How to Read Cat Food Labels?

How to Read Cat Food Labels?


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Many pet owners go by the brand when it comes to purchasing food for their pets. Whether you feed your cat wet or dry food, it is always a good idea to read the labels before buying.

Companies change their ingredients for their products sometimes due to acquisition or merger. If the owner of the company has been changed, it is possible that the management may affect the quality of their products. A good brand in the past may lose consumers' confidence if they have changed the way of manufacturing.

Also some brands such as Fancy Feast's Flaked Fish & Shrimp Feast, contain no by-products nor any wheat or corn gluten, but their other flavors may not match the same quality. Knowing how to read food labels will give you a head start on finding healthy food choices for your cat.

Food labels can be very confusing. Here are some of the terms you may want to think twice when reading the food labels:


Meal is a dry concentrated powder that is rich in protein with litter water and fat. According to FDA, "Meat meal is not meat per se, since most of the fat and water have been removed by rendering." Many large brand cat products contain meal. It is difficult to know what type of ingredients a company uses in creating the meal, so it is totally up to consumers whether they want to buy it.


We all know that by-products have been carrying a stigma of being one of the undesirable ingredients on the "no-no" list, but what are they exactly? By-products are, according to AAFCO, "parts of slaughtered animals, not including meat (please note: no muscle meat included). Included are lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomach and intestines freed of their contents." However, AAFCO fail to mention in the definition that it is perfectly legal for manufacturers to add by-products made out of dead, dying, diseased or down animals, road kill and euthanized animals, into their products.

If the by-products come from a good source such as a named by-product (chicken by-product meal), it should be ok only if it is not listed as the primary ingredient on the label. There is no way of knowing the percentage or weight of the by-products used in the cat food, though it is possible to find out how much protein (which includes meat, by-products, certain grains, etc) the food contains.


Gluten is a protein from grains such as wheat. It is used as starch to create the "gravy" texture for your canned cat food. Some cats may be allergic to grains, but there has not been proof that grains cause those allergic reactions. According to the massive cat food recall back in 2007, gluten was contaminated with melamine for boosting its protein content in cat food.

Carbohydrate Fillers:

Most of the "cheaper brands" contain a large amount of carbohydrate fillers in dry cat kibbles. The most common source of fillers comes from corn which puts strain on cats' digestive system and might cause allergies as a result. However, it does not mean that premium brands are free from carbohydrate fillers. Unfortunately many premium brand companies manufacture their products via the "process of extrusion" which requires using carbohydrate fillers to keep the kibbles in shape. Companies that do not use carbohydrate fillers, use fermentation instead.


Flavor does not mean that it is extracted straight from meat. Even though on the label, it says "chicken flavor", it could be derived from chicken meal or by-products. The chicken flavor can also be produced by animal tissue (such as flesh, bone, organs, etc) treated with chemicals or enzymes.

Artificial Preservatives:

The most commonly used artificial preservatives are BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin. Companies that make natural or organic cat food use vitamin E and C as an alternative to those preservatives.


Image: / CC BY 2.0

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