Friday, October 28, 2011

What Should I Know about Cat Nutrition? Part 3

Answers to last week's ingredient question:
1) Meow Mix
2) Purina Naturals
3) Purina One Beyond
4) Science Diet Oral Care
5) Evo Turkey and Chicken Flavor
6) Before Grain Chicken
7) Fancy Feast Fish and Shrimp Feast

When considering the cost of the food you feed your cat, you may want to consider how much of the food your cat will require daily. Less calorie-dense foods will be fed in greater volume and may actually end up costing more than a more expensive bag of food that you can get more servings out of. When figuring out what you’re paying for, sometimes it is best to figure out cost-per-meal instead of cost-per-pound.
On the other hand, premium foods are not required to be made of any better or healthier ingredients than a regular complete and balanced cat food.

Here are three premium (dog) foods compared – you can see that some of them need to be fed in much greater volume than others!

      A.     Before Grain Made with Buffalo, Chicken Meal
B. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Canine Formula with Roasted Bison and Roasted Venison
C. Orijen Adult Formula All Breeds
D. EVO Turkey & Chicken Formula Dry Dog Food

Dry food is often easier to feed because it can be left for cats to nibble at free choice, and it is easier on the wallet because it is less costly than canned food, however many experts agree that dry foods should be fed in moderation -- some even suggest that the worst canned food is still better than the best dry food. If using a dry food, look for one that's high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and make sure your cat has plenty of water.

A cat eating kibble
The reason canned food is often better than dry is simple: cats are desert animals that instinctively get their daily water from their prey and have little thirst drive to look for water. Sure, your cat will drink water both when eating canned food and when eating dry, and may even drink more water when eating a dry-food-only diet, but studies have shown that even though they seek out the water dish more frequently, cats that eat only dry food may consume as little as half the daily water that a canned-food-eating cat takes in! Drinking less water means that your cat is perpetually mildly dehydrated, leading to super-concentrated urine and a higher risk of urinary crystals and bladder stones. Super-concentrated urine is also harder on the kidneys long-term, which could shorten the life of the kidneys.

Other benefits of canned food include: a higher protein/lower carbohydrate content, since we know that cats need very little in the way of carbohydrates in their diet; a greater feeling of satiety on fewer calories, leading to a better body condition; and most cats just plain like it better!

Two cats sharing canned food
There are mixed opinions on the presence of dyes and preservatives in cat foods. There's no proof that dyes or preservatives are unhealthy for cats, but little has been done to research the effects of these ingredients building up in cats' systems over time. Dyes can stain carpets and upholstery. Premium foods seldom contain dyes, but many supermarket brands do.

The naming of cats’ foods:
  • The 95% Rule
    A cat food may not be labeled "Chicken for Cats," or "Chicken Cat Food," unless it contains 95% or more chicken by total weight of the product.
  • The 25% Rule
    Foods labeled "Chicken entrĂ©e," "Chicken Dinner," "Chicken Feast," or the like, must contain 25% to 95% chicken. “Platter”, “nuggets” and “formula” are also common. Just because the name says “Chicken Formula” does not mean that beef, or fish are not added. The ingredient label is the real key to knowing what your cat is eating. Combinations, such as "Chicken and Beef Dinner" must contain a total of 25% to 95% of the combined meats, listed in order of quantity, and the second meat listed must comprise at least 3% of the total weight. (Imagine ordering a "steak and lobster" dinner and finding the "lobster" will barely fill a fork!)
  • The 3% Rule
    The “with” rule. A food labelled "Kitty Stew with Chicken" must contain 3% or more chicken. This is easily confused with the 95% rule. Turkey cat food has 95% turkey, cat food with turkey has 3% turkey.
  • "Flavor"
    Barely worth mentioning here, but if you see something similar to "chicken flavored," be assured that the product is unlikely to contain any chicken at all, as long as there is a "sufficiently detectable" amount of chicken flavor, usually the result of digests or by-products of the named animal versus actual meat content.

