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Healthy Cat Food – A Quick, Expert Shopping Guide

If you’ve ever felt confused about how to choose the healthiest cat food for your companion, you’re not alone. The spring 2007 pet food recall created a lot of buzz. Most pet owners know that pet food manufacturers are required by law to list all product ingredients in order of weight. While this is helpful, an organized checklist is more helpful when shopping. Here are some guidelines from top animal nutrition experts.

Cat food ingredients in order of importance

1. Proteins LOOK FOR: Meat or fish named on the label with words like–chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, herring, salmon, etc. Also acceptable are special-named meat protein concentrates such as–chicken meal, turkey meal, lamb meal, herring meal, etc.

WHY? Cats are what scientists call “obligate carnivores.” This means they are designed to eat a meat based diet. When choosing a food for your cat, you want it to have all the nutrients available for good energy, strong muscle tone and a stable immune system, so the meat protein source should be primary.

AVOID: Anonymous food ingredients with words like — poultry by product, meat meal, meat meal, poultry meal, animal digest, etc. Also avoid protein fillers such as–corn gluten meal, wheat gluten, egg product meal, soy flour, wheat germ meal.

TIP: If you look at a cat food label and group all the grain ingredients together, they are often more primary than the meat depicted by the manufacturers. This masks protein ingredients that are inferior, presenting them as nutritious. RATIONALE: Cat foods containing by-products, meat-and-bone meal, or non-specific, generic meat meals are often discarded residues from the human food chain. This means they can contain “4-D” nutrient-deficient animal protein sources such as:

* Dead animals (including meat with sodium pentobarbital, the most common euthanasia drug, although industry sources deny using dead dogs and cats, however there are no laws or regulations against it).

* Animals that die (including those that FDA meat inspectors reject for the human food chain plus animals that die from zoos and pet farms).

* Diseased animals (per federal meat inspection regulations, fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid, and citronella may be used to denature diseased meat prior to skinning).

* Disabled animals (including those too weak to walk due to illness or malnutrition).

2. Carbohydrates and vegetables LOOK FOR: Whole grains like brown rice and barley or starches like whole potatoes or sweet potatoes. Whole fruits and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, alfalfa, apples, cranberries, etc.

WHY? These whole grains and starches are really easy for cats to digest and provide a good source of energy. Whole fruits and vegetables provide an excellent source of fiber plus natural vitamins and minerals.

AVOID: Plant proteins and gluten, which are indigestible and cause allergies in cats, are made from refined flours, wheat, millet, beer rice, etc. Also watch out for processed fruits and vegetables like dehydrated potatoes, tomato pumice and alfalfa flour.

RATIONALE: Plant proteins, especially soy protein, have become a favorite of pet food manufacturers because they are cheap sources of protein, giving them bigger profits and making it look like cats are getting good protein. Glutens made from flours are just cheap binders or “glue” in pet foods. Both sources can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies.

3. Fats, Oils and Preservatives LOOK FOR: Brand-name fats from quality sources such as chicken fat, lamb fat, sunflower oil, herring oil, etc. Natural preservatives such as mixed tocopherols and vitamin E are preferred over whole foods.

WHY? Fats and oils from branded, nutritious animals and plants provide a rich source of essential fatty acids that help produce healthy skin and a shiny coat. Natural quality preservatives in the right balance with your cat’s food ensure that they receive all the necessary nutrients for life and good health every day.

AVOID: Fats from non-specific sources such as – animal fat, poultry fat, vegetable oil. Also, stay away from synthetic preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin.

RATIONALE: Because the standards for pet food are much less than for human food, pet food manufacturers are allowed to use rendered animal fat, vegetable fats and oils that have been rejected as inedible for humans. They can include rancid oils and fats or used restaurant fats, which have been disguised with flavor enhancers made from processed by-products. Additional synthetic preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and ethoxyquin can cause liver and kidney damage or even cancer. They are used exclusively for longer life and not for nutrition.

4. Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements LOOK FOR: Antioxidants from natural sources like fruits and vegetables. Vitamins like ascorbic acid, beta carotene, biotin etc. Chelated minerals can also be added such as protein iron, protein manganese etc.

WHY? These are all natural or food sources of quality nutrition and supplements that ensure your cat stays healthy and lives longer.

AVOID: Artificial flavors and colors. Another common additive is propylene glycol, a less toxic version of the antifreeze used in cars.

REASON: Flavors and colors are added by manufacturers to make them look more appealing to pet owners and taste more appealing to cats (and dogs). While propylene glycol adds a sweet taste to food, it should NOT be part of your cat’s daily diet.

SOURCES: Pet Food Report from Animal Wellness Magazine, Fall 2007; Animal Protection Institute “Get the Facts: What’s Really in Pet Food”, May 2007 at API4animals.org; Dr. Wendell O. Belfield, DVM, “Food Not Fit for a Pet” at Belfield.com.

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