How to Read Cat Food Labels (cont.)

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 located 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. 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. So 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,” would have a lot less tuna in it than “Tuna Cat Food.”