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How to Read Cat Food Labels

Eight Tips for Deciphering Cat Food Names and Claims
By
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Choosing a cat food sounds like a simple task. But stroll down the pet food aisle and you’re faced with an overwhelming number of choices.

So how do you choose the best product for your finicky feline? Here's what experts told WebMD.

Tip No. 1: Learn the Label Lingo

As with human food, what appears on a cat food label is regulated by the U.S. government. Regardless of packaging, all cat foods must provide the same information on their labels. 

  • Product name: What kind of cat food is it? The product name usually highlights a key ingredient, but not always.
  • Net weight: How much is in the container?
  • Statement of purpose or intent: Somewhere on the package, it must say that this food is specifically for cats. This sounds like a no-brainer, but cats have very particular nutritional needs that demand they have certain things in their diet.
  • Ingredient list: By law, ingredients must be listed in decreasing order according to weight. But keep in mind, moisture content affects weight. So ingredients that are moisture-heavy, such as chicken or lamb, are listed higher on the ingredient list than the same ingredient that is added in a dry form.
  • Guaranteed analysis: States the minimum or maximum amount of certain nutrients, including protein, fat, and fiber. Nutrients are different from ingredients.
  • Feeding directions: Explains how to feed the product to the cat. Such directions are to be considered general guidelines, not rules. Ask your veterinarian for specific instructions.
  • Nutritional adequacy statement: This tells you for which specific lifestyle and age of cat the food is intended. For example, is it for growing kitties or full-grown felines?
  • Statement of responsibility: Lists the company responsible for making the product and how you can contact them.

 

Tip No. 2: Don’t Buy Kitten Food for a Cat (and Vice Versa)

One of the most important items to consider when choosing a cat food is found on the back of the cat food container. The nutritional adequacy statement tells you if the product will serve as a complete and balanced meal for your cat's particular life stage. Life stage refers to a cat’s specific developmental period.

The statement will either say cat food or kitten food. It may also say the food is for all life stages, growth and maintenance, growth and reproduction (breeding cats), and, possibly, for indoor or outdoor cats.

There is no one single combination of food that is best for all cats, says pet nutritionist Angele Thompson, PhD. So pick the one that works best for yours.

Tip No. 3: Don’t Judge a Box by its (Front) Cover

When it comes to picking a cat food, the product name has a starring role. But “Chicken Cat Food” is far different from “Cat Food with Chicken” in terms of how much chicken the product actually contains.

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