soapbox : care & well-being

cat food — what you don't know can hurt your cats

The Painful Truth

You've heard the phrase, "You are what you eat." So, what would you be if you ate rust, plastic, feces, roadkill, heavy metals, and diseased meat? You'd be the average American cat.

You really do get what you pay for when it comes to pet food, as illustrated in Ann N. Martin's book, Food Pets Die For. First published in 1997 and updated in 2003, Martin's book was the first to expose the ingredients legally used by pet food companies, including euthanized cats and dogs, zoo animals, roadkill, and diseased and rotted meat unfit for human consumption. Lest you think that what Martin documented isn't widespread, she writes:

"In later investigations in both the US and Canada, I was to learn that the collars, tags, flea collars, and even plastic bags in which (euthanized) pets are wrapped, are not removed before they are shoved in the rendering pit. Deceased pets are being 'recycled' into pet food, and pet owners have no knowledge of what is happening."

This is a well-documented and researched book (detailed endnotes and bibliography are included), and endorsed by Dr. Michael W. Fox, Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States. To read an excellent review of Martin's book, check out this review by Franny Syufy, Cats Guide.

Thankfully, there are healthy and safe foods to choose from — you just need to know what ingredients to look for, and which ones to avoid.

Why Buy Premium?

While cats can survive on substandard food, they won't exactly thrive. Think of it this way: you can survive on potato chips, but you're much better off eating apples. We know that good nutrition is vital to human health, and it's no different for our feline companions. Proper nutrition directly affects the overall health and longevity of your cats' life, and it's a false economy to feed your cats poor-quality food — what you save in price now will ultimately cost you in deteriorating health and medical conditions requiring expensive veterinary attention.

To demonstrate the difference between premium and regular food, see the following comparison between two brands of dry food, one premium and one store brand (I've listed the first five ingredients for each):

Premium Brand, Dry (Kibble)
Innova Cat

  1. Turkey
  2. Chicken Meal
  3. Chicken
  4. Whole Steamed Potatoes
  5. Whole Eggs

Store Brand, Dry (Kibble)
Friskies Gourmet Flavor Chicken, Beef & Liver

  1. Ground yellow corn
  2. Poultry by-product meal
  3. Digest of chicken by-products
  4. Corn gluten meal
  5. Soybean meal

How to Understand Pet Food Labels

Looking at the store brand's ingredients in the previous section, you may not understand why they're problematic. Here are what these terms mean:

  • Ground yellow corn. This is often little more than the sweepings from milling room floors. Cats do not need carbohydrates, although corn is used as a filler for both dry and canned food.
  • Poultry by-product meal. By-products can include: intestines, chicken heads, duck bills, chicken and turkey feet, feathers and bone, soy, cottonseed hulls, corn cobs, peanut hulls, citrus pulp, screenings, weeds, straw, and cereal by-products. Ingredients listed as beef, chicken and poultry by-products are not required to include actual meat. Rendered meat can be ANY rendered mammal meat, including cats and dogs. If the ingredient contained enough meat that it could be measured, it would be labeled as MEAT.
  • Digest of chicken by-products. Animal digest is a cooked-down broth made from unspecified parts of unspecified animals. Any kind of animal can be included, and the animals can be obtained from any source, so there is no control over quality or contamination.
  • Corn gluten meal. Corn gluten is a cheap by-product of human food processing. It offers little nutritional value and serves mainly to bind food together.
  • Soybean meal. Soybean meal is a poor quality protein filler. The Crude Protein analysis on pet food labels is only a measurement of the amount of nitrogen in a food — not the quality of the protein. Because of this, pet food companies can use the cheaper by-products of human food production, such as soybean meal, to boost protein numbers.

More Information and Resources

I've given you a start in understanding the role food plays in your cat's health and well-being. For more information, I've compiled the following resources:

On This Site

Pet Food Industry Contacts
This is a short list of pet food industry organizations. Use this information to voice your concern; the only way we'll get the industry to change is to speak up.

What We Feed Our Cats
Here's the food (canned and kibble) we feed Grimmy and the boys, along with each brand's first five ingredients. I've also included links to the manufacturers' web sites so you can see where to buy their products.


Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food
by Ann N. Martin, Michael W. Fox
NewSage Press; 2nd edition (January 2003)

A well-documented and researched book (detailed endnotes and bibliography are included), that exposes the pet food industry and tells you exactly what goes into pet food. Along with her detailed and meticulously-researched findings, Martin explains what ingredients to look for and avoid when selecting pet food — happily, there are safe and healthy foods to choose from. Endorsed by Dr. Michael W. Fox, Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States.

Protect Your Pet: More Shocking Facts
by Ann N. Martin
NewSage Press (May 2001)

Martin's follow-up to Food Pets Die For. In addition to her documentation of the pet food industry's sordid practices, she also provides information on vaccination schedules, the raw food diet, recipes for homemade pet food, a listing of pet food and pet health-related web sites, and a state-by-state list of agencies concerned with food safety.

Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD; Susan H. Pitcairn
Rodale Press (June 15, 1995)

An A-to-Z encyclopedia of common pet health problems and their treatments, plus an extensive section on the importance of proper diet and nutrition (recipes included).

Articles & Other Resources Cats - Food and Nutrition for Cats
For a comprehensive resource on everything cat food- and nutrition-related, you've gotta check out Franny Syufy's site! She explains how to read package labels, provides reviews, lists product comparisons, and tons more. If you only visit one site for food and nutrition info, make it hers. Seriously.

Selecting a Commercial Pet Food
An excellent article by the Animal Protection Institute provides a checklist on selecting the best foods among the available choices.

What's in Your Pet's Food?
Lisa Newman explains the terminology used on pet food labels and what it all means. A helpful, easy-to-read article.

What's Really in Pet Food
An investigation of the $11 billion per year U.S. pet food industry, courtesy of the Animal Protection Institute.

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