wary of cat food that has more processed ingredients than natural/organic as this can be hard on the cat's digestive system.
Be sure to keep these key terms in mind as well as the needs of your cat when choosing which food is optimal for your feline friend. Cat food rich in nutrients can help maintain your cats digestive, urinary, metabolic, and reproductive health for years to come so be sure to take your time when you are choosing cat foods. Now that we have equipped you with the most important things to keep in mind when reading a cat food nutrition label, be sure to check this out the next time you are out shopping for your kitty's dinner.
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