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Shopping Tips for Cat Food

The issues

Pet owners want their pets to lead healthy lives, but it’s difficult to obtain information about the nutritional value of different pet foods or on the environmental and social reputations of different pet food brands. Transparency about ingredients, ingredient sources, and processing methods beyond the minimum of what is legally required is generally difficult to come by in the pet food industry. Many different brands use the same ingredient providers and manufacture products at the same processing facilities. Pet food ingredients are combined to achieve specific nutritional benchmarks, so consumers can assume that most products on the market meet a basic standard for nutritional adequacy. While pet goods attempt to differentiate themselves with various marketing claims about their ingredients, there is considerable scientific debate about the importance that should be assigned to specific ingredients compared to the overall nutritional profile of a pet food. We know a lot more about what contributes to a healthy diet and which ingredients to seek or avoid with human food compared to pet food.

Avoid the Hype

  • Many marketing claims about pet food have little to do with nutritional quality. For example, there is no scientific basis to differentiate between “synthetic” vs. “natural” preservatives for health reasons. Similarly, while “organic” conveys something useful about how some ingredients in a product were grow grown, it is not a certification that was intended to apply to pet foods, and need not mean that all components of a product were produced according to organic standards.
  • Remember that pet food advertising is designed to attract human purchasers. Just because an ingredient seems less appetizing to a person doesn’t mean that it doesn’t provide valuable nutrients for a pet – in a way that can be both bioavailable and tasty. The pet food industry often relies on by-products and wastes generated from making human food.
  • The words “complete and balanced” or “100% nutritious” indicate only that the product can be used as the sole source of nutrition. Products that don’t use this language should be used only as supplements, such as treats.

GoodGuide Recommendations

Look for the package phrase “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (product name) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (gestation, lactation & growth or maintenance).”

In general, pet food products all meet the basic nutritional standard as established by AAFCO and are safe for your pet. Just like people, pets can be perfectly healthy from a variety of diets — there isn’t one correct diet or formulation, let alone fad diets. Your pet’s health and happiness is the best indication of a healthy diet.

Since many health based claims are simply cleverly worded marketing or based on unpublished internal research, foods used to minimize specific health conditions or allergies for your pet should be recommended by a veterinary professional.

If you’re concerned about getting the right amount of nutrition for a given condition or preventative maintenance, the Guaranteed Analysis should not be used to inform any decisions. Only a full nutrient profile can provide a detailed and meaningful assessment of what the food contains.

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