Thursday, November 5, 2015

8 questions you need to ask before buying cat food

Besides price, what should you be looking for in a cat food?    Pet food companies spend BILLIONS of $$$ on marketing and advertising.  So no matter what you hear on TV about trust and nutrition,  the bottom line is that pet food companies are in business to make money.  Period.  As an informed consumer, I want you  to look past the glossy pictures of fresh salmon and feel good words like ALL NATURAL and GRAIN FREE.  I recommend getting into the habit of reading the back of the bag (or can label) before making you best choice.

 Do you know what parent company makes your choice of cat food?  Did you know that  Iams Cat Food Co. is owned by Procter and Gamble?    Do you know what mega company owns Science Diet?  (Colgate- Palmolive).  It is important to know WHO is making the food you are feeding, because in the end, you are trusting that this company is offering you a safe and healthy choice for your cat.    Iams and Science Diet have been in business for decades, but when they were bought out by billion- dollar corporations, the quality of their products declined.  Makes you think, doesn't it...

 What are the major ingredients in the food you are feeding?  The front of the food bag may state "using only farm-raised chicken", but the primary ingredients may be (and often are) something completely different.   The ingredient list on the bag (or can) is required to be listed by weight.  Ideally I want you to chose a food that has a recognizable meat source like chicken  listed as the first 2 or 3 ingredients. It's helpful to know what you cat's preferences are before trying a new brand.  Most cats have a real preference for one specific meat source.  Do you know what your cat loves???

How much protein should your cat's food contain?  You are feeding a carnivore, so only pay for meat-based foods.   You will find the protein % listed under the  "GUARANTEED ANALYSIS."  Some dry products on the market are as low as 28% protein. In my opinion, this is an unsafe level of protein for health.   My hope is that you are feeding a dry product with AT LEAST 40% protein or higher.   If you add the protein% and the fat % together and subtract from 100, you will approximate the carbohydrate % in the dry food.  Again, carbs are not listed on the label, because I would suspect that the company does not want us to know, but keeping the carbohydrate % low is in the best health of your feline family.

What about canned foods?  Protein % in canned foods will be based on how much water is in the can, so in general I want you to chose a canned food with a protein level of 10% or greater.  Also, as a wise consumer you want to be aware of the % moisture in the canned food.  Water is an inexpensive ingredient, one you can add at home before serving.  If you compare 2 brands that are both 6 ounces, the one with less water will have more nutrition and calories, and be more economical.

Should you  feed as much as the bag tells you to feed?  In a word, NEVER.  Pet food companies want you to buy more food, and so they  recommend over feeding. You may think this sounds cynical, but it is also true.   Know that the average 10# cat should be eating 200-250kcals total per day.  If you have questions on how much to feed your individual cat, please contact us and we will be glad to help you.  Always bring specific diet related questions with you for your cats annual wellness exam, a perfect time to discuss nutrition specifics for you cat. 

How many calories are in the foods that you are feeding?  This important information is usually available on the pet food web site only.  Most companies do not print calories on their labels, because this in not required by law.  Dry food formulations can vary from between 300- 600 kcal per cup! Why is this important to know?  It is really the only way to know how much food per day you should be feeding to prevent obesity. 

Is grain free important?  The short answer is yes and no.  Ideally, I want you to look for a LOW CARBOHYDRATE, high protein food.  The term "grain-free" implies this, but in reality many of these foods are full of non-grain carbohydrates like potato flour, pea flour and other starches.  The only way to know what you are buying is to read the ingredient list.

Do you want to explore this topic further on your own?  Here is a link to Dr. Lisa A Pierson's webpage that has a very useful comparison chart of the nutritional value of many popular cat foods  and is really worth checking out:  nutritional chart pdf. 

I hope this blog has helped make your next trip to the cat food isle  less daunting.  Companies are regularly changing their ingredients, labels and the quality of their brands.  Being a cautious and wise consumer is our only defense when shopping for the best foods -for ourselves and our pets!
 As always, if you found this information useful, please feel free to share with your cat-loving friends.  Dr.  Maureen Flatley
Fox Valley Cat Clinic