Message to Cat Food Manufacturers: Cut Out the Sugar!

Added sugar in cat food

There is too much sugar in a lot of commercially manufactured cat food. There is too much sugar in processed commercially manufactured human food. The big multinational corporations, which manufacture and supply cat food worldwide are very good at making a profit. Their packaging and marketing is excellent. They give the impression that their focus is on cat health. One of the best examples is linking “science” to cat food quality – Hills Science Diet®. This dry cat food is sold in vet clinics to give added credibility.

To add to the doubts about cat food quality, the carbohydrate content in wet food is not listed while protein, fat and fiber are. You have to work out the sugar content by deduction and then work out the percentage on a dry matter basis. This presents a big obstacle for many people. Where this occurs, it is a deliberate lack of transparency, I allege.

We can see the similarities in the deficiencies in cat and human foods. We also see the similarities in the outcome. Before our eyes we see a slow moving epidemic of human obesity (UK and USA) and a sharp increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes – doubling in the USA over the period 1997-2007¹.

There is an almost mirror image increase in feline obesity and some vets tell us that there is also an increase in cat diabetes.

“Most veterinarians agree that they are seeing more and more feline diabetic patients as time goes by” (Your Cat by Elizabeth M Hodgkins DVM).

There are calls amongst a group of scientists in the UK to cut back on the amount of sugar that companies add to their food products for people. They are asking for a 30% reduction.

For humans,

“Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes no feeling of satiety. Aside from being a major cause of obesity, there is increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes..” (Aseem Malhotra – cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital).

For cats,

“…the most important environmental factor that causes diabetes is the diet…Because today’s cat is almost always eating dry cat food, with its extremely high sugar content, a cat with any genetic tendency to become obese and/or become diabetic will do just that when sugar is a large part of its diet….” (Your Cat by Elizabeth M Hodgkins DVM).

“Carbohydrates constitute between 30 percent and 40 percent of dry cat food” (University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine).

You’ll find that the contribution of calories in dry cat food is similar between fats, protein and carbohydrates. This is clearly unsatisfactory when you consider that the ideal cat food is a mouse: 40% protein, 50% fat and only 3% carbohydrates.

It is not just dry cat food that contains high sugar content. Some wet cat food do as well. You’ll have to work out the carbohydrate content (dry matter basis) and get to know the good ones.

It is time for cat food manufacturers to stop fuelling a cat obesity epidemic and rises in feline diabetes. I ask them: please begin to cut out the sugar content.

Note: cats don’t taste sugars. It is added in dry food because the manufacturing process requires it an in wet food because it is a cheaper source of calories.


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Message to Cat Food Manufacturers: Cut Out the Sugar! — 25 Comments

  1. Yes it’s very worrying Michael and something most people won’t think of, even the ones who read the labels on their own food when shopping for it.
    Why do so many people feed their cats dry food? I think it’s all about convenience, throw some in a bowl, job done.
    Everything nowadays is about making life easy for humans and often at the expense of animals when even food with high sugar content is sold in vet clinics to make a profit!

  2. Excellent article, short and succinct. I think you have hit the nail on the head. This issue of carbs in cat food, esp dry food, is the biggest and most unsettling issue in the cat ‘industry’ today. The whole idea that you can just leave dry food out all the time still seems to fly with the masses because of the vets I would assume. Anyhow, if only it would sooner become common knowledge that the huge percentage of cats which die at 13-16 because of kidney problems don’t have to and could live longer and happier lives. That is my axe to grind these days. I hate it to be honest. They still think they can synthesize food as cheap as poss from any sources and that because it has the right amount of vitamins or various nutrients then it must be ok. But it’s not.

    That would be like replacing all meat in a human diet with peanuts. And they say “well it contains the correct amount of proteine according to the latest scientific studies”.

    ….um yes, but I don’t want to eat a bowl of dry peanut biscuits everyday.

    lol – have you seen the cat food packagings with nice pictures of fresh raw vegetables and wheat – like it was being directed at healthy human’s lifestyle.

    ….um, if my cats ate what’s in that picture the whole time I suspect they would live short painful lives.

