How good is American cat food? We don’t really know in my opinion. I am talking about commercially produced cat food and in fact all pet food so dogs are included in this article. And I am writing about American cat food because I know more about it than British or European cat food. I should think the situation is similar.
Our cat doesn’t tell us how they feel about their food. They may walk away from it but they may eat bad cat food because it is designed to be palatable (tasty). There is a lot of discussion about human food in newspapers, on television and radio and even that is confusing because the advice changes all the time. However we do have a pretty good idea what is good and bad for us because the information is out there in abundance. But when it comes to cat and dog food, trying to find out what is good and bad and what are the best products is time consuming and difficult. Mainstream press do not write about it. Specialist websites do but even then it is hard to get at the facts. We therefore rely on the manufacturers to make reasonably decent food. Are we deceiving ourselves?
The life span of people has gradually risen over the years. This is due to better health care and better nutrition. But there are reports of ill health in cats and dogs that were not there years ago. Immune illnesses, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease etc seem to be on the increase and the lifespan of cats and dogs does not seem to be going up despite what should be better veterinary health care. In some instances lifespan is decreasing apparently (golden retriever).
The point I wish to make is that our cat’s health is in the hands of people whose primary concern is financial profit. When push comes to shove, they would have to admit that are not in the business of cat welfare.
We should be able to rely on legislation and regulators to ensure that cat food is of a decent quality. In the USA the standards are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). They provide the standards for pet food manufacturers. If the pet food manufacturer meets those standards they can put on their product labels one (or both?) of the following statements. They have the option to select.
“(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for ________.” (Blank is to be completed by using the stage or stages of the pet’s life such as gestation, lactation, growth, maintenance, or the words “All Life Stages.”)
“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (product name) provides complete and balanced nutrition for _________.” (Blank is to be completed by using the stage or stages of the pet’s life tested such as gestation, lactation, growth, maintenance or the words “All Life Stages”.)
You can see the cat food nutrient profile on this page of Pet Education. But frankly it tells us little. We don’t know what it really means. What about the second label? Well the testing standard required is very weak. As I understand it the AAFCO test guidelines are as follows:
“The Testing Protocols For Providing An Unqualified Representation of Nutritional Adequacy For A Dog Or Cat Food” are..
* 8 dogs older than 1 yr. must start the test.
* At start all dogs must be normal weight & health.
* A blood test is to be taken from each dog at the start and finish of the test.
* For 6 months, the dogs used must only eat the food being tested.
* The dogs finishing the test must not lose more than 15% of their body weight.
* During the test, none of the dogs used are to die or be removed because of nutritional causes.
* 6 of the 8 dogs starting must finish the test.
I could not find the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Feeding Protocols on the AAFCO website by the way! I presume that “dog” and “cat” are interchangeable in this protocol.
Finally, what about enforcement of these guidelines and protocols? This is what AAFCO say:
” AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. AAFCO establishes the standards, and it is the state’s AND the pet food company’s responsibility to ensure that complete and balanced pet foods meet AAFCO’s nutritional standards.”
How well are these weak protocols enforced? I suspect not that well. The more enlightened veterinarians are asking questions about the quality of cat food but the vets in general support the status quo. They want things to remain as they are because they are in the business of treating ill animals. They don’t want to take proactive steps to prevent illness. Excellent cat food helps prevent illness. Other areas that can affect long term cat and dog health is over vaccination, over prescribing drugs. All drugs have side effects. Combinations of drugs such as flea treatments, worm treatments and vaccinations can it seems cause health issues that may be greater than the illnesses that there designed to prevent. That though is another subject.
One last point. AAFCO should be entirely independent. But are they? Remember the recent Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill? It transpired that regulators were too soft perhaps being bought by the rich oil companies. Is AAFCO independent of the rich pet food companies?