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Cat Food: What's in the Bag?

Unraveling the Mystery of Cat Food Ingredients


Learning to read cat food labels can be a daunting task, especially with those mysterious ingredients. If you weren't already aware, you should know that ingredients are listed in order, by weight.

Ideally then, the protein source should be the first listed ingredient in a bag of dry cat food in a "maintenance" diet, followed by secondary protein sources, if included, then whatever carbohydrate fillers are included, oils or fat, other ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, a form of preservative, and added vitamins and minerals, including taurine. I've chosen three foods to compare. The first (featured here) is a popular 'premium' supermarket brand of cat food. You don't need to know the brand name, because after you learn these definitions, and learn to read the rest of the label, you will be well-equipped to make educated food choices for your cat.

The AAFCO Definitions of ingredients are in plain text; my comments are in italics. My comments will make more sense, if you have also read "Tips for Choosing Cat Foods" and "Understanding Cat Food Labels."

Premium Supermarket Brand Chicken and Rice Formula

  • Chicken: the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of chicken or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.

    Pretty straight-forward here, and an ingredient I would expect to find in a premium quality cat food. Keep in mind though, that the amount of bone and/or skin may play a part in the quality of the protein.

  • Brewers Rice: the dried extracted residue of rice resulting from the manufacture of wort (liquid portion of malted grain) or beer and may contain pulverized dried spent hops in an amount not to exceed 3 percent

    That's "brewers" as in "beer," and may not be the same quality of carbohydrate as ground whole rice.

  • Corn Gluten Meal: the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of corn starch or syrup, or by enzymatic treatment of the endosperm.

    This is a real mouthful to digest, both literally and figuratively. Corn is a popular filler, as it is cheap. It is also one of those products that often cause allergies in cats. If I had to choose a product containing corn, I'd probably go for corn meal, which also includes the germ.

  • Poultry By-Product Meal: consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

    I have a problem with by-product meal. While it is true that cats do eat those parts of the poultry (I'll assume chicken and turkey, for want of a better definition) "in their natural (wild) state," the "rendered" part sends cold chills down my spine. In canned foods, once in awhile you'll see by-products which specifically state organ meats. I might make an exception in that case, but not here.

  • Wheat Flour: wheat flour together with fine particles of wheat bran, wheat germ and the offal from the "tail of the mill". This product must be obtained in the usual process of commercial milling and must not contain more than 1.5 percent crude fiber.

    Okay, I'll accept that cats may get a small amount of grain in their natural diet - primarily the stomach content of mice or poultry. I won't even touch the term, "offal."

  • Beef Tallow: Beef Tallow is obtained from the tissue of cattle in the commercial process of rendering.

    Aside from the "rendering," beef tallow is an inferior source of fat for cat food. It is a saturated fat, is low in lineolic acid, and is primarily added for flavor.

  • ..preserved with Mixed-Tocopherols (source of Vitamin E): (This is the second part of the "Beef Tallow" mention above). Although I cannot find the AAFCO definiton for this preservative, most premium foods now use mixed tocopherols as well as Vitamin A as preservatives. They are not quite as effective as the old chemical preservatives BHA/BTA, so it is important to always check the maximum shelf life date on the label.
  • Whole Grain Corn: AAFCO definition is unavailable, but I would assume it is self-explanatory. See my other comments on corn, above.

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