    I really hope the big brand catfood lobby doesn’t remain in control of the vets and certain parts of law – wouldn’t that be nice. Then we could all move on and learn to make and produce what’s best for cats and make that available to all cats.

  3. Everything you say, Michael, is so true.
    Everything is always about the almighty dollar, peso, yen… whatever.
    There are enough people killing our cats. We shouldn’t have to worry about the sources we should be able to trust the most.
    I am, seriously, pondering just cooking up my own cat food, ie. chicken, beef, and fish with brown rice, even adding pureed veggies. It would have to be more nutritional and even economical than buying the branded trash.

    • I feel the same way but I ask why can’t the manufacturers prepare cat food as we would do it but even better. They have the means, the equipment etc. to do an excellent job. They fall short. We should be seeing cat food on supermarket shelves that perfectly matches the mouse in terms of basic constituents. And is should not be any more expensive than human food.

      • A couple of things…
        I hate that I must feed my cats meat, but that’s the way it has to be. It tickles me that I may run into someone I know in the supermarket. Everyone I know, even the store cashiers, have never seen me buy any meats except a little poultry for the cats. I may have a bit of fun.
        Next, every time you mention a mouse as the perfect food, I cringe. I know you’re right, but I could never go into Petsmart and buy a load of mice for my cats.

  4. The protein content in dry cat food is mostly plant protein from wheat and maize, etc. That’s OK for people because we can re-constitute essential amino acids from plants but carnivores cannot. They must have animal source protein with first class amino acids which they cannot synthesize. Protein for people is not protein for carnivores. Therefore the claim of 30% protein in cat food is incorrect. It’s as simple as that. I do not see the carbohydrate percentage mentioned, but the ingredients include wheat, wheat middlings, corn, etc. Fat, moisture, fiber, and ash adds up to 31.5% plus the so-called protein comes to 61.5% meaning that the carbohydrate percentage is 38.5%. 38.5%. Add this to the bio-unavailable (for cats) plant protein you get 68.5% of ingredients that provide little or no nutrition. I assume that some of the protein may be from poultry and animal byproducts (unspecified) and may contain some high quality amino acids. So in reality the usable protein content is extremely low. It is always essential to include some meat, fish, chicken liver, or poultry in their diet, otherwise, even with a full stomach, they will suffer from malnutrition. Commercial dry cat food is a real deception. I worked it out that buying chicken, liver, hearts, and canned fish etc is cheaper than the packaged food, but the preparation is very time consuming. Consequently they get a mix of dry and prepared high protein foods, and are doing very well that way.

    • the carbohydrate percentage is 38.5%

      It is about that figure in a lot of cat food. Some, wet foods, have low carbohydrate levels but nearly all dry varies between 30-40. It is shocking. I agree too that the protein is not the right kind. Thanks for your input Harvey.

    • I like what you’re doing, Harvey.
      I’m not opposed to added a bit of dry food to the mix just for the crunch which is good for their teeth.
      I’ll be putting fish, liver, beef, and poultry on my grocery list for next week. I always have plenty of brown rice, oatmeal, and veggies on hand.
      I don’t mind spending the time to prepare, because large batches can be frozen in the portions I need.

  5. Hi Dee. Glad you want to switch to better food for your cats. The only problem with preparing chicken, meat, etc. is that cooking kills the all important taurine. I get by this by only lightly cooking the chicken hearts and liver and always give them some dry food mixed in. Dry food has synthetic taurine. That’s about the only good thing it has as well as the vitamins and fat. Chicken heart, and leg are very high in taurine so I think by only lightly cooking it they will get enough taurine. My cats often pinch raw liver out of the pan on the stove. The one who does it the most seems to be looking rather well these days. Interesting!

    • So, is it like a very light bake or sautee, then mash up?
      What do you think about the addition of brown rice and pureed carrots? What do you think about beef liver? Or, is chicken liver best? What kind of fish is best?
      You are a wealth of information on this topic. You should write an article.
      Any tidbits you can give me will be appreciated. I haven’t purchased these sorts of meats in forever. I am dumb, dumb, dumb!

