Manufacturers of Grainless Cat Foods Continue to add Carbohydrates for Obligate Carnivores

There’s no way in getting around it, no matter how hard we try! Cats are obligate carnivores, requiring meat as their dietary mainstay. Cats lack amylase in their saliva, (the digestive enzyme essential in digesting carbohydrates). As a result they cannot efficiently digest carbohydrates.

cat eating from a bowl

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

But apparently many of the higher-end cat food manufacturers are trying to ‘get around it’. While they advertise ‘grain-free’ in their products, the first ingredients listed on the label of one of the more popular brands targeted for adult cats indicates a whopping amount of carbohydrates.

According to nutritional expert, veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker, even with the scientific evidence that proves cats are obligate carnivores, companies manufacturing dry pet food continue to add carbohydrates to their products.

A Canadian commercial pet food company recently produced the white paper (articles that are produced by businesses that are basically informational marketing pieces) The Biologically Appropriate Food Concept and Dietary Needs of Dogs and Cats. According to Becker the report does provide some good information for pet guardians to help them understand their pet’s nutritional needs.

The authors write,

“With short digestive tracts and gastrointestinal systems, dogs and cats are adapted to metabolize animal flesh and fat, not grains and carbohydrates. Today’s modern dogs (of any breed) are not only capable of eating the food of their wild ancestors, but actually require it for maximum health.” The same is true for cats.

Becker goes on to write:

“According to, AAFCO’s 2010 Pet Food Nutrient Profiles and the National Research Council’s 2006 Committee on Animal Nutrition conclude that dogs and cats do not require carbohydrates in their diets. And it’s common knowledge that the natural diets of canines and felines contain almost no carbohydrates, with the primary source being predigested grains, fruits and veggies found in the stomachs of prey animals.”

For example: While the first ingredients listed are high in protein and low in carbs; read on: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Pea Fiber, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols) and Potato Starch. A little further down the list are whole Carrots, whole Sweet Potatoes, (Taurine*), Cranberries, Blueberries, Apples and Blackberries.

While blueberries, blackberries and cranberries are relatively low in carbs (and could be found in the stomach of prey animals), carrots are root vegetables. People on low carb diets often avoid eating them. However, sweet potatoes, (while highly nutritious) peas and pea fiber, potatoes, potato starch and peas are considered foods that are high in carbohydrates.

Many of the higher-end moist cat food are grainless. However, once again we find potatoes, peas, root vegetables and several varieties of fruit. Some grainless cat foods are also bulked up with meat by-products since it is less expensive to manufacture.

Felines may enjoy the flavor of these high carb vegetables, but they cannot readily digest them. Obviously they are included in the mix to add substance, bulk and cheap energy. I suspect kitty guardians reading the labels may think that these items provide their cats with a substantive balanced diet. Realistically, however, if the pet food manufacturers added more meat protein and omitted the fruit and high carb vegetables in their products, that they would be offering cats a much more species appropriate and more easily digested food. But would this be economically feasible? I think that is the question we must ask of these pet food manufacturers.

Therefore, when it comes to top notch feline nutrition; are kitty guardians being lulled into a false sense of security when they purchase foods labeled ‘grain free’? Do they fully understand that while grainless products may contain fewer grain carbohydrates but still contain a high level of carbohydrates? What will it take for them to learn that cats cannot easily digest those carbohydrates that are not nutritionally sound? What do you think? Please share your opinions in a comment.


*An essential amino acid for cats is necessary for normal heart and eye function.

Photo credit: Flickr User : Smitten with Kittens

51 thoughts on “Manufacturers of Grainless Cat Foods Continue to add Carbohydrates for Obligate Carnivores”

  1. Howdy, Jo –

    Thank you for your intelligent comments, and I quite agree it’s a shame those corporations have to concentrate on profit to the exclusion of a high quality product. As you rightly suggest, they could offer better nutrition if they lavished less of their ill-gotten gains on public relations and sales promotions. As for the flabby FDA, you can’t help but wonder if they’re not in cahoots with the entities they’re supposed to regulate.

