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How to Read Cat Food Labels

Eight Tips for Deciphering Cat Food Names and Claims

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

There are three main rules that pet food manufacturers must follow when picking a name for their product. Understanding them will help you choose the best food for your cat.

Rule #1: If the product name reads “Tuna Cat Food” or “Chicken Cat Food,” then it must contain at least 95% of the named ingredient, not including moisture content. But here’s where it gets tricky: If the product name contains two ingredients (for example “Chicken and Fish Cat Food”), the food has to contain more of whichever one is named first, but together they must add up to 95%.

Rule #2: Don’t let the word “dinner” fool you into thinking your cat is getting a meatier dish. This rule states that if the product contains less than 95% meat or fish, but more than 25%, the product name must include a qualifier such as “dinner,” “entrée,” “formula,” “platter,” and so on. Check the ingredients list closely in these cases to make sure you’re feeding your cat what you think you are. The ingredient in the product name may only make up a quarter of the product. Something named “Chicken Cat Dinner,” may actually be mostly fish.

Rule # 3: Throw the word “with” in the product name, and manufacturers are only required to include 3% of that named ingredient in the food. So, “Cat Food with Tuna,” may have a lot less tuna in it than “Tuna Cat Food.”

Tip No. 4: Meat Is Not Meal

After you figure out the product name puzzle, scan the ingredients to see where your cat’s favorite item ranks.

Ingredients are listed by weight, with the heaviest ones first.

Here are some of the most common ingredients:

  • Meat: Cleaned flesh from chicken, lamb, turkey, cattle, and related animals that have been slaughtered specifically for animal feed purposes. However, flesh means more than skin. It may include muscle, (including the diaphragm), fat, nerves, blood vessels from the skin, the heart, esophagus, and the tongue.
  • Meat by-product: Clean, nonflesh parts from the same animals mentioned above. This can include the blood, bone, brain, liver, lungs, liver, kidneys, and emptied stomach and intestines. There are no hooves, hair, horns, or teeth in meat byproducts. Chicken by-products are feather-free.
  • Beef tallow: A fat made from beef.
  • Meal: Finely ground tissue.
  • Bone meal: Finely ground bone from slaughtered feed animals.
  • Fish meal: Clean, ground undecomposed whole fish or fish pieces. The fish may or may not still contain fish oil.
  • Ground corn: Chopped or ground corn kernels.
  • Corn gluten meal: A product that forms after corn syrup or starch is made.


Tip No 5: Focus on Nutrients, Not Ingredients

Don’t spend too much time trying to decipher that ingredient list. “Animals require nutrients, not ingredients," says Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine. “You should be most concerned about the nutritional value of the end product, and less concerned about the ingredients that get you there.”

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