[Cat Food Science] Classification Of Dry Food And Interpretation Of Dry Food Ingredient List

What is dry food?

Dry food is also known as Dry Kibble, which accounts for more than 60% of all cat and dog food sales in the United States. Packaging formats range from boxes over one pound to large bags weighing 40 to 50 pounds.

The moisture content of dry food is between 6%-10%. According to a specific formula, the various ingredients are mixed and stirred (the ingredients are usually: meat and/or meat by-products, poultry and/or poultry by-products, grains and/or grain by-products, fish meal, fiber, dairy products, vitamin and mineral supplements ). During the production process, heating, cooling, compression and other processes are carried out, and finally the granular dry food is sprayed with flavour enhancer and phagostimulant, such as animal fat.
Dry cat food is relatively cheap, and because it is not easy to spoil (compared to canned food and raw meat), it provides everyone with the convenience of “free choice” feeding. However, there are shortcomings such as mixed formulas, too many additives, unknown origins, and too many production processes that make the food lose its own nutrients.

Kinds of dry food

Cat dry food can be roughly divided into four types in terms of feeding objects: kitten/pregnant female cat dry food, adult cat dry food, weight loss cat dry food, and prescription cat dry food.

From the production process or formula, it can be roughly divided into four categories, ordinary dry food (sold in supermarkets such as Costco), grain-free dry food, gluten-free dry food, and freeze-dried dry food (including freeze-dried raw food).

What is the difference between grain-free and gluten-free?
As the name suggests, grain-free cat food is a grain-free diet. Gluten-free cat food may or may not contain grains. Gluten is a protein found in certain types of grains, namely wheat, barley and rye. Not all grains contain gluten. Therefore, gluten-free cat food may or may not contain grains, while grain-free cat food is always gluten-free.

Some misunderstandings about grain-free and gluten-free cat food
The purpose of feeding grain-free pet food is to realize the current more popular feeding concept-high protein, low carbohydrate. However, the biggest misunderstanding is that grain-free cat food is not the same as a low-carbohydrate diet. In fact, the carbohydrate content of some grain-free pet foods is similar to or even higher than the carbohydrate content of grain-containing pet foods. In many grain-free pet foods, ingredients such as potatoes replace the grains in the food, and the carbohydrates in these ingredients are usually more than the ordinary grains used in pet food.
Many people believe that choosing grain-free or gluten-free cat food is the best choice for cats with food allergies. But corn and other grains are not the most common allergens in food. In fact, corn is one of the least likely sources of cat food allergies. Instead, beef, dairy products, fish and other foods are more common sources of allergies in cats.

It’s not that grain-free cat food is bad, but when it comes to the choice of cat food, we need to pay more attention to the ingredient list instead of just looking at the package and name. What we need is high-quality grain-free cat food, not just writing Grain-free Dry Food.

Freeze-dried dry food
As the name suggests, it is a combination cat food of raw freeze-dried + grain-free dry food. The most representative is Instinct’s Raw Boost series. Later Stella and Chewy also launched the raw dry cat food series.

Kittens\Lactation Dry Food
Dry food for kittens/mothers and babies is usually high in calories and is used to provide enough energy for growth and breastfeeding. More calories, protein and fat can meet the growing body needs of kittens during the kitten period. At the same time, a precise nutrient ratio is needed to help the kitten’s brain, vision, immune system, and bone development.

Weight control dry food
Weight control dry food usually provides fewer calories, but still contains essential nutrients for cats, so as to ensure that cats can still get a balanced diet while losing weight.

Because protein can be converted into energy more efficiently than carbohydrates and fats. Therefore, it is important to ensure that adequate protein is provided in the diet, and it can also prevent cats from losing body fat and causing loss of muscle mass.

Since protein can make cats feel full for a long time after eating, the protein content in dry food for weight control should be at least 35-45%. At the same time, fiber and moisture content tend to be higher, both of which help prevent cats from becoming hungry after meals. At the same time, the L-carnitine in the formula can have a beneficial effect on the metabolism of cats.
Although normal cat food must contain a certain amount of carbohydrates and fats, for overweight cats, the requirements for these two ingredients are relatively low. Therefore, weight control cat food has lower fat and carbohydrate content than normal cat food.

Prescription food
When a cat has kidney disease, diabetes, intestinal problems, etc., the doctor usually recommends that the owner feed the cat with prescription food for a period of time. Some cats have improved significantly after consuming prescription food, but in recent years, more and more veterinarians have put forward different opinions. Therefore, the use of prescription food needs to be selected according to the situation of your own cat.

Prescription diet for kidney disease
Since kidney disease is one of the most common diseases in cats, kidney prescription food is the most common and popular.
First of all, we need to know that the job of the kidneys is to remove waste from the blood. The main waste they remove is the result of protein metabolism. Protein contains a large amount of nitrogen and phosphorus, and the waste accumulated in the body of kidney disease contains a high content of nitrogen and phosphorus. Therefore, the protein content of the kidney prescription food is low, which can reduce the workload of the kidney.
Many experts believe that older cats (the type of cats that usually suffer from kidney disease) usually need more protein. Since cats usually cannot control protein metabolism, cats fed a low-protein diet may break down as much protein as cats fed a high-protein diet. Those proteins that cannot be obtained from food have to come from muscles, and their weight will decrease accordingly. Unfortunately, the palatability of kidney prescription food is often poor. Cats with kidney disease usually suffer from loss of appetite and may be more picky about kidney prescription foods with low protein content. Some experts believe that the kidney formula diet will not significantly reduce the workload of the kidneys, nor will it delay the progression of kidney disease. However, kidney prescription food does significantly improve blood phosphorus levels, and phosphorus is usually an important indicator of kidney disease.
So for a cat with kidney disease, the most important thing is to keep his diet reasonable and monitor his weight and kidney indicators. Adjust dietary intake at any time based on the results of the inspection.

