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The health food craze has caught up with kitty.
Over the years, people have become more concerned about making sure the food they put on the table for their families is "natural" or minimally processed. Now that concern is being extended to what they put in their cat’s dish, according to Katy J. Nelson, D.V.M., an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., who also works on pet nutrition.
But just what is a "natural" cat food?
Regulation of Cat Food
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates labeling of cat food in the United States so that companies can't make claims about pet food products that are untrue. The FDA also regulates pet food, although the administration doesn’t directly state what constitutes a “natural” product.
The AAFCO defines the term "natural" as being “… derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources … not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”
Most commercial pet foods do contain some synthetic sources of essential vitamins and minerals in order to comply with AAFCO's requirements that the food be "complete and balanced" to meet a pet's nutritional needs, says Amy Dicke, D.V.M., a Dayton, Ohio-based veterinarian who has worked with teams of nutritionists and researchers.
While experts like Dr. Nelson and Dr. Dicke caution that there is no scientific agreement yet that natural foods provide more safety or nutritional value than certified "complete and balanced" cat foods, they add that natural ingredients certainly don't hurt. "I don't want people to expect health miracles from feeding a natural food," says Dr. Dicke. "There is no evidence that supports that a natural product is better or safer than, let's say, a traditional product. But I'm not saying that it's worse. It's a personal choice … another feeding option."
Natural Ingredients to Look For
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.
Cat researchers, breeders and others have replaced the old term "alley cat" with this phrase: