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Evaluate Dry Cat Food

Evaluate and Choose the Best Dry Cat Food: 7 Steps Guide

Use this guide as your compass, leading you through the process of assessing and evaluating different dry cat food options. We'll discuss the ingredients list, clarify how to read the guaranteed analysis content, and highlight the significance of each component
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Cat Food Central

Table of Contents

Introduction

If you share your life with a cat, you’re probably keenly aware of the crucial role that a balanced nutrition diet plays in their overall well-being. Yet, when confronted with the dizzying array of dry cat food options available today, it can be a daunting task to discern which is the most suitable choice for your feline friend. So, how do you navigate this sea of choices and make sense of the quality differences between various dry cat food brands and products?

Use this guide as your compass, leading you through the process of assessing and evaluating different dry cat food options. We’ll discuss the ingredients list, clarify how to read the guaranteed analysis content, and highlight the significance of each component.

With this information at your fingertips, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision and choose the best dry cat food for your cat.


Key Takeaways

  • Cat nutrition basics: Cats are obligate carnivores, requiring a diet high in animal-based protein, with some fat and minimal carbohydrates. Essential nutrients like amino and omega fatty acids, vitamins and minerals are best supplied by meat and animal tissues.

  • Label reading: Pay attention to the product name, nutritional adequacy statement, ingredient list, and guaranteed analysis on the cat food label to understand the content and quality of the product.

  • Ingredients to look for: High-quality healthy dry foods should have named animal proteins as the first ingredient, along with named animal fat sources, and minimal carbohydrates sourced from whole grains or vegetables.

  • Ingredients to avoid: Steer clear of by-products, grains like corn, wheat, and soy, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and meat or poultry meal.

  • Comparing and researching products: To compare different dry foods, consider moisture levels, caloric densities, and your cat’s specific needs. Reliable sources of comparison include Cat Food Central, CatFoodDB, and PetFoodAdvisor.


Step 1: Understand what’s Important in cat nutrition

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must have protein as the majority of their diet. Protein provides them with essential amino acids, such as taurine and arginine, that they cannot produce on their own. Protein also helps them maintain healthy muscles, skin, coat, and immune system.

According to PetMD, cats need animal protein because their bodies need the nutrients it provides. When a cat eats protein, their digestive tract breaks it down into building blocks called amino acids, which are then reassembled into the type of protein that the cat needs at that time.

A cat’s body can make many of the amino acids they need (nonessential amino acids) from other amino acids, but there are 11 essential amino acids for cats that must be supplied in a cat’s diet. These essential amino acids, as well as other essential nutrients for cats, are best supplied by meat and other animal tissues².

According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, cats require more than a dozen other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids.

Cats also need some fat in their diet, which provides them with energy and essential fatty acids. Fat also helps them absorb fat-soluble vitamins and enhances the palatability of their food.

Cats do not need a lot of carbohydrates in their diet, as they can get most of their energy from protein and fat. However, some carbohydrates can provide them with fiber, which helps regulate their digestion and prevent hairballs. Carbohydrates can also help balance the moisture content of dry cat food and make it easier to process.


Step 2: How to Read the Product Label

We’ve all been there – standing in the cat food aisle, lifting bags of dry cat food, squinting at the labels, trying to decide which option will have your feline friend purring with satisfaction. It might seem like you’re attempting to crack a secret code. Still, that product label is a goldmine of insights that can illuminate the quality of the food and its compatibility with your cat’s needs. Let’s break it down.

Product Name Reveals a Lot

Sounds surprising. The product’s name can give you a ballpark figure of its meat content.
When a specific type of meat like chicken or salmon is featured in the product’s name, it indicates that this meat constitutes at least 95% of the total product.
If the name carries words like “dinner,” “platter,” or “entrée,” the meat content drops to a minimum of 25%. And if the name mentions “with” or “in gravy,” the meat content can be as low as 3%.

Decoding the Nutritional Adequacy Statement

This statement is a crucial indicator of whether the food adheres to the nutritional standards prescribed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for cats at different life stages or with specific health conditions.
You might come across a label proclaiming “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages,” implying it’s a one-size-fits-all solution for kittens, adult cats, pregnant or nursing cats, and senior cats.
Or you might spot a “formulated for weight control” label, suggesting a lower calorie and fat content than regular cat food.

Scrutinizing the Ingredient List

This list is your guide to the food composition, ranked by weight, starting with the heaviest ingredient.
It offers insights into the sources of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and any additives in the mix.

