As fur parents, we want to keep our pets healthy and happy for as long as possible. In the case of cat owners, our notoriously finicky feline friends can present a challenge at feeding time. To say that finding the very best food for your cat is confusing is an understatement. The endless choices seem to also come with a helping of controversy, a teaspoon of dishonesty, and a whole lot of conjecture. Examining the label for the proper stage of life for your cat is the first rule at hand. These stages are typically: Growth (kittens), Maintenance, and Senior (mature). Once you’ve determined your cat’s life stage, we’ll offer some tips on reading the labels of a cat food you’re considering. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established clear guidelines for what must be included on the label, as well as what the producer can and cannot claim. Foods labeled “Complete and Balanced” or similarly worded will provide your cat with the nutrition necessary to thrive, with no added supplementary food or vitamins needed.
Keep in mind that simply because a food is labeled as such, it does not mean it’s a healthy choice for your cat, only that it has the minimum requirements to ‘sustain’ your cat nutritionally. If the food is promoted as containing a single ingredient, it must contain at least 95% (not including water) of that ingredient. Combinations of ingredients also must contain the minimum of 95% as well. Basically, if you are purchasing a food for your cat that touts Turkey and Beef, then 95% of that pouch, can or bag must be Turkey and Beef. On the other end of the spectrum, you have food choices labeled with clever marketing, aptly named with phrases such as entrée, platter, or supper. These foods are only required to contain at least 25% of a named ingredient. Worse yet, if the ingredient is merely mentioned, such as ‘with cheese,’ it’s only required to contain a mere 3% of that ingredient. We suggest you instead look for a minimally processed food containing moisture with the right components of protein, fat, and carbs. So you are looking for high animal-based protein, few or no plant-based ingredients, no grain, and very few starches (lower in carbs).Grains seem to be a controversy in themselves these days, with many manufacturers now producing foods free of grains and glutens. For years, grains have been used in pet foods as the source of carbohydrates and filler. However, most recently, cat experts believe that a diet high in protein and lower in carbs is healthier for cats, though not all agree. To make it more confusing, some companies are replacing grains with potatoes, which is not lowering the carbohydrate values at all. A better grain replacement is a fruit. Confused yet? So were we. To date, there a no formal regulations that define objective criteria of cat foods other than organic. Promotions, terms, slogans, and commercials are just that – marketing ploys. When you read the words: premium, ultra, or even holistic or human grade; they have absolutely no official designation. You can improve your cat’s diet by simply ignoring the labeling claims on commercial pet food, and instead look for AAFCO certification. As a general rule, the longer the ingredient list, the greater the probability you are providing your cat with biologically inappropriate filler. Learn more about best cat food choices from Consumer Affairs with expert reviews of the best cat foods of 2016, summarizing their top 15 choices: Whatever you choose to feed your cat, we hope you’ll include a healthy dose of love in their bowls.