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The Ingredients in Cat Food: What Makes Up Your Furry Friend's Diet?

October 13, 2022

Learning to read the labels on cat food may be difficult, especially with all the unknown components. For the sake of your cat's health, you should select a cat food that is nutritious and meets its dietary requirements. By comprehending what you read on the label, you will be better able to make informed feeding decisions that may affect your cat's longevity and vigor.

Deciphering the Ingredient List

The components are given by weight order. The protein source should ideally be the first item stated on a package of dry cat food for regular maintenance. Following this should be secondary protein sources. After that, you might anticipate finding carbohydrate fillers, oils or fats, preservatives, additional vitamins and minerals, and taurine (an amino acid that cats need to survive).

It may come as a surprise to learn that many popular "premium" cat meals do not adhere to this optimal composition. One kind of chicken and rice formula, for instance, includes (in order) chicken, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, wheat flour, beef tallow preserved with mixed tocopherols (source of Vitamin E), and whole-grain corn. Next are more meat products, preservatives, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to other foods on the market, this one may classify as "medium-to-good" rather than "premium" or "excellent."

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines the components of animal food. A maker of cat food cannot mention an ingredient unless it meets the AAFCO definition. As a knowledgeable cat owner, you'll want to understand what these complicated food components imply and how they affect your cat's nutrition.

Meat Products

Protein contains amino acids that aid in the development and maintenance of a pet's muscles, bones, blood, organs, immune system, hair, and nails. There are several protein source combinations that provide a balanced amino acid profile.

Chicken: The AAFCO defines "chicken" as the clean mix of meat and skin, with or without the bone. It must be obtained from chicken parts or complete carcasses, or a mix thereof, excluding feathers, heads, feet, and internal organs. This is a component often included in premium-quality cat food. Keep in mind, however, that the quantity of bone and/or skin may affect the protein's quality.

Poultry by-product meal: Meal derived from chicken by-products is comprised of pulverized, rendered, and clean poultry carcasses. It consists of such items as necks, feet, developing eggs, and intestines. Feathers should not be present in the meal unless in proportions that cannot be avoided due to appropriate processing techniques. True, cats do consume certain sections of chicken in their natural or wild condition, but the "rendered" portion is not natural. If you want to feed your cat the healthiest food, a by-product meal should not be the first ingredient.

Beef tallow: Tallow is derived from the tissues of cattle during the commercial rendering process. Because it is saturated fat, beef tallow is an inferior fat source for cat food. It is included largely to impart taste to the cuisine.

Fish meal: Fish meal is the cleaned, dried, and ground tissue of whole, non-decomposed fish or fish trimmings. A part of the oil may or may not be removed, and its moisture content must not exceed 10 percent. If the fish meal includes more than 3% salt, the salt content must be included in the product name (and it may not exceed 7 percent). The salt listed above is the item to watch out for.

Egg product: Eggs can be dry, liquid, or frozen and must be labeled in accordance with USDA rules. They must be shell-free.


Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for your cat, as they provide the building blocks (glucose) for cellular energy. In addition, they contribute fiber to pet diets, which is essential for gastrointestinal health. Some foods may include fillers from which the majority of their nutrients have been extracted through other procedures. When a pet food's ingredient list includes whole grains, it is typically a healthier option.

Brewers rice: This component refers to the rice remaining following the brewing process. It is the dried, extracted rice residue that results from the production of wort (the liquid portion of malted grain). A maximum of 3 percent of crushed, dried, and wasted hops may be added to brewers' rice. It seems to reason that this rice "residue" may not include carbohydrates of the same grade as whole-grain rice.

Corn gluten meal: Maize gluten meal is the corn residue that remains after removing the majority of the starch and germ and separating the bran. It is the byproduct of manufacturing maize-based goods such as corn starch and corn syrup. Corn is a common filler because of its low cost. It is also one of the allergens responsible for cat allergy. If you must pick cat food with corn as an ingredient, "cornmeal" is preferable since it contains the germ and not simply the residue.

Wheat flour: Wheat flour is defined by the AAFCO as wheat flour, including tiny particles of wheat bran, wheat germ, and the "tail of the mill." This product must be produced using the standard commercial milling process and cannot include more than 1.5% crude fiber.

Preservatives And Supplements

Although vitamins and minerals are included in minute quantities, they account for about half of the components in pet food and make up the majority of the ingredient list. The AAFCO specifies 25 necessary vitamins and minerals for "complete and balanced" cat food.

Mixed-tocopherols: The majority of quality foods include mixed tocopherols, which are classified as a Vitamin E source. Additionally, it includes Vitamin A and preservatives. These are not as effective as the older chemical preservatives BHA and BTA, so check the label for the maximum shelf life.

Sodium caseinate: Casein is a milk protein that is comparable to whey. The sodium content makes it a salty flavoring and preservative agent. This is a potassium salt of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride. Potassium is necessary for heart and nerve function in all organisms. However, in cat food, sodium chloride is employed as a salty flavoring agent and preservative.

Acid phosphoric: A 32 percent phosphorus mineral supplement, this is another addition that helps acidify the diet so the cat may maintain a healthy urine pH.

Brewers dried yeast: Brewers dried yeast must be derived from beer or ale brewed for human consumption. It is yeast made of the single-celled organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae that has been sterilized and deprived of leavening ability. The protein source brewer's dried yeast is rich in amino acids and B vitamins. The amino acids aid in the development and maintenance of a pet's muscles, bones, blood, organs, immune system, coat, and nails. Without enough quantities of critical amino acids, protein synthesis is impaired. Additionally, B vitamins promote brain function, muscle strength, the synthesis of red blood cells, and digestion. While humans may find brewers dried yeast harsh, dogs and cats find it rather appetizing. As a probiotic, it can also relieve stress and illness and prevent fleas.

Natural flavors: AAFCO defines natural flavors as feed or ingredients originating purely from plant, animal, or mineral sources. It may be in its natural condition, or it may have undergone physical processing, thermal processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymatic hydrolysis, or fermentation. It may not be manufactured using any chemically synthetic procedure, nor may it include any chemically synthetic additives or processing aids in excess of the levels that may be unavoidable under acceptable manufacturing standards. This "component" is so imprecise and ambiguous that it may as well be omitted, given you have no idea what it actually is.

Remaining ingredients: Vitamins and minerals appear last on the list of remaining components. Included are a variety of difficult-to-pronounce names, which are rather prevalent among cat feeds. Calcium carbonate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, salt, choline chloride, vitamin supplements (E, A, B-12, D-3), taurine, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, ascorbic acid (source of Vitamin C), L-Alanine, riboflavin supplement, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate.

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