Feeding Your Cat Basics (cont.)

What ingredients should I look for in my cat's food?

“Animals require nutrients, not ingredients,” Larsen says. It's important to keep in mind that ingredients will have different levels of nutrients. How well those nutrients can be absorbed may also differ, she says. “Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to judge quality by the label, especially because the way a diet is constructed is proprietary information.”

You can glean some information from the label, but because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. “Out of all of the important nutrients, protein should top the list,” says Bough.

Pierson feeds the cats in her care a grain-free, meat-based diet. “Many high-quality foods have ingredients like carrots, blueberries, peas, and apples to appeal to people, although those are not necessary ingredients in cat food,” she says. However, in small amounts, they are not harmful.

So how can you make cat food comparisons or evaluate cat food brands? Although it's a bit like “pulling teeth,” Pierson says, you can ask food manufacturers the percentages of calories that come from different types of nutrients. Or there are web sites, such as “Janet & Binky's Cat Food Nutritional Information Page,” that provide information about the nutritional content of cat food.

“The manufacturer's reputation and experience are really important,” Larsen says. “And, I strongly prefer foods that have been through AAFCO feeding tests.” The Association of American Feed Control Officials or AAFCO is a group of state and federal officials who regulate pet food to ensure that nutrients exist in correct amounts and ratios.

You can look for the AAFCO seal of approval on your cat's food label. But it's important to keep in mind that the feeding trials approved by AAFCO leave much room for improvement, Pierson tells WebMD. In particular, Pierson criticizes the size, parameters, and length of these trials.