Imagine this scenario: You’re looking for food for your cat as usual and you see a new brand you’ve never seen before- You think you’ve seen it all but the artwork on the can is just really superb! You check out the can and glance over the ingredients and see a massive list of ingredients and words like “Corn Syrup” and “Carageenan.” You slowly put the can away and continue on shopping because you know better.
This is actually something that happened to me recently and I was very disappointed. I’ve talked about ingredients in cat food in the past, but haven’t touched up too much on cat food ingredients to avoid. As you know, there’s a lot to consider and so many cat food choices, but a good way to filter out the choices is to look for these harmful ingredients you may find.
If you’re looking for and feeding your cat grain free, high protein wet cat food, chances are you won’t spot these in your cat’s food, but it’s good to be cautious. Some of these may surprise you!
1. Added Colors and Food Dyes (red #40, blue #2, etc)
This is a big one. Generally, humans add dyes and colors to food to make it look more appealing and more tasty. It doesn’t really add anything and they can potentially be carcinogenic. Yikes! Food dyes are recognized as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA. Its possible cats can have allergies from dyes but it hasn’t been proven yet. Why even chance it?
If you’re finding this in your cat food or while browsing, just put it back or stop buying it. You’re getting a cheap food and your cat is much better off without it.
Why Is It Added?
People add food dyes to cat food for many reasons. One such is to stimulate a cat’s appetite by looking like raw meat, and getting closer to a pink or reddish color. It just appeases a human’s idea of what cat food should like.
Do cats actually care about what their food looks like? Probably not, but its possible that they are more attracted to something that looks like their natural diet. Sound a little contradicting, doesn’t it?
Simply, there is no reason to add food dyes. If it’s what your cat should be eating, it will be closer to its natural, reddish color, or your cat won’t care anyways.
You’ll find that a lot of brands to use vegetables as dyes which is totally fine. You’ll commonly see beets or carrots used in many cat foods. But when chemicals and dyes are used, that is a different story and it’s time to abandon ship.
Be careful with this one, because while it is in a lot of cheaper cat foods, it’s also in a lot of grain free and high protein canned cat food as well. It’s a sneaky one alright. It is also considered a GRAS by the FDA.
Carrageenan is a seaweed derivative and is commonly found in a reddish color. It’s edible and has been used for hundreds of years as a base for puddings.
But this natural derivative is not the same as how it’s used in foods of ye olde- in truth, nowadays it is highly processed and extracted using alkaline-solvents. Food grade carageenan contains traces of poligeenan, which is a lower grade form of carrageenan that can induce inflammation and cause cancer in animals.
Why Is It Added?
You find carrageenan in a lot of “Pate loafs” because it creates a puffy texture. It works kind of like yeast and helps to create a more “ideal” texture, again in human standards.
Carageenan is hard to avoid, but there are many brands that don’t have carageenan in their food. You can check out quite a few of them here in my list of best high protein wet cat food. Try to avoid pate loafs, since there are pate type cat foods that don’t have carrageenan. Find more of a pastier version instead. Usually it will just say “pate.”
Pet food manufacturers say that Ethoxyquin is a manufactured antioxidant, which is true. It’s used as a preservative for fish meal to reduce the rancidity of it.
Let’s look at it rationally and calmly. Ethoxyquin can be used directly or indirectly in the food, so it may not even be listed in the ingredients. If the ingredient says “fish meal” and not a specific type of meal, like “salmon meal” it probably has ethoxyquin.
From its use in the beginning, there were complaints from owners of ethoyxyquin causing cancerous lesions and skin problems in dogs and cats. Monsanto, the developer of ethoxyquin, conducted their own tests and deduced that it was not ethoxyquin causing the problems and deemed it safe.
If heated higher than 320 degrees F, a dangerous chain reaction of toxicity can be started, and we have no way of knowing if any of the ingredients have been damaged or heated more than that.
Why Is It Added?
When it comes down to it, it’s all about money. It’s a cheap preservative and manufacturers will cut costs anywhere possible. Just don’t buy cat food labeled with “fish meal” and you should be able to steer clear of ethoxyquin. Chances are, it’s not a good quality product anyways and not viable for your cat to consume.
Look for specific types of “meals” versus fish meal, like “salmon meal.” This is because the manufacturer specifically added the meal and didn’t rely on an outsourced supplier.
4. Corn Syrup Or Any Corn Product
Corn is known as one of the most versatile foods. It makes a great substitute in foods because it’s so darn cheap to produce, not to mention how easily it is genetically modified.
In cat food, it is used to add calories and add a bit of sweetness to the food, usually used as a filler ingredient. This is why excessive consumption of any cat food with corn as a primary filler will usually lead to the cat being overweight, and diabetic, and possibly why there are so many fat cats in this world. Coupled with a free feeding epidemic, it’s a recipe for disaster.