Understanding the Guaranteed Analysis

This section provides the minimum or maximum percentages of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture in the food.
These values are based on the food in its current state, water content included.
To draw accurate comparisons between different foods, you must convert these percentages to a “dry matter basis.”
To do that, subtract the moisture percentage from 100% and divide each nutrient percentage by the result.
To illustrate, if a food lists 10% moisture, 30% crude protein, 15% crude fat, and 5% crude fiber “as is, “then on a dry matter basis, it contains 33.3% crude protein, 16.7% crude fat, and 5.6% crude fiber.

Step 3: Look at the ingredients list

Navigating the labyrinth of the ingredients list is a pivotal step in your quest for the perfect dry cat food. It’s a narrative that lays bare the sources of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that make up the product.
Presented in descending order by weight, the first few ingredients represent the bulk of what you’re bringing home to your cat. Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

Protein – The Deal Breaker

The best dry cat food has at least one named animal protein source, like chicken, turkey, salmon, or lamb leading the charge in the ingredients list.
Stay clear of generic meat sources such as meat meals, meat by-products, or animal digestion – these vague terms often cloak low-quality ingredients from dodgy sources, potentially riddled with harmful substances.
Also, be wary of plant-based proteins like soy, corn gluten meal, or wheat gluten. They’re hard for cats to digest and can trigger allergies or other digestive health woes.

You’re invited to read our full article about the role of proteins in dry cat food.

Fat – More Than Just a Flavor Booster

Fat is an unsung hero in a cat’s diet – it fuels energy, keeps skin and coat healthy, and amps up the food’s yumminess.
Dry cat food that lists at least one named animal fat source like chicken fat, salmon fish oil,, or grease is a winner.
Like with protein, steer clear of unnamed fat sources like animal or poultry fat. These may hail from questionable origins and harbor harmful substances.
Over-reliance on plant-based fats such as canola or sunflower is also a red flag. They’re not optimal for cats and can incite inflammation or oxidative stress.

Carbs – The Unnecessary Yet Beneficial Extras

Carbs aren’t vital for cats, but when they’re high-quality and in moderate quantities, they can offer some perks.
They can endow cats with energy, fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Keep an eye out for whole grains or vegetables such as brown rice, oatmeal, barley, peas, or carrots as carb sources.
Refined grains or starches like corn, wheat, soy, or potatoes are best avoided.
They’re often heavily processed and can cause allergies or digestive issues.
Avoid foods that are too carb-heavy (over 40% on a dry matter basis). They can lead to obesity, diabetes, or urinary problems in cats.

Step 4: Look at the Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis (GA) of dry cat food is like a decoder ring, giving you the minimum or maximum percentages of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and other nutrients the product harbors.
It’s a super helpful tool that lets you compare the nutritional punch of different dry cat foods based on their dry matter content. Here are some key components you should keep your eyes on:

Protein Powerhouse

The crude protein percentage tells you the total protein in the product, quality and digestibility notwithstanding.
Cats require at least 26% crude protein on a dry matter basis to satisfy their basic needs.
However, cats that are super active, still growing, or have specific needs may thrive on higher percentages of crude protein (up to 40%).
Aim for a cat food with a high percentage of crude protein, with animal sources leading the pack.

Fat – Not Just Filler

Crude fat is the total fat in the product, irrespective of its quality or digestibility.
Cats need a bare minimum of 9% crude fat on a dry matter basis.
Much like protein, active, growing, or special needs cats may benefit from higher crude fat percentages (up to 20%).
When hunting for the perfect cat food, go for one with a high percentage of crude fat, primarily from animal sources.

The Fiber Factor

Crude fiber measures the total indigestible plant material in the food.
Cats aren’t big on fiber, but a little can aid in digestion, control hairballs, and manage weight.
Anything above 5% crude fiber on a dry matter basis might cause tummy troubles, so seek out a cat food with a low to moderate percentage of crude fiber, preferably from whole grains or veggies.

The Moisture Measure

Moisture calculates the total water content in the food.
Dry cat food generally has a moisture content of 6% to 12%, while wet cat food tips the scale at 75% to 85%. Moisture content influences the dry matter and caloric density of the product.
More moisture means less dry matter and fewer calories per weight unit.
Opt for a dry cat food with a moderate moisture percentage to ensure your cat stays hydrated and finds the food tasty. 


Step 5: Compare different products based on their ingredients and guaranteed analysis

The ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis are like the first two acts of a play. The third act? It’s comparing different dry cat foods based on their quality, quantity, and balance of nutrients. Here are a few tips to transform you into a dry cat food a critic:

The Moisture Muddle

When comparing products with varying moisture levels, you’ll need to do a bit of arithmetic to get them all on a dry matter basis.
This means subtracting the moisture percentage from 100%, and then dividing the percentage of each nutrient by what’s left.
So, for a product with 10% moisture and 30% crude protein, the dry matter basis for protein is (30 / (100 – 10)) x 100 = 33.3%.
It’s like leveling the playing field, making sure you’re comparing apples to apples and not to oranges!

