Cat Food Label Lessons: How to Read the Ingredient List

By PetMD Editorial on Dec. 11, 2014
Cat Food Label Lessons: How to Read the Ingredient List

When shopping for cat food, do you ever wonder what some of the information printed on the label means? petMD has created a series to take out the guess work and demystify pet food labels. This article will discuss how to read the ingredient list on a cat food label.

Who Regulates Cat Food Labeling?

Labeling for cat food in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), meanwhile, is made up of animal control officials from each state and territories, federal agencies (like the FDA) and government representatives from countries like Canada and Costa Rica. Local, state and federal feed regulatory officials have meetings to discuss and develop uniform and equitable laws, regulations and policies. Because AAFCO is not a government agency, it has no regulatory abilities, but AAFCO recommendations have become the foundation for most state laws and regulations for all animal feeds.

How is the Ingredient List Ordered on Cat Food?

The ingredient list, which is found on the side or back of the bag, will have all the ingredients used to make the cat food. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight. The weight of each ingredient is determined by including its water content. This is important to note, as fresh meats are very high in moisture, while products like meat meals are only about 10 percent moisture. This is why comparing products on a dry matter basis (not including water in the ingredients) helps provide a true comparison of ingredients. We will discuss how to calculate this in the next section.

Typically, ingredients must be listed by their common, or "usual" names. Some ingredients, like certain vitamins and minerals, may have long, funny-sounding names, but rest assured that the pet food manufacturer placed the ingredient in its formulation for a reason.

Not sure what an ingredient is or why it was included in your cat’s food? Discuss it with your veterinarian, or better yet, contact the cat food manufacturer directly and ask them.

Who Do I Go to for Questions About My Cat Food’s

The manufacturer (or responsible party) for the cat food must by law include their contact information on the product. Most cat food companies will include a toll-free phone number for customer service inquiries and/or a website address.

Remember that you cannot always tell the quality of a pet food simply by looking at the label. Discuss what pet food is best for your cat’s specific life stage and lifestyle with your veterinarian, and don’t be afraid to do research about your pet food’s manufacturer and challenge them with questions about quality control procedures.

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