How can I tell by reading a commercial cat food label that the food is complete and balanced?

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This is, admittedly, a tough task, because many foods that claim to be “complete and balanced” are actually lacking in nutrients.

The best thing is for pet owners to have a basic understanding of feline nutrition so they can determine what a label should and should not include.

This is what a label should always include:

  • Named protein source – look for “chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef,” rather than simply “meat.” Remember, cats must strictly rely on meat for their protein source. It’s not just a matter of taste, cats need certain nutrients for survival—nutrients only available from animal sources.
  • Compliance with the AAFCO’s requirements for “Complete and Balanced,” as evidenced by that wording on the label. The composition of the food must meet or exceed nutrient levels established by AAFCO. The AAFCO statement should be on the label.
  • On canned food particularly, the protein source should be the first listed ingredient
  • Taurine. Without adequate amounts, your cat can experience blindness and  numerous health problems. This essential fatty acid is absolutely necessary for  survival.
  • Vitamins and minerals, especially the anti-oxidants like A,C and E.
  • Always check the expiration date for freshness.

What to avoid

  • Words such as “Byproducts,” “meat and/or bone meal,” “animal digest,” most other descriptions including “digest” or added sugars.
  • Chemical preservatives, including BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, and Propyl Gallate.
  • Corn meal as a filler.
  • Excess of carbohydrate “fillers” (Dry food can contain as much as 50 percent grain).

Pet food manufacturers cannot print “complete and balanced” on their labels unless one of the following criteria is met:

  • The food must pass feeding tests for the life stage recommended on the label.
  • Preservatives, at the level included in commercial pet foods, have never been scientifically demonstrated to cause any problems in pets (or people) at less than 100 times the levels found in such foods. On the other hand, the current policy  for many cat food manufacturers is toward using natural preservatives, such as  vitamins C and E.

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