Diabetes prescription food
Diabetes is one of the most common health problems in humans and cats. The most common diabetes in cats is physiologically similar to the most common type 2 diabetes in humans. Diet adjustment is the main method of treatment of human type 2 diabetes. The current prescription grains used to treat diabetes contain high protein levels and low carbohydrates. Feline diabetes prescription foods are derived from the theory that the human body is more likely to metabolize carbohydrates into sugars, so the current prescription foods used to treat diabetes contain high protein and low carbohydrates.
It should be noted that although dietary adjustments may help cats with diabetes, prescription food alone is not enough. Most cats with diabetes also need insulin.

Prescription diet for intestinal diseases
Cats with IBD or food intolerance may show symptoms such as chronic intermittent diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and loss of appetite. The most basic way to solve these problems is diet adjustment.
In order to find foods that are effective for cats with IBD or food intolerance, it is often necessary to try a variety of diets. When you find a suitable diet, it is recommended to stick to the diet and avoid snacking or changing your diet. These complex diseases such as intestinal inflammation are usually treated with hormonal drugs such as prednisone. But if possible, it is best to try to solve the problem only through diet. Therefore, for cats suffering from intestinal diseases, it is more important to find a suitable diet instead of blindly pursuing prescription food.

About ingredient list

With the development of the pet industry, the replacement of pet food has become more frequent. More and more brands and types appear on the market. Learning to interpret the ingredient list will help reduce the risk of you paying IQ taxes.

The law stipulates that pet food labels must provide true and non-misleading information, and must clearly identify the product as dog or cat food. Display the quantity schedule and the name of the manufacturer or distributor. The displayed brand name will not mislead the content or nutritional properties. Provide guaranteed chemical analysis in compliance with state animal feed regulations. List the ingredients in descending order of weight in the product. List the ingredients that meet the AAFCO definition.

Reading nutrition labels on food packaging is an easy way to compare cat food. Some people believe that pet foods packaged with AAFCO’s nutritional guarantee (often referred to as the “AAFCO Statement”) are considered to be nutritionally complete and balanced. “[Brand name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for [life stage(s)]”

But it needs to be reminded that AAFCO is not qualified to approve or certify any pet food. Most of them just refer to the nutritional standards established by AAFCO. It is not that cat food without AAFCO declaration is not good, on the contrary, not all cat food with AAFCO declaration is good.

The name of the pet food

AAFCO requires that if the advertised food contains a single ingredient (for example, clearly write Chicken Cat Food), it must contain at least 95% of the single ingredient (excluding added water).

Similarly, if a combination of ingredients (such as Chicken and Fish Cat Food) is advertised, the combination of ingredients must account for at least 95% of the food.

Foods with phrases in the name (such as “dinner,” “entrée,” etc.) must contain at least 25% of the specified ingredients.

For products with various “flavors” (such as “chicken flavor” or “beef flavor”) written on the packaging, the ingredient only needs to contain a detectable amount. So fish may actually be the main ingredient of the so-called “chicken dinner” or “chicken flavor”.

Products with “with” in the name (for example, Cat Food with Tuna) only need to contain 3% of this ingredient (more than 3% of tuna is enough). Therefore, there is much less tuna in “Cat Food with Tuna” than in “Tuna Cat Food”.

From the above information, we can screen out high-quality cat food in the easiest and quickest way: foods with a single ingredient clearly indicated in the name are the most preferred. The second is the combination of two or three components marked. For products with joke attitude or vague names, the ingredients are usually mixed and long-term feeding is not recommended.

Ingredient list

The order above the ingredient list is decided by the weight of ingredients.

In order to ensure that cats get enough protein, the top 5 ingredients of a high-quality cat food should first be meat, followed by organs (such as liver), and then grains and plants. Meat should always be placed before grains and vegetables, and the larger the proportion, the better.

If you choose a food that is labeled as a certain flavor, please choose a product that has a clear name in the ingredient list (for example, “beef”, “chicken” instead of “meat”). This will give you a better understanding of the source of protein.

By-products include digestible and nutrient-rich organs, such as the liver and lungs. But it should be noted that the by-products of some brands are rich in nutrients, while the by-products of some brands have no nutritional value and the source is unknown. Therefore, products with many by-products are best from high-quality pet brands.

At the same time, it is necessary to check the content of taurine and aracidonic acid, which are essential for maintaining the health of the cat. If these two substances are not included in the ingredient list, the product may not contain animal protein (these two substances cannot be obtained from plants)

Nutritional analysis

The packaging of most pet foods contains a nutrient analysis, which usually lists the minimum content of protein and fat, and the maximum content of fiber and moisture in percentage form.

The moisture content may seriously affect the comparison, so when comparing two different pet foods (such as dry food and canned food), the analysis results need to be converted into dry matter for more accurate analysis. For example, 8% protein in canned cat food is not the same as 8% protein in dry food (the percentage of moisture will be lower), because the moisture content in canned food is 75-78%, while the moisture content in dry food is only 10-12 % Moisture.
Although the nutritional analysis table provides various nutrients, it does not provide information about the quality of the ingredients in the food, digestibility or the overall quality of the food.

According to FDA guidelines, the inclusion of a “natural” label means that no ingredients have undergone chemical changes.

However, those foods that only bear the “holistic” label cannot be used as a reference standard because the term has no legal definition.

On the packaging, there is a USDA label. And the label says Organic, it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, excluding added water or salt. If it says Made With Organic Ingredients, it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, excluding added water or salt. If the manufacturer wants to indicate that the product contains certain organic ingredients, but they account for less than 70% of the total organic ingredients, then these ingredients can be indicated as organic in the ingredient list, but there is no label.

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