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Chemical Additives and Their Effect on Cat Food Scores

2 min read

Overview #

Chemical additives, including preservatives, colors, and antioxidants, are often used in dry cat food to extend shelf life and enhance visual appeal. However, some of these additives can have negative health effects on cats. The scoring methodology applies penalties for the presence of certain chemical additives, reflecting their potential risks.

Types of Chemical Additives in Dry Cat Food #

Preservatives #

Preservatives are added to dry cat food to extend its shelf life and prevent spoilage caused by microbial growth, oxidation, and other chemical reactions. However, some commonly used preservatives have raised concerns due to their potential adverse effects on feline health.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) #

BHA is a synthetic antioxidant used to prevent fats and oils from becoming rancid. Studies have suggested that BHA may be carcinogenic, as it has been linked to the development of certain types of cancers, particularly forestomach tumors in rodents.[1][2] While the relevance of these findings to cats is not fully understood, the potential risks have led to calls for reducing or eliminating the use of BHA in pet foods.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) #

Like BHA, BHT is a synthetic antioxidant used as a preservative in dry cat food. In animal studies, it has been associated with various health issues, including cancer, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive problems.[2][3] The long-term effects of BHT exposure in cats are not well-documented, but its potential toxicity has raised concerns among pet owners and veterinary professionals.

Ethoxyquin #

Ethoxyquin is a synthetic antioxidant used to preserve fats and oils in pet foods. It has been linked to liver and kidney damage, as well as potential reproductive and developmental effects in animal studies.[4][5] While the risks to cats are not fully understood, some pet food manufacturers have voluntarily removed ethoxyquin from their products due to consumer concerns.

Food Colors #

Artificial colors, such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 2, are often added to dry cat food to enhance its visual appeal to consumers. These colors offer no nutritional value and have been associated with allergic reactions and potential behavioral issues in some animals. While the risks to cats are not well-documented, using artificial colors in pet foods remains a topic of debate.

Antioxidants #

Antioxidants are added to dry cat food to prevent the oxidation of fats and oils, which can lead to rancidity and the formation of potentially harmful compounds. While some antioxidants are naturally derived from plant sources, others are synthetic and have raised concerns regarding their safety.

Synthetic antioxidants like BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin (discussed above) have been linked to various health issues in animal studies. In contrast, natural antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, and plant-based extracts are generally considered safer alternatives, although their effectiveness and stability in pet foods may vary.

It is important to note that while these preservatives and additives are approved for use in pet foods, their long-term effects on feline health are not fully understood. When possible, it’s strongly advised to consider alternative options, such as fresher, less-processed foods or those with natural preservatives.

Scoring Chemical Additives #

Penalties for Preservatives #

The scoring methodology assigns penalties for the presence of harmful chemical preservatives:

  • BHT, BHA, Ethoxyquin: -5 points.

Penalties for Food Colors #

Artificial food colors result in additional point deductions:

  • Food colors: -2 points.

Combined Example Calculation #

For a dry cat food containing BHA, Ethoxyquin, and two artificial colors:

  • BHA penalty: -5 points
  • Food color penalty: -2 points
  • Total deduction: -7 points


Updated on June 5, 2024
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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.