What should I look for when buying cat food?
Similar to dog food, cat food has its own set of parameters laid out by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that determine whether a brand or formulation is nutritionally complete. As SELF has previously reported, the AAFCO isn’t a regulatory body. Rather, it sets industry guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet. A good first step in finding a high-quality cat food is looking for an AAFCO statement on the food’s label, and to make sure the food contains an adequate amount of protein; Dr. Simpson says, “AAFCO recommends commercial cat food contain at least 30% protein on a dry matter basis for kittens and 26% for adults.”
She adds that the amino acid taurine is another essential nutrient for cats, and some foods contain much higher levels of protein and other nutrients than is recommended, which can lead to illnesses: “Excess levels of protein, phosphorus, and sodium can exacerbate chronic kidney disease, while too much calcium may lead to the formation of urinary tract crystals and stones.”
In addition to the AAFCO, Dr. Simpson points to global nutritional guidelines from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), which specifically concern the quality of pet food manufacturers. These guidelines include several key questions you should ask about your cat’s food:
- Do they employ at least one full-time nutritionist (either a PhD nutritionist or an American College of Veterinary Nutrition board-certified veterinary nutritionist)?
- Do they have their own manufacturing plants?
- Do they conduct and publish nutritional research to continually improve their diets?
- Do they have strict quality control testing and standards?
Again, these are relatively general recommendations, but they’re useful when it comes to drawing a line between high-quality cat food and cat food that only checks the most essential boxes. If you aren’t totally sure about the quality of a particular brand, you can always reach out to its customer service team for more info or ask your vet about it.