How to Read Cat Food Labels

Eight Tips for Deciphering Cat Food Names and Claims

By Kelli Miller Stacy
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Drew Weigner, DVM

Choosing a cat food sounds like it would be a simple task. Yet, stroll down the pet food aisle and suddenly you're faced with an overwhelming number of choices packaged in a box or bag or can or pouch -- with catchy claims, flashy names, and, in some cases, a list of ingredients that requires a PhD to decipher.

So how do you make sense of it all and choose the best product for your finicky feline? We asked experts at the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine, the Pet Food Institute, and Thompson's Pet Tech for some advice.

Tip No. 1: Learn the Label Lingo

As with human food, what appears on a cat food label is strictly regulated by the U.S. government. Regardless of packaging, all cat foods must provide the same information on their labels.

  • Product name: What kind of cat food is it? The product name usually highlights a key ingredient, but not always.
  • Net weight: How much is in the container?
  • Statement of purpose or intent: Somewhere on the package, it must say that this food is specifically for cats. This sounds like a no-brainer, but cats have very particular nutritional needs that demand they have certain things in their diet.
  • Ingredient list: By law, ingredients must be listed in decreasing order according to weight. But keep in mind, moisture content affects weight. So ingredients that are moisture-heavy, such as chicken or lamb, are listed higher on the ingredient list than the same ingredient that is added in a dry form.
  • Guaranteed analysis: States the minimum or maximum amount of certain nutrients, including protein, fat, and fiber. Nutrients are different from ingredients.
  • Feeding directions: Explains how to feed the product to the cat. Such directions are to be considered general guidelines, not rules. Ask your veterinarian for specific instructions.
  • Nutritional adequacy statement: This tells you for which specific lifestyle and age of cat the food is intended. For example, is it for growing kitties or full-grown felines?
  • Statement of responsibility: Lists the company responsible for making the product and how you can contact them.