Additional resources for decoding cat food ingredients:
You Are What You Eat, Chemically
Now that we’ve talked in-depth about ingredients, don’t spend too much time trying to decipher that ingredient list. Most food manufacturers approach animal feeds with a chemist’s point of view. The bottom line of nutrition is the chmical component of the food – are the basic amino acids available to make proteins? Is the right blend of vitamins in there? Is the animal going to get an adequate balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates and maintain a good weight on this diet? Is the cat going to actually EAT the food? “Animals require nutrients, not ingredients," says Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine. “You should be most concerned about the nutritional value of the end product, and less concerned about the ingredients that get you there.”

Preservatives in pet foods get a bad name, but they actually serve a very important function in dry pet foods, Sanderson says. Preservatives are antioxidants that prevent the fat in foods from spoiling (becoming rancid). Some fats can spoil very quickly. Once a fat spoils, it loses its nutritional value, not to mention it can become dangerous to eat.

Preservatives may be natural or man-made. Natural preservatives commonly found in cat food include vitamin E (tocopherol) or vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Man-made preservatives are synthetic forms of vitamin E such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).

Some web sites claim BHT and BHA can lead to cancer in pets. But at this time, little research has been done in this field – any suggested link between preservatives at the level found in pet foods and cancer growth is unsubstantiated by scientific peer-reviewed studies. Experts say you should never choose a dry cat food that doesn't contain preservatives, because the risk of feeding a potentially rancid diet far outweighs any perceived risks associated with preservatives.

If you prefer to feed your cat a diet without preservatives, it is recommended to feed preservative-free canned food only.

Natural Is Not Necessarily Organic
There is no standardized official definition for the terms "natural" and "organic" when it comes to pet food. Also, "Organic" and “Natural” are not one and the same. “Organic” refers to the way a food source is grown and processed. The FDA is currently working on developing guidelines for the use of the word "organic" on cat food labels.

"Natural" may mean the product has no artificial flavors or colors – both of which are not necessary in a cat’s food. However, it may indicate that there are no added preservatives, which can lead to spoilage in dry foods. A food that advertises itself as “100% all-natural” may be misleading because most complete and balanced pet foods have vitamins and minerals added to them, most of which are man-made. Few pet foods ever use artificial flavors.

Foods Your Cat Should Never Eat

Rules of Thumb for Feeding Your Cat

    Cat and dog looking at hamburgers
  •  Never feed dog food to your cat in place of cat food. It is deficient in essential nutrients cats require. Cats, unlike dogs, cannot convert certain dietary precursors into necessary amino acids and water soluble vitamins. A cat given dog food over a long period can develop taurine deficiency, vitamin A deficiency (night blindness), niacin deficiency, retinal degeneration, and other serious or fatal illnesses. Cats that nibble from the dog bowl from time to time are usually fine, as long as they get the majority of their nutrition from their cat food.
  • Specialty foods and even table scraps can be given as treats once or twice a week-but only after the regular diet is eaten. Cooked meats (including organ meats such as liver or kidney), cottage cheese, cooked vegetables, cooked fish, milk, and yogurt are foods with strong taste appeal that cats seem to enjoy. Only give them in small amounts and do not offer dairy products if your cat appears to be lactose intolerant (usually evidenced by diarrhea)
  • Never feed meats exclusively.
  • Treats should never exceed 20 percent of a cat’s total daily food.
  • Uncooked meat and raw fish should not be given because of the dangers of vitamin deficiency. Raw fish contains an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 (thiamin). A deficiency of this vitamin results in brain damage. Fish is also deficient in vitamin E and raw meat in general has the potential to transmit diseases and parasites.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary or desirable if you are feeding a balanced cat food. Cats may actually overdose on vitamins A and D or calcium and phosphorus, either by giving the vitamins directly or by supplementing the diet with products that are high in them (such as raw liver or fish oils). Excess vitamin A causes sterility and loss of hair. Excess calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D cause metabolic bone and kidney disease.
  • Cats have highly selective eating habits. The location of the food dish, noise, the presence of other animals, and other threats or distractions can adversely affect how much they are willing to eat. A cat in a boarding facility may refuse food for entire week (which can be dangerous) unless an appetite stimulant is given.
  • Most cats prefer to have their food served at room temperature or slightly warm.
  • Many cats will not eat if the food dish is located near the litter box.
  • Water is a very important nutrient for cats. Always have plenty of fresh water available. Some cats like to drink from faucets and pet fountains. Some cats like ice in their water, especially in the summer. Again, canned food diets are more likely to provide an adequate amount of water than are other types of food.
  • Many cats prefer to eat and drink out of dishes that do not contact their whiskers, such as wide dishes or plates versus small, deep bowls.
Additional resources:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What should I know about Cat Nutrition? Part 2

Let's face it - feeding your cat is one of the most important functions you have as a cat caretaker! Here is some more handy information about feline nutrition.