The calories gained from corn are not beneficial at all and just used to make your cat feel “full” but will probably want more anyways because of the sugar content. This is because corn is very high and carbohydrates and I have spoken several times on this site how carbohydrates are one of the worst things for a cat to ingest. Cats have no dietary need for carbohydrates and are just better off without it.
Cats don’t gain ANYTHING from corn, and it’s 100% better to avoid it, as it is purely a monetary gain for the manufacturer.
Why Is It Added?
As explained above, corn products are primarily used as a filler. Meaning, it can take up a good chunk of your cat’s food. It’s dirt cheap to produce and easy to maintain. It is almost like a human living on fast food for most of their lives. You wouldn’t think that’s acceptable right?
Your cat should have the same healthy lifestyle you deserve as well.
Though more expensive, there are so many corn free options for cat food these days. More and more people are becoming aware of how terrible corn is for your cat and we are speaking with our wallets. Corn free and grain free is certainly the way to go these days, and there isn’t much of an excuse.
There are even cheaper alternatives as well, like Soulistic Cat Food that offer a wide variety of flavors, all while being a cheaper, holistic experience. You don’t have to break the bank for your cat to eat healthy!
5. BHA and BHT
Like ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT are preservatives used to prevent rancidity in cat food. They are chemical antioxidants but used in fat versus fish.
These two preservatives can cause various skin problems in cats like dry skin, allergic reactions, and overall poor health. BHA and BHA replace vitamin E, which is removed from the food during oil processing.
Even in California, BHA is listed as a carcinogen and Oxford University has stated that BHA maybe harmful if ingested or inhaled. I think this is all that needs to be said. Look for a higher quality cat food for your cat if you see these two harmful chemicals in your cat’s food.
Why Is It Added?
Preservatives are generally added to cut down costs in food production because they’re cheap to make. They of course keep the food quality from deteriorating, which is a good idea in theory, but can be catastrophic towards your cat’s overall health.
We ourselves shouldn’t eat chemical laden food, so why should our cats, who we consider a part of our family, have to eat low quality food?
Look for cat food that doesn’t have artificial ingredients, or limited ingredients where you can easily research and figure out what they are. It’s certainly worth paying a little more for your cat’s food because your actions will determine what kind of life your cat will live when they get older.
6. Meat By-Products
This is a little bit of a controversial topic, but I’d like to put my two cents in. There a lot of misconceptions about meat by-products that need to be cleared up.
Now, cats in the wild eat every part of an animal, including the “by-products” which is everything other than meat (which is muscle and tissue,) like organs, brains, blood, intestines and bones. They will even chew on feathers to help clean their teeth. This is all fine, since they are the ones who caught the prey and “sourced” their own food.
Meat by-product is healthy and NOT bad for cats. It contains many good nutrients and amino acids like taurine and vitamin A, which are essential for a cat’s health.
It is not a good source of protein though and will not sustain a cat if that is all they are eating.
However, the main controversy lies in the quality of the meat by-products, and how much of it takes up the food content. It is how it is obtained. For example, although extreme, you have no idea if the meat by-product is roadkill or obtained through other questionable methods.
There’s also the point where you will never know exactly how much meat by-product amounts to the actual percentage in your cat’s food. There’s no law where manufacturers have to state the proportion of by-product versus meat. Meat by-product is OK as long as it’s not a good portion of the protein count.
Why Is It Added?
Meat by-product is added for many reasons. Like most fishy ingredients in cheap cat food, it is cheap to add and cuts costs, especially if the manufacturer can get it from a cheap source.
The manufacturer’s profit margin goes up while your cat’s health suffers.
When looking at your cat food label, make sure it’s not the first ingredients. Many organic and holistic food options will list it, but it will not be the first ingredient. The name of the animal should be first, broth, or worst case scenario water.
Generally, higher priced and higher quality cat foods avoid putting a large amount of byproducts in, and may not even have it in the food, as there are other sources for taurine and vitamin A (another controversial topic for another time.)
7. Starches and Gravy
Anything with the word “starch,” like potato starch, or corn starch, is a bad idea to give to your cat. This is because starches are heavy in carbohydrates which are absolutely terrible and unnecessary for cats. Carbohydrates process into sugar, which leads to obesity and cats do not process carbohydrates well, since their bodies are not meant to process it.
I have seen many “grain free” cat foods that still list starches in their ingredients, which defeats the purpose of grain free and they may as well be adding grains. At that point, they are just latching onto the fad of “grain free” and trying to get your attention. Starches are used as fillers, like grains, and contribute to a high carbohydrate count.
Gravy is also considerably high in carbohydrates and sodium content, a big no no. It has no place in a cat’s diet and again is placed because it falls into the category of “What a human thinks should be in cat food.” Just because it is appetizing to us doesn’t mean gravy needs to be in your cat’s food, because it doesn’t.
