5 Ways to Know Your Cat Food is Worth the Money


PetMD Editorial

Published Dec. 16, 2013

How to Find the Best Cat Food for the Right Price

It’s not wrong to want to save money on certain things to enjoy other luxuries, but does it really make sense to skimp on your cat’s food and get the “cheap” brand? Definitely not! Your cat is a wonderful friend and deserves a meal that will help keep him or her healthy for many years to come. The question then becomes how will you know the cat food you’re considering to buy is up to snuff? Let’s take a look.

Portions adapted from Pet Food Ingredients: How to Strike the Right Balance and What Does Made in the USA Mean for Pet Food?

1. Is Your Cat Food Balanced with Quality Nutrients?

“All animals need water, energy — from protein, fat, or carbohydrates — essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals,” says Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, and Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. In fact, as long as all nutrients are present in appropriate amounts for your pet — in proper balance, and available for absorption in sufficient quantities (which can’t be determined from reading the label) — Dr. Buffington believes that the source (or cat food ingredients) irrelevant to the health of the pet.

What about balance? “Balance is important because of metabolism,” says Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD and Professor of Medicine and Nutrition at The University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “If you don't eat a lot of carbohydrates and eat more protein, some of the protein has to be used for glucose production for energy. It is this balance which leads to efficiency [when eating].” This need for balance is essential in all your pet's dietary nutrients, and is the reason why reputable pet food companies hire trained veterinary nutritionists to select ingredients carefully. Which brings us to…

2. Is Your Cat Food Formulated by Nutritionists?

Formulating your cat’s food is not easy. In fact, quality cat food manufacturers employ pet nutritionists who must properly balance key ingredients in the diets (sometimes numbering more than 50 ingredients) as well as individual nutrients and minerals to help maintain your cat at optimal health. The best pet food manufacturers don’t just stop there, though. They also submit their cat food formulas for feeding trials.

3. Has Your Cat Food Undergone Feeding Trials?

According to Ashley Gallagher, DVM at Friendship Hospital for Animals, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) feeding trials are the gold standard when it comes to feeding trials for pet foods. Diets that have been substantiated via this type of feeding trial have been fed to pets under strict guidelines and found to provide proper nutrition. Look for a statement on your cat’s food label that reads: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Name of Cat Food Company] provides complete and balanced nutrition."

4. Was Your Cat Food Produced with Strict Quality Controls?

Quality and safety is a concern for all pet food manufacturers but some companies take particular pride manufacturing the food at their own facilities (versus co-manufacturing or manufacturing off-site) in order to uphold these two principles. According to Mindy Bough, vice president of operations for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and head of the ASPCA’s Pet Nutrition Services, manufacturing pet foods onsite allows for better quality control as it relates to ingredient sources and processes. For example, cat foods that are produced onsite can be held at the factory until test results confirm they meet safety guidelines before shipping the product. This reduces the likelihood that the pet food company will have to issue a recall for issues such as possible Salmonella or Aflatoxin contamination.

Look for a statement on your cat’s food that says it is “manufactured by” the pet food company rather than “manufactured for” or “distributed by.” And if you do suspect a problem with your pets' food, stop feeding them that brand of food immediately and contact the product manufacturer and your vet to report your concern. Here is a recent list of pet food recalls.

5. Is the Food ‘Appropriate’ for Your Cat?

In this case we mean is the diet based on your cat’s age, breed, activity level, and weight or health condition. Feeding your cat an inappropriate diet may actually do more harm than good. For example, an “all life stage” cat food — which is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Pet Food Nutrient Profiles for growth — may seem like a great idea for cat of all ages; however, some adult or senior pets may inadvertently receive certain excess nutrients that could result in health concerns.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed with so many different pet foods to choose from. Take out the guesswork and discuss it with your veterinarian. He or she can help you make the right decision about what type of cat food is best for your kitty. In the end, paying a little more now for quality cat food may save you the cost of expensive veterinarian bills in the future.

Image: Valerie Potapova / via Shutterstock

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