A can of pet food, showing the label
What information is available on the food label?
Besides the AAFCO statement, all food labels must also include:
1.      Ingredient list by weight, with the heaviest ones first.
2.       The product name and brand name.  
3.       The species name (in this case, cat) this food is designed for.
4.      Size; how much pet food is in this bag or can. This information must be on the lower third of the front of the bag.
5.      Guaranteed analysis of the pet food stated as Crude Protein (minimum), Crude Fat (minimum), Crude Fiber (maximum), and Moisture (maximum).  
6.      The name and address of the food manufacturer or distributor – this must be made available in case of adverse reactions or recalls.
7.      How much to feed: Every cat food label must have recommendations regarding how much to feed cats of different sizes or ages. These guidelines usually overestimate the amount of food a typical cat needs to eat every day. Some people believe that this is a ploy on the part of the pet food manufacturers to sell more food. Others suggest that pet food manufacturers overestimate to make sure that no diet can be accused of causing unhealthy or undesired weight loss in a pet when fed as directed.

The pet food manufacturers that perform feeding trials on their diets maintain that these guidelines are based on calculations of what typical pets in their feeding trials needed to satisfy their energy requirements. Whatever the reason, many pets can safely be fed less than the daily recommendations on the packaging.

Ingredients: Now that we know what nutrients need to be in cat food, how does it get there?
  • Protein from a meat, fish, or poultry source
  • Taurine, an essential amino acid
  • Certain other vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids
  • Water
A cat looking at stacks of canned diets
That is all cats need. They do not need carbohydrates. In the wild, the only carbohydrates a cat would get in its diet would be the stomach contents of its prey – partially digested grains and seeds, most commonly. Corn, wheat, and/or rice are often used as fillers for dry cat foods. Other ingredients, such as binders, flavoring, and coloring, are added by cat food manufacturers to satisfy the aesthetic wants of the consumer. Although preservatives are necessary, to keep foods fresh for our cats, canned food should not be allowed to remain out for a long period of time. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a food is good for your pet because it lists ingredients such as peas, carrots, cranberries, blueberries and the like. Pets don’t really need these ingredients to thrive, but they make for good marketing to the pet’s human. They can be a source of antioxidants and vitamins, but the amounts are probably not significant enough to make a difference.
Here are some of the most common ingredients:
A gray tabby cat eating kibble
  • Meat: Cleaned flesh from chicken, lamb, turkey, cattle, and related animals that have been slaughtered specifically for animal feed purposes. However, flesh means more than skin. It may include muscle, (including the diaphragm), fat, nerves, blood vessels from the skin, the heart, esophagus, and the tongue.
  • Meat by-product: Clean, non-flesh parts from the same animals mentioned above. This can include the blood, bone, brain, liver, lungs, liver, kidneys, and emptied stomach and intestines. There are no hooves, hair, horns, or teeth in meat byproducts. Chicken by-products are feather-free. This might sound gross, but remember what your cat’s natural diet consists of – there are important nutrients available in organ meat that cats require.
  • Beef tallow: A fat made from beef.
  • Meal: Finely ground tissue.
  • Bone meal: Finely ground bone from slaughtered feed animals.
  • Fish meal: Clean, ground undecomposed whole fish or fish pieces. The fish may or may not still contain fish oil.
  • Ground corn: Chopped or ground corn kernels.
  • Corn gluten meal: A product that forms after corn syrup or starch is made.

Pet food labels are required to list ingredients in decreasing order by weight. This can be confusing when trying to figure out what amounts are really in the food. For example, if a label reads: chicken, ground corn, corn gluten meal and so on, you might be tempted to think that this is a food primarily made of chicken - it IS the first ingredient, after all. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.