Caloric Comparison

If the caloric density of the products you’re comparing is different, you need to adjust them to a standard unit of measurement.
Divide the percentage of each nutrient by the number of kilocalories per gram (kcal/g) of the product.
So, if you’ve got a product with 4 kcal/g and 30% crude protein, the protein per kcal is (30 / 4) = 7.5%.
This ensures you’re comparing the nutritional value of the foods, not just the calorie content.

Personalized Picks

Your cat’s age, size, activity level, health status, and even finicky tastes will play a role in choosing the right product.
You might lean towards a product with more or less protein, fat, carbohydrates, or other nutrients based on your cat’s unique needs and preferences.
Don’t forget to also consider things like cost, availability, or environmental impact.
The best cat food is one that meets your cat’s nutritional needs and fits within your lifestyle and values.

Step 6: Avoid These Ingredients in Dry Cat Food

To ensure our cats receive the best nutrition possible, avoiding certain ingredients commonly found in dry cat food is essential. These seemingly harmless ingredients can harm our feline friends. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

By-products: Deceptive Proteins

By-products are the leftover parts of animals unsuitable for human consumption, including bones, organs, blood, feathers, and hooves.
Although they are often used as a low-quality source of protein in pet food, by-products may contain harmful bacteria, toxins, and hormones.

Corn, Wheat, Soy, and Other Grains: Misleading Nutrients

These ingredients are often used as cheap fillers in cat food, but they offer little nutritional value for cats. Cats need a diet that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates.
Feeding cats these grains can lead to health problems such as allergies, digestive issues, obesity, and even diabetes.

Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives: Dangerous Additives

These additives are added to dry cat food to enhance its appearance and taste.
Still, they offer no nutritional value to cats.
They may cause health issues like allergic reactions, skin problems, and severe conditions like cancer, kidney disease and organ damage.

Meat or Poultry Meal: Contaminated Proteins

This ingredient is a processed animal protein stripped of its moisture and fat content and subjected to high temperatures.
It may contain any type of animal tissue, including those from diseased or dead animals.
This low-quality protein source may contain contaminants and allergens, posing a significant risk to a cat’s health.


Step 7: Sources of Information to Compare and Evaluate Dry Cat Food

Do some research online. You want to find trustworthy websites that compare and evaluate different brands and formulas of dry cat food based on objective criteria, such as:

Nutritional analysis

This shows the percentage of protein, fat, fiber, moisture, ash, and other nutrients in the dry cat food.
You want to look for dry cat food that has at least 30% protein, 15% fat, 10% moisture, and less than 10% carbohydrates.

Ingredient quality

This shows the sources and types of ingredients used in the dry cat food.
You want to look for dry cat food that uses named animal proteins (such as chicken, turkey, salmon, etc.), whole fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, apples, blueberries, etc.), and natural preservatives (such as vitamin E or rosemary extract).

Customer reviews

This shows the feedback and ratings from other cat owners who have tried the dry cat food.
You want to look for dry cat food that has mostly positive reviews from satisfied customers who report improved health, energy, coat quality, and appetite in their cats.

Here are few websites that compare and evaluate dry cat food:

Cat Food Central

Cat Food Central - Easily Evaluate Dry Cat Food

In Cat Food Central we are using an evaluation method for dry cat food which takes into account three main criteria:

  1. The amount of protein
  2. The amount of carbohydrates
  3. The quality and source of ingredients.

The higher the protein content and the lower the carbohydrate content, the better the food is considered to be.
The quality and source of the ingredients are assessed based on their declaration on the product.
Using 9 specific rules a score is than calculated on a range of 0-100.

The higher the score – the better the dry food quality is. The site allows easy search by product or brand name and advanced search capabilities as well.

CatFoodDB

Cat Food Database rates over 2000 dry cat foods based on nutritional analysis and ingredient quality. It also provides detailed reviews of each dry cat food brand and formula.

CatFoodAdvisor

This website reviews over 1000 dry cat foods based on nutritional analysis, ingredient quality, recall history, and customer feedback. It also provides a star rating system for each dry cat food brand and formula.

The Spruce Pets

This website provides comprehensive guides on how to choose the best dry cat food for your cat based on their age, breed, health condition, and preference.
It also recommends some of the best dry cat foods on the market based on expert opinions and customer reviews.