    Believe me, I feel your foreboding over your boys’ gathering age. But aren’t Siamese cats noted for their longevity? Given the care they receive from you, aren’t they good for another five-six years? Though even at that, their lives are tragically brief, of course. When we humans are enjoying our apple-blossom springtime, our kids are frail and faded.

    I’ve heard multiple times on my sat. radio that the scientific community expects to extend the human life expectancy to 120 years in another two decades or less. Good or bad? It means most of us will have to keep slaving away well into our eighth and ninth decades. Which we might be more than able to do, when the nanotechnologists and stem-cell experts are figuring out ways to wipe out dementia, arthritis and other ills of aging. And think what a cash cow this will be for the cosmetic surgeons! Have you seen recent photos of Raquel Welch? La Loren? Jane Fonda? At the opposite end of the spectrum, have you seen recent photos of Prince C.? His father looks younger, heaven have mercy. Aristocrats don’t stoop to the scalpel.

    But if scientists pile more years on our lives, they’ll do the same for our fur kids. Is this science fiction? Not in the least. It’s happening already – i.e., to the human race. People seldom lived beyond 30 in the days of ancient Greece & Rome. And people were bent and old as dirt in their 50s during the early decades of the last century. Nowadays, hordes of octogenarians are working 30 and 40 hours a week, and seemingly thriving on the routine. Our Chamber of Commerce has a public relations fireball in her mid-eighties who promotes the perks of joining the organization, and barrels around these frontier towns signing up new members. (This after years of raising seven offspring.)

    As for our animals? I gimp like a centenarian when I first get out of bed – am hauling manure and still digging and transplanting even this late in the season – though my soreness doesn’t ‘sadden’ me. But one day, a few months before his death, my beloved old man, when he tried to jump out of his litter box, lost his balance and fell on his side. You could see how mortified and bewildered he was to lie there in a leap. The sight of him wrung my heart like a wet-mop – which it does at this moment – and I rushed over to where he lay, lifted him up and held him in my arms all morning, trying to comfort him in his old age. So hooray for the day when science can add years of good heath to their short lives.

    Your diet regimen for your boys sounds perfect, and it’s great they’re eating well. What’s more, you have a world-class vet; hold on to her with a steely grip, for heaven’s sake – they’re not always that easy to find.

    You mention meat byproducts, by the way, as something to be avoided in ‘pet’ food. Yet Lisa Pierson, the vet with the website, says parents needn’t be that alarmed by the presence of this stuff in canned dog and cat food. She says dogs and cats wolf down feathers, fur, combs & wattles (wait. . .do birds, except buzzards, have these appendages?), chewable bones, teeth and small fangs, feet, innards – just about the whole package, and all of it is fairly nutritious, so she says. Which of course doesn’t mean you’d want overmuch of these substances in their canned foods.

    Anyhow, thanks for another informative article.

    And pet the boys.

    p.s. Would you get mad if I said this? Your husband sounds like a consummate Sweet Pea! He wrote only one sentence in a comment a few days ago, but sounded so very nice. His presence will help you cope with the sadness of losing your kids, when it happens. Down here where I live in this Sasquatch haven, people have minimal interest in cats. They’re duck hunters who idolize their retrievers.

    • As for the flabby FDA, you can’t help but wonder if they’re not in cahoots with the entities they’re supposed to regulate.

      I have often felt this to be the case. There must be a lot of lobbying and pressure from business of FDA employees. The same happened with the oil business which caused the Mexico oil spill or at least contributed to it.

  2. Jo – Thank you for your thoughtful comments! Tried to respond a while ago, but computer succumbed to a bolt-from-the-blue gas attack.
    Will give this another try tomorrow.

  3. Sylvia Ann,

    I too really felt your passionate “rant” and I can totally understand where you are coming from – I think. I try not to make assumptions! Since we have to elderly kitties- one turning 15 in January and the other 14 in October, it really scares me as they age. Sir Hubble has had two bouts of pancreatitis and that was very worrisome. The thought of losing them just is unbearable.

