Monday, October 10, 2011

What should I know about cat nutrition? Part 1

AAFCO logo
Who decides what cats need?


Nutritional guidelines are ever evolving, for both humans and animals, as research in nutrition advances. The first commercial cat food was developed in 1876, and the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) was founded in 1909 to oversee the commercial production of animal food (cows and other livestock, included). AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. AAFCO works side-by-side with the FDA and USDA to ensure pet safety. 

LOLcat eating dog food "Pleh. There's no dog in this food at all"
Historically, up until the 1950s, many cats were table-fed a combination of milk- or broth-soaked bread, snippets of table scraps and raw or stewed meat bits to supplement their hunting of rats and mice. During the late 1970s, commercial diets became more popular and over time, even though AAFCO oversaw the production of these diets, it became clear that not all “complete and balanced diets” were created equal. In the 1980s, it was discovered that cats had certain specific dietary requirements – a lack of the amino acid taurine (which is found in meat proteins but not plant proteins) in some feline diets was causing blindness and heart failure, and AAFCO regulations were adjusted to reflect that need. As recently as1995, separate feeding guidelines were developed for growing kittens versus adult cats.

What does AAFCO do?
  • AAFCO does not have the power to regulate foods, but various states have officials that perform this task who serve on the AAFCO board
  • AAFCO does no testing, but recommends food testing protocols and works with independent laboratories which perform tests 
  • Not only does AAFCO regulate minimum nutrition guidelines, but also determines the validity of claims made by pet food companies, such as "controls tartar", "new and improved" and "light". 
  • AAFCO makes no determination of "human grade" protein quality, which some pet food labels advertize. However, because of the current trend toward "natural," as well as "organic," AAFCO is currently working on standards for these terms. In the meantime, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) with foods that bear those phrases. If you prefer foods advertized as "natural" or "organic", you may want to make sure you completely understand what the pet food company means by the terms.
 What should you look for on pet food labels?

A dog and cat looking at hamburgers
  • Compliance with AAFCO's requirements for "Complete and Balanced," as evidenced by that wording on the label.Note the difference between "formulated to meet AAFCO standards" and "Animal feeding trials substantiate". Foods that are formulated to meet requirements may look better on a nutritionist's calculator than in your pet's food bowl, where feeding trials demonstrate palatability, blood levels of certain nutrients, and body weight gain/loss or maintenance while fed a particular diet.
  • Named protein source - look for "chicken, lamb, or beef," rather than "meat."
  • On canned food particularly, the protein source should be the first listed ingredient 
  • Check the expiration date for freshness 
 What are the current AAFCO standards for cats?

A brown tabby cat licking its lips
 For Adult Maintenance
Unless otherwise listed, all values are minimum requirements:

Protein... 26%
Fat ...... 9%
Calcium.... 0.6%
Phosphorus... 0.5%
Potassium... 0.6%
Sodium..... 0.2%
Chloride.... 0.3%
Magnesium... 0.04%
Iron... 80 mg/kg
Copper... 5 mg/kg
Manganese.... 7.5 mg/kg
Zinc....... 75 mg/kg (maximum 2000 mg/kg)
Iodine..... 0.35 mg/kg
Selenium.... 0.1 mg/kg
Vitamin A... 5000 IU/kg (maximum 750,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin D... 500 IU/kg (maximum 10,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin E... 30 IU/kg
Thiamine... 5 mg/kg
Riboflavin... 4 mg/kg
Pantothenic Acid... 5 mg/kg
Niacin... 60 mg/kg
Pyridoxine... 4 mg/kg
Folic Acid....0.8 mg/kg
Vitamin B12...0.022 mg/kg
Choline..... 2400 mg/kg
Taurine... 0.1%

(For cats diets with over 25 percent of the diet made from fish products, Vitamin K 0.1 percent is necessary)

For Growing Kittens, Pregnant and Lactating Queens
The majority of nutrient minimums are the same except for the items listed. The maximum for those listed does not change.

Protein...30%
Calcium 1%
Phosphorus 0.8%
Magnesium... 0.08%
Copper... 5-15 mg/kg
Vitamin A... 9000 IU/kg
Vitamin D... 750 IU/kg

***Note: AAFCO requires statement of minimum, but a food can contain more than listed on the label.