What is and is Not Included on a Cat Food Label

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PetMD Editorial
Published: February 29, 2012

Interpreting the Cat Food Label

Brought to you by petMD in partnership with Hill’s® Science Diet Ideal Balance®

Much of what is included on pet food labels is regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) so that owners can accurately compare Food A to Food B and understand what a particular food offers in the way of nutrition. Pet food labels are legal documents, so when looking at labels pay close attention to the AAFCO statement, guaranteed analysis and ingredient list. Here are 10 points to consider when deciding which cat food you will choose.

AAFCO Statements on Cat Food

There are two types of AAFCO statements that can be found on cat food labels. Although they appear to be similar, they are in fact very different.

AAFCO Statement 1 – Brand A

Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A adult cat food provides complete and balanced nutrition for the maintenance of adult cats.

AAFCO Statement 2 – Brand B

Brand B Cat Formula is formulated to meet the nutritional levels that have been established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance.

The Difference of Cat Food Brands

A close examination reveals that Brand A was actually fed to cats to make sure that it met their nutritional needs, while Brand B was simply formulated on a computer. Because feeding trials are the best way to determine the nutritional adequacy of a cat (or dog) food, the best choice is Brand A.

The Guaranteed Analysis on Cat Food

A guaranteed analysis must include information about a cat food’s minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of water (i.e., moisture) and fiber. Some companies also voluntarily make note of the amounts of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and ash – low levels of which help maintain a cat’s urinary health.

Deciphering the Guaranteed Analysis

Look at the cat food’s guaranteed analysis and compare the values for protein and fat to the percentages that are recommended in the MyBowl tool for cats. To make this comparison as accurate as possible, you will first need to mathematically “remove” the water that is included in every cat food.

The Formula for Guaranteed Analysis

Begin by subtracting the percent moisture from 100. This is the percent dry matter for the food. Then, divide the protein or fat percentage on the label by the percent dry matter and multiply by 100. This gives you the protein or fat percentage on a dry matter basis. For a food that has a crude protein minimum of 32% and a moisture maximum of 6%, the calculations would be as follows:

100 – 6 = 94 and then (32/94)  x  100  = 34% protein on a dry matter basis

The Ingredient List on Cat Food

A pet food label must list its ingredient by rank. That is, the ingredients are listed in order of the weight of each ingredient included in the food. The first named ingredient is the most predominant ingredient; the second ingredient is the second most predominant, and so on. You need to know that this ranking is put together based on an ingredient’s weight prior to the food being processed. Therefore, an ingredient that includes a lot of water (e.g., chicken, which has a lot of water, in comparison to chicken meal, which does not) actually contributes a relatively smaller amount to the nutrient value of the cat food because of its high water content.

Ingredient Quality of Cat Food

Unfortunately, the ingredient list and guaranteed analysis do not provide information on the quality of ingredients included in a cat food. In other words, you have no way of knowing whether the chicken, meat meals, eggs, etc. that combine to make up a diet’s 34% of protein are of high or low quality. The quality of the ingredients can certainly affect a cat’s well-being.

The Final Decision

If the food in question went through a feeding trial you can at least be assured that the cats in the study thrived while eating the food and that the company cared enough to go through the trouble and expense of running a food trial that conformed to AAFCO protocols. The next step is to offer the food to your cats. If they look forward to meal times and enjoy good health while eating the product, you have found a food that is ideal for them.