    If the cat food industry would just cut down a small bit on their persistant and uninformative advertising and spend more on their products I BET that they could bring in a high quality grainles LOW carb moist food- and cats would truly be happier and healthier. That’s just my thought. It also is a damned shame that the FDA doesn’t put the manufacturers to task to use DECENT HIGH QUALITY meat in their ingredients- not the pap and by products (which don’t have to be individually listed- on labels- it would scare customers away)- perhaps things might be a bit better for our kitties.

    Dry food basically is for human convenience. I feed our guys 4 times a day with small portions totally 5-6 oz a day (right what they need) so they get the “grazing” experience. If I feed less often they often gorge themselves and lose their dinner. My vet is thrilled with our feeding plan.

      • Michael, now THAT would be amazing. We need to tell them that they must do this. I wonder if they would listen if enough people demanded more transparency, and protection.

    • Jo I don’t believe they care whether the cats are healthy or not. Actually I think they only care that they look healthy enough to convince us it’s ok.

      I do think that to work in a company like that you have to be a bad person. But I’m sure someone there would berate me for criticizing them for ‘feeding their familly’ or whatever, since jobs aren’t so easy to come by.

      But I’d still take them on because I would rather get benefits than poison cats. But that’s just me.

      I’m not particularly hopeful about capitalism – I think it’s poisoning everyone with apathy so they don’t bother trying to be good anymore. But they are still poisoning cats and ignoring the fact. Just because their life might be hard why should they ruin the lives of cats they don’t even know….

  4. Hi, Dee!

    ‘Bulging’ is not a pejorative adjective, far as I know.

    My yard was bulging with cats for the first six years I lived down here. So was my toolshed with cat beds & blankets & snuggy-loos. Was it the Waldorf Astoria? No. But better than having to hunch under a car in the muck during months of pounding rain.

    As to what became of all the cats, many were infected with FeLV of epidemic proportions, and FIP (whatever it’s called); the ones I could catch I transported to the vets, who gave them blood tests to diagnose the presence or absence of these diseases. If the tests were positive, I paid $75.00 to have the poor cats put to sleep. Does this mean I’m hardhearted? Then so be it. I especially loved one stray enough to pay $840.00 for his dental work, only to find out he had renal failure — and so I also had him put to sleep. As to what happened to the others, they refused to bed down in the shed, and were picked off by cougars roaming the neighborhood at night. Several others I paid no-kill sanctuaries a hundred dollars per cat to hopefully find good homes for.

    I’m sorry you’re saddened by my unwillingness to parent more cats, but hope you will grant I’ve toiled fairly hard, in a manner of speaking, in the ‘Lord’s Vineyard’ up to this point – i.e., for years. I’m very tired, perhaps a moral failing, but not everyone has the unlimited capabilities of many cat lovers and rescuers…and I admit to my shortcomings.

    As for Sidney Vicious, no need to feel sorry for him, Dee! I was merely describing his looks, which I’ve never held against, even a little, nor would hold against any other cat (homed or homeless). He’s being fed canned cat food daily. I never ignore him in the morning and evening, but jump into action the instant I see him sitting out there, waiting for his breakfast & supper. And when the rains return in October – if he’s still here – I’ll rig up big doghouse on my screened back porch and fill it with blankets, so he has a bed and plenty of food.

    Does this mean I want the cat? No. Does it means I pet and talk to him kindly? Yes. Does it mean I’m looking for someone who desperately wants him? Yes. Does it mean I’ll thoroughly grill them before I’d consider parting with him? Yes. Does it mean I have high hopes of finding any such person(s)? No. Does it mean that when the temperature drops, I’ll take him in the house for most of the day and night? Crikey. Don’t ask. There’s no escape.

    Anyway, nothing was further from my intent than insulting you or anyone else on this website. I know very little about you, but am thinking you likely feed more cats than Carter has pills. Which means you’re extraordinarily kind.

