Choosing Feline Food

  • When you are reading the ingredient list on a pet food product, and trying to assess the amount of muscle meat protein in the product, please remember that ingredients are listed by weight (reg #3), which means that whole meat is also measured by the moisture content, and quite often you will find that the grain or vegetable listed right below the meat is likely to be providing more of the protein content than is good for our carnivore felines. That first ingredient containing all the moisture will probably be the total "moisture" source as listed on the package, unless "broth", or other moisture sources are shown. When the protein source is listed as "meal" it is the muscle meat source without the moisture detracting from the measurement, or is listed as "gluten meal" in grains, which results in only a partially adequate protein source, lacking in vital amino acids.
  • Along with watching for water content placing a nutrient source in a high position on the ingredient list, also watch for the opposite in that pet food companies are notorious for splitting an ingredient such as listing "corn meal", and "corn" separately, where both of these are sources of carbohydrates you are trying to avoid. By splitting the single ingredient source into two, it will be listed lower, and look as though there is less of it in a product that possibly one of those muscle meat sources that are so full of water.
  • Contrary to what is commonly promoted on the net, how a food is processed does not turn it into a "grain" or magically make it a good source of protein. Native Americans can tell you that when their ancestors dried meat, it was still a protein, not a grain. A good source of nutrient information is the nutritiondata site.
  • Another good site to use as a learning tool is at Royal Canin US, where such articles as the clarification of my first statement about meat, and other labelling issues are presented. They have another page clarifying the digestive differences between species, and one that breaks down corn, (a grain), to clarify the complexities of grains and their structure, at "Corn and Corn Gluten Meal". While corn gluten meal doesn't have a complete range of the amino acids needed for feline nutritional health, studies have proven it to be bioavailable regarding nutrients it does supply.
  • For ingredients not found on nutritiondata.com, there is a site for feed ingredient breakdown at Ingredients101
  • If you rely on supermarket sources for pet foods, you are likely to be paying later in vet bills. However, leading sources, (eg Small Animal Clinical Nutrition), do suggest that about 10% of the diet can safely be treats and junk food, just as we do with human diets.
  • You will often find products that contain fruits and vegetables, with the claim "no grains". In actual fact, felines come from the desert marshes, where rice and corn helped to develop their digestive systems, and, according to scientific research, rice bran is the best source of fermentable fibre, (moderately fermentable), along with beet pulp, for companion animals. If you look closely at the equivalent measurements to the ingredients in the "no grains" products, you will find that they consistantly have higher simple carbohydrate ratings than the equivalent serving of corn or rice. This can easily be checked on USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18.

In the US, in particular, the term "nutritionist" has no regulating guidelines in most states, even for use with human nutritional information. This means that anyone can claim to be a "feline nutritionist" with impunity, and it is a case of caveat emptor, or "you get what you pay for". The person does not need to have any credible education behind the term, and usually doesn't have good scientifically based reference material backing up the important information they provide on their sites. You will usually notice a specific bias in the postings, toward one method of processing or another, when, in actual fact, if the ingredient is in the food, the processing doesn't make it good or bad, as you can easily discover by doing comparisons at NutritionData.com. Sometimes an ingredient will be slightly higher in one nutrient or another, based upon processing method, but this is not consistant with any method of processing, and the differences are not really enough to base a change in feeding practices. Learn to understand the ingredient lists and assess them by nutritional breakdown from the reliable sites above.

DRY MATTER CALCULATIONS, as kindly provided by Dr Craig Smith, DVM, of Tacoma:

  1. Find the moisture percentage on the label (usually 70-80 for canned, or around 10 for dry)
  2. Subtract that from 100, (should be 20-30, or 90)
  3. Now, move the decimal 2 places left (should be .20 to .30, or .90)
  4. Use that number to divide into any other percentage on the label to get what is termed Dry Matter Percentage for that particular item. For instance, if your answer was .25, and the protein percentage was listed on the label as 10%, you would divide 10 by .25 and come up with 40, indicating that 40% of the dry matter in the food is actually protein.....once the volume of water has been removed. As the dry matter amount is small in canned foods, you need to ensure you are providing enough to supply adequate nutrition for feline needs. That 40%, is 40% of the 20% or 30% of the can that is "dry" weight.

HAIRBALLS.........as a lot of us know, bulemia causes serious tooth decay in humans as the gastric juices continually pass by the teeth that are not designed to handle hydrochloric acid from the stomach. It is again assumption on my part that hairballs in cats can also create the same issues, with degraded dental hygiene. Our solution to this is to shave the cats that are prone to hairballs when weather warms up. Not only do we not suffer the mess of hairball on the floor; our boys love the freedom of shorter hair and become more active. This year Legolas's fur has grown back too quickly and he is complaining and cranky as the warmer weather stays longer than usual.

While the Iams Symposium papers are not available online, there are other workshops and symposiums provided here. They make an interesting read if you have time.

On your pet food labels, those items enclosed in brackets after a nutrient source are listed by law, as the ingredients that could possibly cause allergic, or intolerant reactions in some pets. Pay attention for the health and safety of your pet.

MSG issues are being addressed at the "Truth in Labelling" site. You may wish to do further reading with a very interesting book byRussell L. Blaylock, M.D., called "Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills". I guarantee this book will have you reading through the ingredient lists for your own food much more closely, too. If the outline in the previous URL 'excites' you, the book is available through Amazon.com.

Specific pet food ingredient concerns are addressed here.

May all your pet food choices be made based upon education and reliable information, backed by science.