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What cat food ingredients should I look for?

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Question: What cat food ingredients should I look for?
Answer: As a general rule, the order of ingredients is just as important as the kind of ingredients. Unless a cat is on a special diet for a medical reason, the protein source will always be listed first, followed by other ingredients listed in the order of their percentage to total weight. Here are some quick guidelines (after the protein source, the order may vary from product to product.:

  1. Named Protein Source
    This is by far the most important ingredient to look for in cat foods: a specific protein source other than "meat." Look for chicken, turkey, lamb, salmon, etc. (May be followed by named organs, e.g. chicken liver, chicken heart, both rich sources of taurine.)
  2. Specific Carbohydrates aka "fillers"
    Cats are obligate carnivores, i.e., they must have meat to survive, and they do not need carbohydrates. In fact, cats have problems digesting some carbohydrates, and many food allergies are triggered by the carbohydrate content of foods. However, most dry foods depend on carbohydrates as the "fillers" needed to hold the other ingredients together for dry cat food. Look for whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, or wheat (wheat may also trigger allergies in some cats).
  3. Named Fat Source
    Look for a named fat source, such as "chicken fat." You may also see sunflower oil, or other oils listed, usually in premium foods.
  4. Vitamins and Minerals Vitamin C (calcium ascorbate) and/or Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) are often added as preservatives, along with other vitamins and minerals.
  5. Taurine
    Taurine is an amino acid that can be readily produced by the human body, however, cats need a dietary source of taurine for good health. In a 1974 study, it was found that a diet deficient in taurine contributed toward retinal degeneration in cats. Taurine deficiency can also cause a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy. For several decades cat food manufacturers have added taurine to cat food.

These are basically the types of ingredients you will look for in cat foods, and they can be found in most premium foods. For more information on selecting the right food for cats, please read "Tips for Choosing Cat Food," and "Understanding Cat Food Labels." Or, you might be interested in enrolling in my free email class, "The Importance of Food to Your Cat's Health."

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