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Where’s The Meat?

cat food labels and ingredients

When your cat reads the cat food label.
Photo credit: Cheezburger.com

As I was doing some research for a client this past week I came across something that shocked me.  Whenever I work with cats who are having health issues one of the things I always analyze is the diet.  Often times what a cat eats gives me clues to the underlying cause of the illness, disease, etc.  Great nutrition comes down to the quality of the ingredients, sourcing, and how well the body can use them.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation in the pet food marketplace.  

Cat food labels, clever marketing & brand recognition

Let me give you an example.  There is a perception that pet food sold in veterinarian clinics is excellent quality and highly nutritious.  You would expect that, right?  What about pet food sold in grocery stores that have beautiful packaging, clever TV commercials, and all the popular buzz words?  And don’t forget the popular brands that have been around for decades!  

I’ve had countless conversations with so many people about their cats and dogs and health issues they are dealing with.  One of the questions I always ask is “What do you feed him/her?”  The answer I usually get goes something like this:  “I feed her ‘X’, which is a great brand and really good food.”  And they say it with total conviction!  More times than not their beloved brand is one that uses cheap, unhealthy, and species inappropriate ingredients.

I try not to cringe–at least not too much.  Then I ask them why they think it’s a good food, and the answers I get don’t surprise me.  Like most consumers, they have been brainwashed into believing big brand name pet food companies truly have their pets’ best interests at heart.  I beg to differ; their interests are driven by profits, and the proof is in the pet food labels.  

My stomach turns reading this label

Cats are obligate carnivores–they must eat meat in order to thrive, not just survive.  In addition to animal protein they need high quality fats, moisture, and little to no carbohydrates.  Unfortunately cat food manufacturers, including popular veterinary brands, are choosing to produce products that deny this biological fact.  

Here’s part of the label I read this week that made me sick to my stomach:

COMPOSITION: vegetable protein isolate*, precooked wheat flour, animal fats, dehydrated poultry protein, rice, maize, vegetable fibres, hydrolysed animal proteins, chicory pulp, minerals, fish oil, soya oil, yeasts and parts thereof, tomato (source of lycopene), fructo-oligo- saccharides, psyllium husks and seeds, hydrolysed yeast (source of manno-oligo-saccharides), hydrolysed crustaceans (source of glucosamine), borage oil, marigold extract (source of lutein), hydrolysed cartilage (source of chondroitin).

Photo credit: Pixabay

A closer look

Let me break this down for you so you understand why this food is simply awful for a cat.  First of all, where’s the meat?  Vegetable protein isolate is a highly chemically processed, plant-based protein source usually from soybeans, peas and wheat.  Digesting products like soy, legumes and wheat put lots of stress on a cat’s digestive system, including the pancreas.  Furthermore, this label includes dehydrated animal protein.  According to the manufacturer’s website the dehydrating process removes most of the fat and moisture from the poultry.  How is that better than fresh meat?  Cats need the moisture and fat.  proteins, on the other hand, are highly bioavailable.  It’s best to avoid meat meals and meat by-products and look for real meat instead.

Secondly, this list includes 2 common grains:  rice and maize (corn).  Your cat’s body has trouble breaking down carbohydrates like these.  Consequently, this can stress the pancreas, resulting in inflammation, pancreatitis, diabetes, IBD, cancer and more.

Hydrolyzed ingredients

Thirdly, what’s up with the hydrolyzed ingredients?  Hydrolysis is a process that breaks food down into smaller particles, ie:  amino acids. In theory it makes digestion easier.  Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, doesn’t recommend them for a variety of reasons.

A hydrolyzed protein diet contains a single regular protein, let’s say chicken, which is a common allergenic food. Hydrolysis breaks down the chicken into particles so small that, according to the research, the protein is no longer recognized by the immune system as an allergen. The benefit, it would seem, is you can still feed your pet food she’s allergic to, but the protein molecules have been processed in such a way that they trick the immune system.

I really don’t see the point in this approach. First of all, the animal’s body is not actually being returned to health. It’s only being tricked into not responding to the food it has grown allergic to, assuming the hydrolyzed protein behaves as advertised.

Secondly, the methods and chemicals used in the hydrolysis process don’t convert the protein into amino acids in the same natural way your pet’s body does. And really, no one knows the long-term side effects that these unnaturally derived substances might have on the health of dogs and cats.

Soy is also commonly used as a protein source in these hydrolyzed diets. Soy, which is a common allergen for pets, is a poor quality source of protein, in my opinion. It’s totally biologically inappropriate for dogs and cats. 

Finally, you’ll see soya oil (soybean oil).  Manufacturers commonly use soybean oil in lieu of more expensive bio-available omega 3 oils like salmon, krill, and cod liver oil.  Remember, soy products are completely inappropriate for cats!

Why you must read pet food labels!

In conclusion, labels like this only prove how important it is to read them.  This label was on a bag of Royal Canin Ageing 12+ dry cat food, one of the trusted brands many people purchase without second thought.  Similarly, you’ll find biologically inappropriate ingredients in brands like Purina, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Meow Mix, Fancy Feast and even Blue Buffalo among others.  Don’t believe me?  Next time you’re at the store take a look.

Above all, feeding our cats foods that actually benefit them will make a huge difference!   This will result in fewer diseases and trips to the vet, no need for costly medications and surgeries, and better longevity for our feline family members.

Want to learn more about reading pet food labels?  Check out our 3 part series that starts here.

What questionable ingredients have you found on cat food labels?  Share in the comments below!

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