  6. Hi Dee. Deciding to feed your cats a healthier diet is a long way from dumb. Brown rice is also mostly starch and won’t give cats anything they need. Carrots are a bit high in vitamin A. You don’t really need to add any freshly cooked vegetables if you mash the lightly cooked fresh meat and chicken (hearts and liver) with a bit of dry food and add water. . Cats synthesize vitamin C so fresh veggies are out. I have just been reading an article comparing the progress of similar female cats but on different diets. The cats on an uncooked or lightly cooked high protein diet did much better than those on the same diet but well cooked. The former’s kittens were bigger and healthier. It was suggested that heavy cooking also destroys other unidentified nutrients. But the opposite seems to be true for humans who can get up to 30% more nutrition from cooked food versus raw including meat but little is known if some other nutrients are destroyed. For humans that doesn’t seem to matter because we normally eat a much wide variety of foods than carnivores. The important thing is to get more high quality protein into your cat’s daily food whilst making sure they get enough taurine. It’s actually cheaper than the dry slow death food.
    Beef liver has far too much vitamin A which unfortunately is not destroyed by cooking. Too much vitamin A is not a good thing especially for pregnant or nursing cats, but it is a very good source of B vitamins and protein but no calcium at all. It should be given only occasionally. You are better off using only chicken liver which is much lower in vitamin A. You should also give them canned sardine in oil, mackerel, or any kind of food like cheese that has calcium or a supplement sprinkled in.

  7. A young friend of mine worked for awhile at a popular fast food chain. I won’t say which one, since I only have her word on this, but she said they added sugar to everything on the menu, including the salads. Absolutely everything on the menu has sugar in it. Now why would they do that? Probably because sugar is addictive. Eat too much of it and you feel like crap, but then three hours later you crave it. Food manufacturers use sugar, lots and lots of sugar, because it’s easy to get hooked on it. Cats get hooked on it too. That’s why the cheaper cat foods are like crack. The cats actually prefer them, turning up their noses at the really high quality cat foods. It’s all the extra carbs in food that get them hooked, keep them coming back. That’s my theory anyway. In the meantime, human animal or furry animal, it’s just not good for us. Yet you hear all the time low fat this and low fat that. To keep the taste without the fat they just add a little more sugar. Some low fat products are higher in calories and sugar.

  8. I don’t believe there is such a thing as high quality cat food. High priced cat food, yes. but where is the difference between low priced and high priced food? Hills Science Diet for this and that condition is complete nonsense. How can a food be for urinary tract health when it is loaded with carbohydrates and hardly any real animal protein?? They all have the same bad ingredients and some with well known dangerous preservatives.

  9. Great article and fueled commentary! My cats get their individual diets b/c it’s one way of showing respect for having them in my life. Chicken liver, gizzards(cheap filler that most of them enjoy), raw chicken meat(very fresh and from trusted source), cooked beef, raw beef, cooked chicken and 2oz of high-quality dry(Blu, Nature’s Recipe) are what my kitties get daily. I buy on a good sale, and freeze for later. It sure beats going through 72 cans every two wks. And, I enjoy making sure they eat right. Kitty treats are Zuke’s Glucosamine Chondroitin Chicken for the elderlies and Greenies Chicken for the young ones 😉 (that reminds me, remember the BBC sitcom “The Young Ones”? I hadn’t thought of that in years)

    Salmonella contamination is always first and foremost on my mind, esp w/the raw chicken. I have never been ill from it, even though I know that my cats do shed it in the household. (I swear that many of us catlovers have a higher degree of tolerance to many of the bad microbes, and parasites. Esp if you keep high levels of good gut bacteria, and you shared your ice cream cone with stray kitties as a child 😉 ) Here is a tidbit from Canadian Vet. J.#47,2006:

    “Of great concern is the recent interest in raw diets for pets. The Internet is replete with sites that popularize raw food and its supposed health benefits. These diets significantly increase the risk that humans will acquire Salmonella. In a study of a small number of dogs, 30 percent of them fed a biologically appropriate raw food diet were shedding Salmonella, and 80 percent of the food samples were positive.11

    Feeding these diets results in routine contamination of owners’ homes through potentially infectious materials such as raw chicken. Dogs are not known to be especially clean eaters and it is highly likely that infectious organisms are disseminated throughout the home.

