Take a look at the food you’ve chosen for your cat. Odds are you’ll find “complete and balanced” written somewhere on the bag. That means the food contains all of the nutrients (and in the right amount) that your cat needs for good health. But what exactly makes the food complete and balanced, and why does it matter?
Technically, to be qualified as “complete and balanced”, the cat food must meet the minimum nutrient profiles established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), or pass an AAFCO feeding trial. In order to meet the minimum nutrient profiles, the food must contain the appropriate proportions of ingredients to provide all the essential nutrients from the following nutrient groups: protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals. Water is also a necessary part of a complete and balanced diet and should be provided in addition to food that is complete and balanced with respect to all other essential nutrients.
Protein plays a vital role in your cat’s health and the functions of her body. It consists of amino acids, which help support muscle growth. Cats are natural carnivores and will obtain protein from a blend of animal and plant sources. Look for protein sources like poultry, fish or beef near the top of the ingredient list, which indicates that they are among the most abundant ingredients by weight. Essential amino acids that don’t occur naturally in the ingredients, like taurine, are also added to keep cats healthy.
Fat provides energy, helps the body absorb vitamins, and promotes healthy skin and a shiny coat. Fat also benefits your cat’s taste buds by making the food more flavorful.
Carbohydrates provide cats with sustained energy and fiber. Great sources of carbohydrates are grains, such as rice, wheat, corn and barley.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are added to cat food formulas to help keep cats healthy. If your cat’s food is complete and balanced, there is no need to give her any additional vitamin or mineral supplementation unless advised by your veterinarian, as excessive supplementation can be harmful.
Water is often considered the single most important nutrient in a cat’s diet. It helps keep all systems in the body functioning properly. Cat foods do contain some moisture, with wet foods containing a higher percentage than dry kibble. However, the water provided by the food alone isn’t enough to meet your cat’s needs, so it’s critical to offer your cat plenty of fresh, clean drinking water at all times.
In a complete and balanced cat food, all of these nutrients work together to maintain a cat’s health. The amount of each nutrient that your cat needs varies throughout her life based on age, weight, activity level and environment. That’s why cat food labels will say “complete and balanced for…” a specific life stage, such as adult maintenance, or for all life stages. Kittens, for example, need more protein than adult cats to help fuel their growing bodies. Cats that become less active as they age may need less fat and calories to prevent weight gain. As your cat grows older, check with your veterinarian every now and then to make sure her food still meets her current needs.
If your cat’s food is complete and balanced, she doesn’t need any supplementation. In fact, adding extras or variety to her diet can do more harm than good. Occasional treats are fine but should be limited due to their high calorie content. As a general guideline, treats should be limited to no more than 10% of your cat’s daily caloric intake.
Also remember that some foods are considered unsafe and should never be fed to your cat, such as:
- Table scraps
- Dog food
- Raw meat, fish or eggs
- Grapes or raisins
- Food or drinks containing caffeine
- More (ask your vet for a complete list)
Feeding your cat complete and balanced nutrition lays the groundwork for a healthy life. Keep up the good work!