What Are All Those Ingredients in Cat Food?

by johnsmith

What Are All Those Ingredients in Cat Food – Reading a cat food label can be overwhelming, particularly with so many unfamiliar ingredients. However, choosing the right food for your pet is crucial to ensuring their overall health and longevity. By understanding the label’s contents, you can make informed decisions when selecting the best food to suit your cat’s dietary requirements.

What Are All Those Ingredients in Cat Food

Understanding the Order of Ingredients

The ingredients are listed by weight, so ideally, a high-quality dry cat food should list a protein source as the main ingredient. The secondary protein sources should come after the primary one, followed by carbohydrate fillers, fats or oils, preservatives, added vitamins and minerals, and taurine, which is an essential amino acid for cats.

What Are All Those Ingredients in Cat Food

It can be surprising to discover that many supposedly “premium” cat foods do not follow this ideal formula. For instance, one brand’s “chicken and rice” formula lists chicken, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, wheat flour, beef tallow, and whole-grain corn in that order. This ingredient list is far from ideal and not the best choice for your cat.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides definitions for all animal food ingredients so that cat food manufacturers cannot list an ingredient unless it meets AAFCO’s criteria. As an informed cat owner, you should understand the meaning of all these complex food ingredients and how they affect your cat’s nutrition.

Protein Sources

Protein provides amino acids essential for a cat’s bone, muscle, blood, organ, immune system, and hair and nail health. Many protein combinations provide a balanced amino acid profile.

  • Chicken: This ingredient refers to clean, deboned chicken flesh and skin, or a combination thereof, derived from chicken carcasses, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. This is the ideal protein source for premium cat food. However, the inclusion of bone and/or skin affects the protein quality.

What Are All Those Ingredients in Cat Food

  • Poultry by-product meal: This ingredient includes the ground and clean parts of the poultry carcass, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. It excludes feathers, except those unavoidably occurring in good processing practices. Although cats do eat these parts in the wild, the process of rendering them is not natural. Thus, choosing by-product meal as the primary ingredient is not the healthiest option.
  • Beef tallow: This ingredient is obtained from rendered cattle tissue. Since it is a saturated fat, beef tallow cannot provide the same quality of fat as other sources. It is primarily used to give the food flavor.
  • Fish meal: This ingredient is made up of clean, dried, and ground whole fish or fish cuttings with no more than 10% moisture. If it contains more than 3% salt, the product must specify salt content in the name. Fish meal can be a good source of protein, but excess salt is an issue.
  • Egg product: This ingredient could be either dehydrated, frozen, or liquid eggs, in compliance with USDA regulations, free from shell fragments thereof.


Carbohydrates provide cats with energy, as well as the fiber essential for digestive health. Choose foods containing whole grains instead of empty fillers, which will have lower nutritional value.

  • Brewers rice: This ingredient refers to the residue of rice after beer production. Brewers rice is the by-product of the wort-making process of malted grain. Brewers rice may contain dried hops in up to 3% of the product. This rice residue may not be a nutritious carbohydrate source, and whole grain rice is preferable.
  • Corn gluten meal: This ingredient is a residue from corn after the removal of starch and germ, and separation of the bran. As it is an inexpensive filler, corn gluten meal is widely used, and it can cause allergies in cats. If corn is included in the ingredient list, cornmeal with the germ is preferred over corn gluten meal.
  • Wheat flour: This ingredient is wheat flour with added fine wheat bran, wheat germ, and mill offal. This wheat product must not contain more than 1.5% crude fiber.

Preservatives and Supplements

Although added in tiny quantities, vitamins and minerals account for almost half of the ingredients in pet food and take up the largest portion of the ingredient list on the label. To be listed as “complete and balanced” cat food, the AAFCO requires 25 essential vitamins and minerals in the formulation.

What Are All Those Ingredients in Cat Food

  • Mixed-tocopherols: Most premium foods contain mixed tocopherols as a source of Vitamin E, as well as Vitamin A and preservatives. These are not as effective as BHA or BTA but are still considered safe. Always check the expiry date on the label for maximum shelf life.
  • Sodium caseinate: This ingredient is casein, a milk product similar to whey, with added sodium for flavoring and preservation purposes.
  • Potassium chloride: Potassium is necessary for heart and nerve function in all species. It is added to cat food as a salty component for flavor and preservation purposes.
  • Phosphoric acid: This mineral supplement contains 32% phosphorus and helps to acidify the food to enable cats to maintain proper urinary pH.

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