    Even if owners try to limit contamination by thorough cleaning, they may not be successful. In an experiment, both plastic and steel bowls were inoculated with 2 grams of meat containing Salmonella. The bowls were either warm-water rinsed, rinsed and scrubbed, scrubbed with soap, soaked in 10 percent bleach, put in a dishwasher at 85 degrees Celsius, or rinsed and washed and then soaked in bleach for 5 minutes.

    Salmonella was cultured in more than two-thirds of bowls with the exception of the scrubbed and bleached ones, where still over 40 percent were positive.”

    We have had Salmonella outbreaks in sprouts, chili peppers, lettuce, you name it–it’s not all just raw chicken. But the significance here is that if a human builds a slow tolerance to it, almost all of the S. strains, even new ones, will not put you down for the count. Esp. if you keep your beneficial floral counts high in your gut. BTW, my cats all seem to truly enjoy my plain greek yogurt, and will jump on me for a lick. I haven’t yet researched whether it’s actually good for them, but will check on that yet today.
    Did I go off on a tangent? sorry, I enjoy bacteria! 😉

    • Great comment Cal. Vets discourage cat owners from preparing their own raw cat food diet for the reasons you state: bacteria and handling problems. Therefore manufacturers owe it to our cats and us to make some damn good raw cat food that is sold in supermarkets. Come on you lazy multinationals!

  10. lot of good replies on this subject. Far too much to comment on in detail at the moment but I read them all and learned a lot. Now I have to check on the worker who is trimming off my olive tree branches down to the trunk so that they will grow afresh in spring and summer, and carry on repairing some cat enclosures, feeding a cleaning 30+ cats, etc. etc. At least i will have a lot of logs for my open fire.

    • Harvey, I had no idea that you care for so many! I can picture you, friends and cats relaxing around the open fire in the evening, enjoying the wonderful fragrance and sounds of crackling logs and twigs. Esp after a satisfying day’s work of cleaning up after the precious little rascals 🙂 (Are your trees the real McCoy?–where do you live?)

  11. Hi Caroline. I live in North Cyprus, the Turkish part. There are masses of olives trees in this area if not all over Cyprus. Last year I had an enormous crop of olives which people come and pick for you and pay back with lots of bottles of super olive oil. They take the rest for selling. The trees got too much foliage and started hanging down to the ground. The usual practice is to cut off all the branches leaving only the trunk with the rumps.. They grow back very quickly and you get a better crop of olives than leaving them to overgrow. Yes it is quite a job looking after them all but I don’t know of many people who understand what treasures they are. They are the original Turkish Angoras with up to 98% pure E Mediterranean/Anatolian DNA markers, and they are in need of a little protection because of the lack of understanding of the average person. The cats love the log fire and strangely don’t seem afraid of it and get too close sometimes. My outside gang of males don’t get to enjoy the log fire but they have a great natural life. Since becoming outdoors cats they have blossomed into very large fluffy cats. My Turkish friend Alattin says ” Kedi yok! Kopek! which means they are not cats they are dogs. (Too big!) Here is just one of them, Jason. A friend has located 3 lovely pure-black Turkish Angora kittens in need of a home. here we go again. It’s so easy to get overloaded. I have also located a super fluffy tabby Angora at a restaurant who is friendly with me but no-one else. . Hm.

    • Cats come to where they know are going to be well treated. They know how to catch their human. Jason looks big boned and in cat fancy language “substantial”.

  12. Jason ridicules the cat fancy version of the Turkish Angora. I don’t have his DNA picture but if the cats from his locality are a guide (I have some of their results) he can be over 90% pure Turkish Angora. Yes, substantial. Good word Michael. He tends to get his way!

    • The American cat fancy Turkish Angora is quite “foreign” in appearance. Way too slender. I guess the breeders though it looked more “refined”. Jason is total different to the typical American TA and he is gorgeous.

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