Cat Food Ingredients to Avoid

Photo of Person Opening a Can of FancyFeast Cat Food
FancyFeast Gourmet Cat Food. Getty Images / Tom Kelley Archive

Pioneers such as Ann Martin have raised a consumer awareness about the ingredients in commercial pet foods, including cat food. In her book "Foods Pets Die For," published in 1997, it was first exposed that euthanized cats and dogs are common ingredients in several known pet foods.

Modern crusader Susan Thixton, founder of the website Truth About Pet Food, has taken on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the pet food industry. The site is run by thousands of veterinarians, scientists, and everyday pet lovers who work together to make pet food safe. Thixton, along with Mollie Morrissette and Dr. Jean Hofve, are working together to give consumers a voice with the FDA and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Always choose quality cat food for your cats, and follow sensible "tips for choosing cat food" such as reading the ingredient label before purchasing food, and avoiding these three groups of ingredients.

BHT, BHA, and Ethoxyquin

Chemical preservatives like butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole are very effective at preserving dry cat food but are suspected to be potentially cancer-causing agents. These chemicals are often added to oils and fats and have been found to cause kidney and liver damage in rats, according to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. In fact, ethoxyquin is illegal to use in human foods in the U.S. and is extremely harmful when directly swallowed or touching the skin. Recently, many pet food manufacturers have moved toward using more "natural" preservatives, such as Vitamin C and E.

Meat ByProducts

The AAFCO defines meat byproducts as the following:

"The non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves."

Besides not knowing what species of animal the "meat" comes from, byproducts, as a rule, are considered an inferior form of the protein that cats need. " If we shouldn't eat it, neither should our pets," says Dr. Donna Spector. There is also Meat Meal, a mysterious meat byproduct, and concentrate meal. "Meal" is generally produced by rendering, a process which raises a red flag for cat enthusiasts. This highly concentrated protein powder is often low quality and inferior by nature. Leftovers of meat used in this type of rendering process often alters or destroys natural enzymes and proteins that aren't even fit for human consumption.

Corn Meal As Filler

Excess of carbohydrate "fillers" is not good for cats. Dry food can even contain as much as 50 percent grain. Older cats and cats with diabetes can be fed grain-free food, as long as the carbohydrate content is limited. Wheat gluten can also be problematic as it's a cheaper alternative to muscle meat protein and whole grain options. It can also contain melamine which has been known to cause kidney failure due to its plastic, nitrogen, and protein elements, according to the World Health Organization.