Understanding Cat Food Labels

With all the choices on the shelf at the pet store, making the decision about what to feed your cat can be incredibly tricky. With a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices considerably and make an informed decision that will make both you and your cat happy.

Cats require a balanced diet of animal based protein, vitamins, minerals and fats, and water. Carbohydrates are unnecessary, though not damaging to the cat if consumed in small amounts.

There are a few important things to look for on a cat food label. The first is compliance with AAFCO’s requirements for “Complete and Balanced.” (“Complete and balanced” cat foods meet specific requirements and undergone testing to achieve the label.) The protein source should be the first listed ingredient and also be named (as in “fish,” “chicken,” or “lamb”), rather than simply “meat.” Cat food expires, so be sure to check the expiration date.

Avoid foods with “meat” or “by-products,” added sugars, chemical preservatives, corn meal filler and an excess of other carbohydrate fillers (more than 50% grain in dry food).

It can be helpful when choosing a cat food to understand dry matter conversion, which tells you the level of moisture. It can also be helpful for comparing crude protein and fat between brands and between canned and dry. The calculations are not difficult. Simply subtract the moisture content from 100% and use the remaining figure to calculation percentages of protein and fat. For example, a cat food with 20% moisture would contain 80% dry matter (subtract the moisture). If this cat food contained 25% protein, you would divide the protein by dry matter (divide 25 by 80), for a resulting 31.25% protein. Fat percentage would be calculated the same way.   

In addition, be sure to choose a food that is formulated to meet your cat’s need at his or her age. Kittens and senior cats have different nutritional needs, and meeting them can help your cat live a longer and healthier life.

Your cat may be a picky eater. Remember that you may have to experiment to find a food you’re both happy with!