Most of us have learned to check the ingredients list on cat food, but there’s another set of information that merits your attention: the guaranteed analysis. Understanding this information, which is based on the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, provides you with another important tool in the marketplace.
“Minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture must be listed in the guaranteed analysis,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Pet food manufacturers may guarantee other nutrients as well.”
Here, Dicke and Dr. Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., take you through the guaranteed analysis information on cat food, explaining its many benefits — and its limitations.
What the Guaranteed Analysis Will and Will Not Do
“Guarantees indicate the nutrient will be present at no more or no less, depending on the guarantee, throughout the shelf life of the product,” says Dicke. Here’s what the guaranteed analysis will and won’t do:
- Allow you to compare foods
- Indicate the legal minimums of crude protein and crude fat
- Provide the legal maximums of water and crude fiber contained in the product
- Permit direct comparisons between products with similar water content, such as one dry food versus another dry food or one wet/canned food versus another wet/canned food
- Portray the quality of ingredients within a product
- Specify the actual amount of protein, fat, water and fiber in the food
- Permit comparisons between products with different water amounts
As you can see, water levels are a big consideration. “Canned foods typically contain 75 percent to 78 percent moisture, whereas dry foods contain only 10 percent to 12 percent moisture,” says Dicke. “To make meaningful comparisons of nutrient levels between a canned and dry product, they should be expressed on the same moisture basis.”
Using the Guaranteed Analysis Information
Until your cat actually eats a food, you cannot tell if the meal will be a taste bud pleaser. By reading pet food labels at the store, however, you can make predictions about a product’s quality and nutrient punch. Nelson shares the tips below:
1. If your cat is getting older and/or has renal issues, look for a food that has higher moisture content. It will help keep your pet hydrated.
2. If your cat suffers from weight issues, diabetes, renal difficulties, diarrhea or constipation, speak with your veterinarian about desired protein and fiber levels in pet food. You may need to find a diet that is more geared to your particular pet’s needs.
3. Beneficial inclusions like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are not required in the guaranteed analysis; however, many premium cat food products will guarantee minimal levels of these fatty acids to let pet owners know that the health benefits of the nutrient can be expected throughout product shelf life.
4. Another inclusion not required in the guaranteed analysis is L-carnitine. If your cat is overweight, however, studies suggest L-carnitine can help the body enhance lean muscle mass by promoting a more efficient manner of utilizing dietary fats.
5. Protein should be higher in your cat’s food, while carbohydrates should be lower. “Cats are obligate carnivores and do not metabolize carbs efficiently,” says Nelson. “They store most of their carb intake as fat.”
6. In some cat foods, maximum levels of ash and magnesium may be guaranteed, both of which can influence urinary health. If your cat has a urinary tract condition, your veterinarian can provide guidance.