The corn ingredients in the example above have been split into two different ingredients: ground corn and corn gluten meal, which, while two different ingredients, misleadingly allows the chicken to be the first ingredient. This is really a corn-based food with chicken added. Due to the specificity of the ingredient label, different types of cereals and grains must be listed separately, but when combined as overall grain content they will constitute a greater part of the food.

Many pet food labels
What do you think of the ingredients of these popular brands of food? Do you know which brand of food each of these ingredient lists is from? Which one would you choose to feed your cat?

1) Ingredients: ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, chicken by-product meal, soybean meal, beef tallow (preserved with mixed tocopherols (a form of Vitamin E)), animal digest, calcium carbonate, turkey by-product meal, salmon meal, ocean fish meal, phosphoric acid, choline chloride, salt, potassium chloride, titanium dioxide (color), vitamins (vitamin E supplement, niacin supplement, vitamin A supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate [source of vitamin B1], riboflavin supplement [source of vitamin B2], pyridoxine hydrochloride [source of vitamin B6], menadione sodium bisulfite complex [source of vitamin K activity], vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement), potassium chloride, minerals (ferrous sulfate [source of iron], zinc oxide, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite), taurine, yellow 5, red 40, yellow 6, yellow 5, red 40, blue 2, dl-methionine, l-lysine, rosemary extract.

2) Ingredients: Chicken meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, brewers rice, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), corn meal, chicken, salmon, powdered cellulose, ground whole wheat, soybean hulls, malt extract, brewers dried yeast, phosphoric acid, natural flavor, tetra sodium pyrophosphate, calcium carbonate, salt, choline chloride, dried spinach, parsley flakes, potassium chloride, taurine, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, niacin, manganese sulfate, Vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, copper sulfate, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin B-12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, calcium iodate, biotin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), sodium selenite.

3) Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, whole brown rice, soybean meal, whole barley, whole oat meal, soy protein isolate, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), brewers dried yeast, dried egg product, natural flavor, dried beet pulp, fish oil, phosphoric acid, caramel color, dried carrots, salt, dried sweet potatoes, dried apples, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, taurine, choline chloride, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, niacin, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, Vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin B-12 supplement, copper sulfate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, biotin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, sodium selenite.

4) Ingredients: Chicken By-Product Meal, Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (preserved mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Powdered Cellulose, Whole Grain Corn, Lactic Acid, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, DL-Methionine, Iodized Salt, Vitamin E Supplement, vitamins (L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Taurine, Calcium Sulfate, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid, Phosphoric Acid, Beta Carotene, Rosemary Extract.

5) Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken Meal, Chicken, Herring Meal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols a Natural Source of Vitamin E), Peas, Eggs, Turkey Meal, Pea Fiber, Natural Flavors, Apples, Carrots, Cranberries, Herring Oil, Tomatoes, Pumpkin, Dried Chicory Root, Cottage Cheese, Alfalfa Sprouts, Taurine, DL-Methionine, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Betaine Hydrochloride, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Beta Carotene, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid), Direct Fed Microbials (Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product)

6) Ingredients: Chicken Deboned, Chicken Meal, Potato Dehydrated, Turkey Meal, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols – a source of Natural Vitamin E), Sweet Potato Dehydrated, Dried Egg, Natural Flavor, Yeast Culture, Dicalcium Phosphate, Lysine, Sea Salt, Alfalfa, Salmon Oil, Choline Chloride, Acai Berry Freeze-Dried, Blueberry Dried, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Rosemary Extract, Taurine, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Chondroitin Sulfate, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chicory Root, Marigold Extract, Lactobacillus Plantarum, Enterococcus Faecium, Lactobacillus Casei, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Vitamin E Supplement, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Copper Amino Acid Complex, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin D3, Niacin, Lecithin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Cobalt, Amino Acid Complex, Folic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate, Sodium Selenite.

7) Ingredients: Ocean fish, fish broth, shrimp, calcium phosphate, vegetable oil, guar gum, Vitamin E supplement, Vitamin A supplement, sodium nitrite (to promote color retention), zinc sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, manganese sulfate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), riboflavin supplement, folic acid, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin D-3 supplement.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What should I know about cat nutrition? Part 1

AAFCO logo
Who decides what cats need?