I have seen way too many good high protein brands fall victim to adding gravy into their wet cat food, and sometimes it makes it really hard to choose a brand to stick with, that your cat will like. Don’t give up!
Why Is It Added?
Starches and gravy are just filler. Gravy is just a word used to mask the carbohydrate filler into something that sounds tasty. A lot of cheaper grain free cat foods will have gravy, unfortunately. Gravy and starches make cat food more palatable to cats, almost like junk food to humans.
It will make the food sweeter and irresistible to cats.
Gravy and starches are in a lot of grain free cat foods, as explained above. But there are certainly cat foods that don’t contain it, so look for that if you can. Look for food that is in pate form without gravy, or in gelee (jelly)form. Gelee is not perfect either, but it is better than starchy gravy.
8. Vegetables and Fruits
While not specifically harmful to your cat, greens and vegetables don’t have any beneficial value since they are not a part of a cat’s natural diet. Cats in the wild will occasionally chew on plants to gain their health benefits and to aid in managing pain, but they don’t intentionally hunt for plants to eat.
Cats are built to ingest protein and only protein. They are strictly carnivores and do not need greens and fruits in their life to survive. When brands add fruits and vegetables into cat food, they are partially doing it for added benefits, like adding in “antioxidants.”
But like the reality of grains and by-products, they are just used as fillers in an attempt to cheapen the food.
Why Is It Added?
Plants do have protein in the form of “plant protein” and is ultimately cheaper to manufacture than meat protein. So, it is protein, but the wrong type that your cat doesn’t need.
Plant protein does not contain all the necessary amino acids required by obligate carnivores.
Again, a lot of high protein and grain free brands will sadly add fruits and vegetables to their products. Look for cans that don’t advertise it so much on their packaging and make sure to read the ingredients label.
Make sure any kind of plant protein is not one of the first few ingredients. A better quality brand will have it closer to the end of the list, so choose wisely if you are struggling to find other options.
9. Artificial Flavors
This is purely done for the sake of taste. Artificial flavors are added to cheaply processed meat to enhance the taste and make it smell appealing cats. Otherwise, your cat probably wouldn’t touch the food.
Artificial flavors are bad for your cat because it is purely chemicals and cheap meat and fats sprayed onto the food. What makes it worse is that chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls and others are in these artificial flavors, which cats can not digest well at all.
Substances in artificial flavorings, like fish and beef flavoring, are linked to increased chances of hyperthyroidism and excessive kidney damage in cats.
Why Is It Added?
Purely to make the already terrible food taste better to cats. Artificial flavoring is a mixture of protein and chemicals, so it has the protein, albeit the cheapest kind. It’s like covering burnt fries with ketchup to mask the taste.
It’s in your best interest to avoid artificial flavors. There is an alternative of adding great tasting omega fatty acid droplets into your cat’s food. This will enhance the taste while giving your cat their daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
I think this is one of the more obvious ones. Cats don’t need dairy at all beyond their developmental stages as a kitten, and even then, it is only milk from their mother. I’ve written about why dairy is not good for cats here if you want to dig into it a little further.
Cats are basically lactose intolerant once their developmental stages as a kitten are done, and are promptly weaned off of it in the wild. What happens is at around 8 weeks old, they lose their digestive enzymes needed to process milk.
I have seen a lot of cheap canned cat foods stating they have cheese in it, and I just have to wonder “but why?” When have cats ever liked cheese, first of all? Stay far away from brands that use “real cheese” in their cat food. Nothing good will come out of it, and honestly they should be ashamed of themselves.
Technically, most cats will be able to eat the cheese, or small amounts of dairy since there are varying amounts of lactose. But the question is: Why? Cats do not need dairy to thrive, so there’s no reason to add it into the food.
Why Is It Added?
Well, it’s not really a protein filler since it’s not added for protein count. Milk and other dairy products are added to make the cat want to eat the food. Cats are naturally attracted to creams and dairy because they are attracted to the high fat content.
Cheese and dairy is also likely added because it’s something that we as humans think tastes great and adds flavor to food, so people who don’t know any better will buy into it. They don’t think about how a cat processes food.
Just don’t buy food for cats with dairy in it. Thankfully, most brand and manufacturers stay away from this practice.
Just make sure your cat always has fresh water available to them all the time. If you feed a good quality food, your cat will get their moisture content from their food as well.
In the end, have you noticed a trend? A lot of these are ingredients used for filler because making food purely from meat is so expensive. Mass production is a difficult beast to tame and manufacturers will do anything to cut costs, even jeopardizing your cat’s health in the process.
It sounds like there is no safe food to give to your cat, and that may be correct. There is no perfect food out there, but you can choose what you think is best for your cat because every cat’s needs are different.
The only true way to avoid this would be to make your own cat food. There are several great guides to do this, but it must be done carefully.
As long as you’re trying your best and getting a good high protein and good quality cat food, the rest should fall into place.