Cats.com has an article on the 10 Best Dry Cat Foods of 2023. The article provides a list of the top 10 best dry cat foods, along with a brief description of each product and its features.

Insider also has an article on the Best Dry Cat Food of 2023, According to Vets. The article provides a list of the best dry cat foods, along with a brief description of each product and its features.


Summary and Conclusion

The article provides a comprehensive guide to evaluating and comparing dry cat foods.

Important considerations include understanding the product label, including the ingredients list and guaranteed analysis. High-quality dry cat food should contain a named animal protein as the first ingredient and avoid low-quality fillers and additives such as by-products, grains, and artificial flavors or colors.

The article also advises avoiding high carbohydrate contents and understanding your cat’s individual needs based on their age, healthy weight, activity level, and health condition.

To make the evaluation process easier, a number of reliable online sources like Cat Food Central, CatFoodDB, and PetFoodAdvisor are suggested.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK for cats to eat dry food?

Yes. Cats can and should eat dry cat food as long as it is nutritionally balanced. Dry food is usually cheaper than canned cat meals and can remain fresh longer. Note that cats who eat only dried meat need lots of water to avoid urinary blockages and infections.


What are the top 5 best dry cat foods?

To find the top 5 best dry cat foods, start by researching reputable sources that have done extensive reviews and comparisons.

You can use our website – Cat Food Central to easily find the quality score (on a scale of 0-100) of more than a 1000 different dry cat foods. The higher the score – the better the food.
You should consider factors like nutritional content, ingredient quality, and whether the food meets the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Customer reviews from websites like Amazon and Chewy can also provide insight into the experiences of other cat owners. Remember, each cat is unique and may have different dietary needs, so consulting with a vet may also be beneficial

How do I find high-quality cat food?

Look for food that lists a source of animal protein as the first ingredient.
The food should also contain taurine, an essential amino acid for cats. Avoid foods with filler ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy or by-products and artificial preservatives.


What to look for when buying dry food for cats?

Ensure the first ingredient, chicken meal is a high-quality protein source, and the food contains a good balance of fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Avoid those high in grain fillers and artificial preservatives.


How do I know which cat food is best?

The best food varies depending on your cat’s age, health, and personal preference.
Generally, look for food that’s high in animal protein, has minimal fillers, and contains no artificial preservatives. Consult your vet for a personalized recommendation.


What’s the difference between grain-free and gluten-free cat food?

Grain-free cat food doesn’t contain grains like wheat, corn, and rice, while gluten-free senior cat food doesn’t contain any ingredients that have gluten, a protein found in specific grains.


How often should I change my cat’s food brand or type?

Cats don’t need variety in the same way humans do. Unless recommended by a vet due to health issues or your cat becomes intolerant, there’s usually no need to regularly switch brands or types.


Are there specific foods to avoid for cats with sensitivities or allergies?

Cats with sensitivities or allergies may need special diets.
Common allergens for indoor cats include beef, dairy, fish, and certain grains. Always consult with a vet if your cat shows signs of a food allergy.


What dry food is recommended for kittens?

Cats under 12 months need nutrient-rich nutrition to boost metabolism as well as grow muscles.
A good dry food for kittens contain more than 30g protein, 9% fat and a little vitamin B, calcium and phosphorus. Kittens formula is adapted for pregnant or lactating adults that need calories or other nutrients. Find dry cat foods for kittens here.

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How the score is calculated?

The actual calculation of the score is based on sophisticated and advanced algorithm that takes into account multiple parameters.

To simplify the explanation, the calculation is based on three main criteria:

(1) Amount of protein (more is better)

(2) Amount of carbohydrates (less is better)

(3) Quality and source of ingredients.

Based on that 3 main criteria, 9 score calculation rules are used to compare the different foods.

One major assumption is that the closer an ingredient is to the top of the ingredient list, the greater its relative weight and contribution to the food.

In general, cat food is composed of protein, fats, carbohydrates, fibers, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein is the most important component in a cat’s diet, and cats primarily get their protein from animal meat.

Fat is a primary source of energy and essential fatty acids.

Carbohydrates are controversial in a cat’s diet, as cats are obligate carnivores and typically consume very few carbohydrates.

Fibers play an important role in digestion and food absorption, and vitamins and minerals are essential for different organism functions.

Dry matter values are used to compare the amount of nutrients in different cat foods.
This means that moisture is excluded from the equation to provide a more accurate comparison.

Putting all of these and more into a formula results in a product score.

The maximum score a cat food can receive is 100.
Points are added or removed based on the score calculation rules.