Nutritional guidelines are ever evolving, for both humans and animals, as research in nutrition advances. The first commercial cat food was developed in 1876, and the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) was founded in 1909 to oversee the commercial production of animal food (cows and other livestock, included). AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. AAFCO works side-by-side with the FDA and USDA to ensure pet safety. 

LOLcat eating dog food "Pleh. There's no dog in this food at all"
Historically, up until the 1950s, many cats were table-fed a combination of milk- or broth-soaked bread, snippets of table scraps and raw or stewed meat bits to supplement their hunting of rats and mice. During the late 1970s, commercial diets became more popular and over time, even though AAFCO oversaw the production of these diets, it became clear that not all “complete and balanced diets” were created equal. In the 1980s, it was discovered that cats had certain specific dietary requirements – a lack of the amino acid taurine (which is found in meat proteins but not plant proteins) in some feline diets was causing blindness and heart failure, and AAFCO regulations were adjusted to reflect that need. As recently as1995, separate feeding guidelines were developed for growing kittens versus adult cats.

What does AAFCO do?
  • AAFCO does not have the power to regulate foods, but various states have officials that perform this task who serve on the AAFCO board
  • AAFCO does no testing, but recommends food testing protocols and works with independent laboratories which perform tests 
  • Not only does AAFCO regulate minimum nutrition guidelines, but also determines the validity of claims made by pet food companies, such as "controls tartar", "new and improved" and "light". 
  • AAFCO makes no determination of "human grade" protein quality, which some pet food labels advertize. However, because of the current trend toward "natural," as well as "organic," AAFCO is currently working on standards for these terms. In the meantime, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) with foods that bear those phrases. If you prefer foods advertized as "natural" or "organic", you may want to make sure you completely understand what the pet food company means by the terms.
 What should you look for on pet food labels?

A dog and cat looking at hamburgers
  • Compliance with AAFCO's requirements for "Complete and Balanced," as evidenced by that wording on the label.Note the difference between "formulated to meet AAFCO standards" and "Animal feeding trials substantiate". Foods that are formulated to meet requirements may look better on a nutritionist's calculator than in your pet's food bowl, where feeding trials demonstrate palatability, blood levels of certain nutrients, and body weight gain/loss or maintenance while fed a particular diet.
  • Named protein source - look for "chicken, lamb, or beef," rather than "meat."
  • On canned food particularly, the protein source should be the first listed ingredient 
  • Check the expiration date for freshness 
 What are the current AAFCO standards for cats?

A brown tabby cat licking its lips
 For Adult Maintenance
Unless otherwise listed, all values are minimum requirements:

Protein... 26%
Fat ...... 9%
Calcium.... 0.6%
Phosphorus... 0.5%
Potassium... 0.6%
Sodium..... 0.2%
Chloride.... 0.3%
Magnesium... 0.04%
Iron... 80 mg/kg
Copper... 5 mg/kg
Manganese.... 7.5 mg/kg
Zinc....... 75 mg/kg (maximum 2000 mg/kg)
Iodine..... 0.35 mg/kg
Selenium.... 0.1 mg/kg
Vitamin A... 5000 IU/kg (maximum 750,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin D... 500 IU/kg (maximum 10,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin E... 30 IU/kg
Thiamine... 5 mg/kg
Riboflavin... 4 mg/kg
Pantothenic Acid... 5 mg/kg
Niacin... 60 mg/kg
Pyridoxine... 4 mg/kg
Folic Acid....0.8 mg/kg
Vitamin B12...0.022 mg/kg
Choline..... 2400 mg/kg
Taurine... 0.1%

(For cats diets with over 25 percent of the diet made from fish products, Vitamin K 0.1 percent is necessary)

For Growing Kittens, Pregnant and Lactating Queens
The majority of nutrient minimums are the same except for the items listed. The maximum for those listed does not change.

Calcium 1%
Phosphorus 0.8%
Magnesium... 0.08%
Copper... 5-15 mg/kg
Vitamin A... 9000 IU/kg
Vitamin D... 750 IU/kg

***Note: AAFCO requires statement of minimum, but a food can contain more than listed on the label.