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A healthy cat is a happy cat, and good health starts with quality cat food. Given that cats are true carnivores, and must eat actual meat (and not meat substitutes) to survive and be healthy, commercial cat food consists primarily of animal material. However, it is supplemented with some grain filler, and premium cat food also contains added vitamins and minerals.
Understanding Cat Food Labels
By gaining an understanding of the cat food labeling process, you'll be better able to provide your beloved pet with a quality meal. In the United States, look for cat food products labeled as "complete and balanced," as these foods must meet strictly defined quality standards.
Just as with human foods, ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, and an ability to interpret the ingredients list is a powerful tool in the arsenal of the smart cat food shopper. One sneaky technique that some pet food manufacturers use to mislead consumers is the breakdown of certain ingredients into their constituent parts. For example, you might find a label that reads, in descending order, "chicken, corn gluten, corn bran, ground wheat, wheat bran, ground corn, wheat flour." Don't let the presence of chicken at the head of the list mislead you – such a cat food would contain much more wheat and corn than meat.
The "guaranteed analysis" portion of the label is where you'll find listings of the product's minimum protein and fat levels as well as its maximum levels of water and fiber. You can use these to determine how well a given cat food will deliver essential nutrients; select brands with higher levels of protein and fiber and lower levels of water and fat.
Specialty Cat Foods
Manufacturers offer specially formulated products for aging cats, diabetic cats and cat owners who prefer to feed their pets natural alternatives to commercially processed foods. Prescription cat food is also available to cats with specific medical conditions, such as urinary tract disease or liver disease; these are available through pet pharmacies. If your cat has feline diabetes, you can also supplement oral medications and insulin injections with diabetic cat food designed to keep blood sugar levels under better control.
Natural cat food is an attractive alternative to those who don't want to feed their cats highly processed and somewhat mysterious commercially prepared products. The BARF diet – "bones and raw food" – is gaining momentum; it consists of ground-up bones and raw meat with some added vegetables. If you want to try this out, ask your vet which mineral and vitamin supplements you should use to ensure your cat gets 100 percent of the nutrients it needs.
Some natural cat food products are commercially prepared by dedicated manufacturers, and tend to use higher-quality ingredients and few, if any, processed plant or animal materials. While it's more expensive, increasing numbers of people feel the extra investment is worth it.