Saturday, February 13, 2016

Does commercial cat food live up to the claims on its labels?

Feeding cats, especially as they get older and fussier, can be a challenge. Even more so if there is a discrepancy between what's on the label and what's in the package.
Cats tend to prefer one type of food over another. Yes, they go through phases, and what was ravenously devoured yesterday may be sniffed at and rejected the next. But in my experience many cats know what they like when it comes to commercial food, and they stick to it. Woe betide the cat owner who comes home late from work and discovers they are out of their cat’s favourite food and try to substitute another brand they picked up from the service station. There is a good chance that said cat will walk away from this novel offering, or – to use internet-speak - “nom and vom”.

Which means that we rely on our cat’s favourite commercial food to do what it says it will on the label: provide a nutritionally complete diet.

But a recent study by University of Sydney researchers, published in the Australian Veterinary Journal this month, found a discrepancy between the composition of some commercial cat foods, their package labelling and their suitability for meeting feline nutritional requirements. The findings are concerning.

Chemical analysis of 10 unnamed wet and 10 unnamed dry commercial foods labelled as “nutritionally complete” was performed. The results of this analysis were compared against

The brands of food tested are not named by the authors.
Interestingly, despite claims printed on labels, 9 out of 20 foods did not match their “guaranteed analysis” and 8 out of 20 foods did not adhere to standards for nutrient composition.

The authors found deficiencies and excesses of crude protein, crude fat, fatty acids and amino acids in the majority of cat foods analysed. For example, five wet and five dry foods provided too much crude protein and fat, while two wet and three dry foods had inadequate amounts of daily crude fat. Crude fat is needed – it is a source of essential fatty acids, it carries fat soluble vitamins and even improves the taste of food. But too much and cats are at risk of becoming obese.

This is important research. As a veterinarian I have seen a huge improvement in the quality of commercial foods over the years, along with an increase in cost. Pet food is big business. And if it is enhancing the health and welfare of animals, it should be.  

As pet owners we are paying for research and development, better quality ingredients and assurance that we are meeting the needs of animals in our care. We certainly don’t want to cause health problems by providing a nutritionally inadequate or inappropriate diet. At the same time cats are obligate carnivores with strict dietary requirements for high protein, taurine and arachidonic acid. If commercial foods aren't cutting it, there's no easy alternative. It’s hard to whip up a home-prepared feline maintenance diet that is nutritionally complete and not something most of us mere mortals would have time for.

As the authors of the study point out, these findings highlight a pressing need for the Government to work with pet food companies and ensure that they are indeed meeting the Australian standards, and that the label information accurately reflects what is in the product.


Gosper, E., Raubenheimer, D., Machovsky-Capuska, G. and Chaves, A. (2016), Discrepancy between the composition of some commercial cat foods and their package labelling and suitability for meeting nutritional requirements. Australian Veterinary Journal, 94: 12–17. doi: 10.1111/avj.12397