    My sole source of agitation is the multitudes of characters who wouldn’t think of giving themselves the trouble to care for their animals – that, and my failure to understand why there have to be more of these kind than there are Dees and other PoC troops.

    Is it because of the cost? Largely, of course. There are countless parents who do the best the can by their kids, and cats don’t invariably drop like flies from eating kibbles.

    But PoC has featured posts, in the past, about what a cat can do to ‘enrich’ the life of an elderly person. Yet some of the photos that went with these posts showed these elderly women who – though they may ahve been sharp as a tack – looked rather touchingly age-befuddled in their babushkas and clogs and smocks hanging down to their ankles. And I couldn’t help wondering how they managed to feed themselves – what did they eat? Gruel and bread-crusts? – much less a cat or several cats. Whenever these PoC posts appeared, what kept popping into my mind was a headline I read in a newspaper, several years back, about an octogenarian widow in London who was eating boiled cardboard.

    If my screed came across as cantankerous, it wasn’t directed at anyone on this website. It was aimed at people who don’t care at all about their fur-kids, and about the increasing difficulty of affording a cat or dog at present-day prices for veterinary care, plus the cost of providing their kids with a healthful diet.

    I can only go by what little I’ve read: that kibble-fed kids in their gathering years who can end up looking like blimps after a lifetime of having to chew four ounces of starch, at each meal, to extract a teaspoon of mummified protein laced with preservatives.

    Do all cats and dogs who live on this diet suffer poor health and eventually die of diabetic blindness, obesity and urinary tract disease? That would be rather hard to imagine. But that diet, based on what little I’ve read, can apparently raise the risk.

    Actually, my fear at this point is that I’ve insulted a years-long pen-friend by a letter I dashed off to her yesterday. She loves cats, rescued five kittens that lay in a field she was hiking across some years ago, and has parented them ever since. This woman has had a successful career and is, to add to her riches, an heiress, so she has ample funds to lavish on her fur-kids. In fact, she built this beautiful covered ‘catio:’ a 20 x 20-foot extension to her house filled with tree ferns and vines, orchids, dwarf palms and bamboo, etc., a bubbling fountain, and a ‘jungle-gym’ of ladders, trapezes and catwalks to keep her kids happy.

    And now – OMG – she writes that one of her cats is constipated, dehydrated & obese. And she was wondering why. But then she fed the cat some canned food and home-cooked chicken for the first time in its life, and was thunderstruck by its sudden revival. Over the years she’s been feeding her cats nothing except ‘designer’ kibbles on the specific recommendation of her vet, who sells her sacks of it displayed on the shelves in the vet’s reception area. Well, as good-natured as she is, she’s easily wounded, and I knew I was walking on paper-thin ice to mail her a couple of printouts from the Lisa Pierson website. Will she believe them? Who knows? Am sure I’m a dead duck…

    As to the health of your feral cats, it goes without saying they’re a thousand times better off to have you and your generous efforts on their behalf than they’d be to have nothing but an occasional bird or mouse – which is all they have down here where I live. And yes – there are cats and dogs who reach a ripe old age eating nothing but kibbles. So few things in life are a hundred, nailed-down provable.

    Take care of yourself, Dee, and don’t work too hard.

    p.s. to Iniki, jmuhj & Tina: Yes – your insights are spot-on!

    • TYSM for your heartfelt comments. And I agree with you (I think!?!) that in cases where a living being is incurably ill/in pain, it is kinder to opt for euthanasia, which is the true definition of this term, btw. I know it’s what relatives have said in the past that they would choose if they could for themselves, and it’s what I would want myself if god forbid I was ever in that state. Also, yes, most people on this earth have a very hard time even being able to survive themselves, let alone care for others, especially in the top-quality, very expensive manner people in this society seem to think anyone responsible and caring MUST do. It would be very desirable if people from this society all were made to travel and live anywhere in the world where the rest of us — and by that, I mean those of us from other cultures — live and struggle, the way none of them ever see when they go as rich tourists. It would be a humbling and an eye-opening experience indeed!


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