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A person reading a cat food label with a cat beside them, symbolizing understanding and deciphering cat food labels for better pet nutrition.

Reading cat food labels

Whether you’ve recently welcomed a new kitten into your home, or you are a parent to a fussy feline with specific food preferences, it’s important to be knowledgeable on understanding and deciphering cat food labels to ensure that your cat’s nutritional needs are being met.

With so many cat food brands, flavors, and options available in the market, it can be quite confusing or overwhelming to figure out what to feed your precious feline friend. Here’s a handy guide to help you get a better understanding of cat nutrition and cat food labels .

Pay attention to the first 3 ingredients

Cat food label showing first 3 ingredients

Since pet food labels list ingredients in order of the weight of the ingredient, beginning with the heaviest, check the first three ingredients on the label to ensure that your cat is getting enough good sources of protein, like chicken, fish or lamb. If chicken meal (and other protein meals) tops the list, it usually means more protein, because products like chicken meal are dehydrated, meaning that if they are at the top, it will provide an appropriate level of protein.

Consider water content

Removing the water content from the food analyses can make a big difference in the percentages of specific nutrients. Below is a comparison of the major nutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrates between an ‘as fed’ and a ‘dry matter’ analysis in a feline adult maintenance dry food (Food A) and canned food (Food B). ‘As fed’ means as the food comes out of the packet, and ’dry matter’ is after the water content is removed from the calculation:

Identify cat food allergies

While it may sound ironic, a common cat food allergy is fish. If a package claims ‘zero fish products’, or uses terms like “gluten-free,” they can usually be trusted to reflect these claims in the actual food. But if your cat suffers from any severe and specific cat food allergies , it is advisable to scan the ingredient list to confirm these claims, and get your veterinarian’s opinion.

“Natural” and “Organic”

Food that is labeled “Natural” means that none of the cat food ingredients have been chemically altered. If the seal claims that the cat food is

"Organic" it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, not counting added water or salt. If the seal says "Made With Organic Ingredients" it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

If a product has some organic ingredients, which together make up less than 70% of the total, it will denote those specific cat food ingredients as “Organic” in the ingredient list.

Prioritize flavor ingredients

Assorted cat food flavorings and ingredients with labels indicating specific proteins, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing flavor ingredients for cat nutrition.

While flavorings can help give your cat more of what they enjoy and love, look for specific proteins in the first three cat food ingredients to give your cat the flavor it seeks. For example, if you opt for a food with a certain flavor, choose specifics over generics, such as “beef” instead of “meat.” This way you have a better idea of the origin of the protein.

Understand your cat’s nutrient profile

Cat foods are generally marked with one of two labels - “All Life Stages” or “Adult Maintenance.” “All Life Stages” cat food is formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of a growing kitten or lactating cat, meaning that this food will likely be higher in calories, calcium and phosphorus. Choose foods with the “Adult Maintenance” label for healthy adult cats.

Check the guaranteed analysis

Check the cat food label for the mandatory guarantee that the food contains the nutrition levels, or labeled percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. “Crude” refers to the method of testing the product, and not the quality of the nutrient. Also keep in mind that while the guaranteed analysis provides a measure of the various nutrient categories, it does not provide information relating to the quality of the ingredients, its digestibility or the overall quality.

Consider these important factors while choosing the right cat nutrition for your feline friend, and explore the wide variety of cat food offerings in the market to find the food that suits your kitty best.

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