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Cat Food, Demystified
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Cats may be finicky eaters, but veterinarians are just as fussy when it comes to recommending foods for felines.
When a new cat owner asks Charles Lemme, DVM, for a food recommendation for a healthy pet, Dr. Lemme mentions only name brands. "I have a personal bias," says Dr. Lemme, a veterinarian in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) clinical practitioner's advisory committee.
Dr. Lemme, who owns two cats, has spent years observing first hand the effect of diet on pets. The major pet food manufacturers, he says, "are doing research and making sure to the best of their ability that they are putting out a quality product."
Many owners of the estimated 81 million pet cats in the United States turn to veterinarians for recommendations about what to feed their furry friends. In response, pet food manufacturers have started to include information on pet food labels stating that veterinarians have endorsed the food.
The links between veterinarians and the pet food industry run deep. Dog and cat food sales in the United States reached a record of more than $14.3 billion in 2005 (the most recent year for which results are available), according to the Pet Food Institute, the pet food industry trade association. Major pet food manufacturers have a history of funding research into pet nutrition at major universities that have veterinarians on staff, and they seek the opinions of veterinarians in market research surveys to verify the effectiveness of their pet foods. As you read the cat food labels in the aisles of pet food or grocery stores, there are some basics that consumers and pet owners like you need to know.
Nutritional Criteria Veterinarians Use
Cats with allergies or diseases -- such as diabetes -- often require prescription food that their owners can obtain from veterinarians. For healthy cats, however, veterinarians look for some of the following criteria when recommending cat foods:
Look For Seals on Pet Foods
Feline nutrition experts developed AAFCO standards for cat food in the 1990s. Pet foods may carry one of two different types of AAFCO certifications: either meeting AAFCO's standards for "complete and balanced" contents or by being subject to feeding trials and tests. "Make sure the logo is somewhere on the bag," Dr. Beaver advises.
Importance of Veterinarian Recommendations
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.
Cats reach full skeletal development when they are this old: