What does grain-free mean? What is Guaranteed Analysis?
Let’s admit it, cat owners. We do not really know what these words on a cat food label are all about.
In “Choosing the Best Cat Food” by Vanessa Voltolina in PetMD, it was noted that cat owners do not really know what they should look for while reading cat food labels to ensure their pets will stay healthy and feel satisfied.
“Questions abound when it comes to pet food label analysis, “ Voltolina noted.
Voltolina shared what expert Ashley Hughes, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at American Animal Hospital Association-accredited Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, DC, said owners should look for on cat food labels.
1. Check the first 3 Ingredients.
The best sources of protein for cats are chicken, beef, fish and lamb.
To check if your cat will get enough protein from the food, check the first three ingredients on the label.
“Pet food labels list ingredients in order of the weight of the ingredient, starting with the heaviest,” Voltolina said.
“If chicken meal tops the list, it usually means more protein, says Hughes. Regular chicken is 80% water, which can move up the ingredients list even based on water weight — water that is then removed to make dry cat food. Products like chicken meal (and other protein meals) are dehydrated, meaning that if it’s at the top, it will provide an appropriate level of protein,” Voltolina said.
2. Check for food allergies.
This may sound ironic or even weird but the common cat food allergy is fish, said Voltolina.
“If a package claims zero fish products, or touts terms like ‘gluten-free,’ they can usually be trusted, says Hughes. But if your pet suffers from a severe allergy, scan the ingredient list anyway to confirm,” Voltolina said.
3. Grain-Free does not mean the food is Carb-Free.
Cat owners are worried about excess pounds and thus look for “grain-free” food packed with protein.
But Voltolina noted that some grain-free cat food may still be loaded with carbs like potatoes and veggies.
“Remember that properly processed carbs can be utilized by cats as an excellent energy source and are not necessarily bad,” Voltolina said.
4. Look for the Guaranteed Analysis.
The cat food label should contain the “mandatory guarantee that the food contains the nutrition levels, or labeled percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber, and moisture, “ Voltolina said.
“Crude” here means the method of testing the product, not the quality of the nutrient, Voltolina explained.
“Also, although the guaranteed analysis provides a measure of the various nutrient categories, it does not provide any information relating to the quality of the ingredients in the food, its digestibility or the overall quality of the food,” Voltolina said.
5. Compare canned and dry food correctly.
Voltolina stressed that wet and dry food use different standards.
“For instance, 8% protein in a canned cat food isn’t the same as 8% in dry food (wet will be a lower percentage), since canned food contains 75-78% moisture and dry only has 10-12% water,”Voltolina said.
Wet food contains less protein because it has more water content, Voltolina said.
You can convert canned food to dry matter and compare protein amounts.
Here is one conversion method from Voltolina:
Divide the amount of protein (e.g 8%) by the total amount of dry matter (25%). Then, multiply this by 100. Dry Matter Protein = (8/25) x 100 = 32%
6. Go for natural food.
“Natural” means that none of the ingredients were chemically altered, according to FDA guidelines.
What about food labeled as “holistic?”
“Leave it at the store, says Hughes. Since there is no legal definition for this term, it likely won’t have much impact on your cat’s diet, “ Voltolina said.
“For organic options, check the package for an official USDA label, “ Voltolina said.
"Organic" means it contains at least 95% organic ingredients, not counting added water or salt.
If it says "Made With Organic Ingredients," it must have at least 70% organic ingredients, exclusive of water or salt.
If the organic ingredients are less than 70% of the total, “it can denote those ingredients as “organic” in the ingredient list, but no seal is used,” Voltolina said.
7. Figure out the ingredients used for flavor.
Again, it is best to look for proteins in the first three ingredients to give your cat the flavor it wants.
“If you opt for a food with a certain flavor, choose specifics over generics, such as ‘beef’ instead of ‘meat.’ This provides a better idea of where the protein originated,” Voltolina said.
8. Find out the kitty’s nutrient profile.
There are two AAFCO labels: “All Life Stages” or “Adult Maintenance.”
All Life Stages cat food meet requirements for a growing kitten (or lactating cat). The food will likely be higher in calories, calcium and phosphorus.
For healthy cats, choose the “Adult Maintenance” label.
9. Check out the label for nutritional adequacy statement.
“Check the label to ensure that the manufacturer has formulated its pet food to meet minimum nutritional requirements (aka it’s a ‘formulated food’). Do this by looking for a statement on the packaging, which will read: ‘[Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for [life stage(s)]’,” Voltolina said.
10. Look for Feeding-Trial food.
The better cat food is one “that meets the minimum nutritional requirements ‘as fed’ to real pets in an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) defined feeding trial,” said Voltolina.
This will tell you that the food indeed delivers the nutrients that the food was formulated to provide.
“AAFCO feeding trials are considered the gold standard. While not all pet food companies conduct these costly tests, those that do will tout labels that say so, “ Voltolina said.
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