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How to Decipher Cat Food Labels

Most of us check ingredients and nutritional information on packaging when buying food for our pets. However, reading the nutritional data on a cat food label can get confusing. So, how do you know whether your pet is getting the right food for a healthy body? In this blog, we look at what you can expect to find on a cat food nutrition label and help you improve your understanding of this information. 


What Information Do Cat Food Labels Contain?

Cat food labels provide limited information regarding the nutritional value of the package contents. It is important for customers to know what can and cannot be determined from the label, and what information is particularly important. Major components of a pet food label include:

  • Guaranteed Analysis

  • Company/Customer Service Information/Satisfaction

  • Ingredient Panel

  • Manufacturing Code, Expiration, or 'Best Used By' Information

  • Feeding Instructions

  • AAFCO Statement of Nutritional Adequacy

Guaranteed Analysis

Values in the guaranteed analysis are expressed as either minimum or maximum. A maximum guarantee (% max) means at most this specific amount of the nutrient is included in the formula. A minimum guarantee (% min) means at least this specific amount of the nutrient is included in the formula. The following four nutrients must be included on all pet food labels:

  • Crude Protein (% min)
  • Crude Fiber (% max)
  • Ingredient Panel
  • Crude Fat (% max)
  • Moisture (% max)


For example, a cat food with a 25% minimum crude protein guarantee should contain at least 25% protein but could contain much more. The only way to determine the actual amount is by laboratory analysis.
Other information may be guaranteed on cat food products, such as magnesium (% max), taurine (% min), ash (% max), and linoleic acid (% min).

  • The guaranteed analysis is an important tool when beginning to compare cat food formulas, but it doesn't provide meaningful nutritional information. Using information on the energy content and nutrient density of a food is the only way to properly compare cat foods. This information is available from the manufacturer.


Levels Of Cat Food Regulation

  1. AAFCO

Animal-feed laws, particularly those pertaining to pet food, are dealt with by AAFCO. AAFCO is a coalition of governmental organisations in North America that aids in regulating animal food. Cat food with AAFCO label has an assurance that certain standards have been followed while manufacturing the food. Therefore, the food is said to meet the nutritional levels required by your pet. MARS pet food too complies with the standards of AAFCO and is nutritionally sound for your pet.

Ingredient Panel

Ingredients must be listed in order of abundance (largest quantity listed first).

Because ingredient definitions and designations are standardized, it is difficult to determine the quality of ingredients. Ingredient quality can only be determined from laboratory analysis and animal feeding tests. 

Here is the information that is required on a cat food label

  • Overview: The brand name is usually included along with the list of names of the main ingredient(s), such as rice and chicken.
  • Distributor Name and Address: This gives you information about the manufacturer of the food, so that you can get in touch with them if you have any issues about the product.

  • Net Weight: This tells you how much food is contained in the package.

  • Ingredient List: The ingredients are listed in decreasing order, depending on the weight of the contents.

  • Product Traceability: Using the information on cat food label, you can identify when the food was prepared and even the precise factory that made the package. 

  • Statement of Nutritional Adequacy: A ‘complete and balanced’ cat food should either meet or exceed the defined standards of nutrient profile. It explains which exact cat age and lifestyle the food is meant for. 

  • Assurance of Analysis: This indicates the product’s nutritional content. It must contain the highest amounts of crude fiber and moisture and the minimum amounts of crude protein and crude fat. Although optional, percentages for other nutrients are frequently included. However, the key elements mentioned in the assured analysis of the cat food nutrition label must meet AAFCO’s nutrient profile guidelines.

  • Calorie Declaration: Calories are stated on a kilocalorie per kilogram basis and other commonly used units of measurement such as kilocalories per cup. You can compare several cat food products using this information.

  • Direction for Feeding: You can use these recommendations to figure out how much food to give your cat each day. Additionally, you might need to change the amount of food your pet consumes to assist them in maintaining an ideal body condition.


AAFCO Statement Of Nutritional Adequacy

AAFCO nutritional adequacy statements are required on all pet foods. Products may either be formulated or tested according to AAFCO procedures and recommendations.

  • A 'formulated' statement means the product has been manufactured according to AAFCO nutritional guidelines, but not actually fed to cats prior to sale.
  • A 'tested' statement indicates the product has been formulated, then fed to cats prior to sale to ensure it meets important criteria related to growth, maintenance, and/or reproduction. 

    Veterinary-exclusive products include statements such as, 'This product is intended for intermittent feeding only' and 'Use only as directed by your veterinarian.'



Manufacturing And 'Best Used By' Codes

Manufacturing codes allow the company to track products for quality and inventory issues. In order to quickly and efficiently handle a customer inquiry, the company's customer service department will usually ask the customer for this code.

Expiration or 'Best Used By' dates are optional but are helpful in determining product freshness and shelf life.


How To Read A Cat Food Nutrition Label

Here are a few tips to help you read a cat food nutrition label. 

  • Check the name of the product: This tells you the type of cat food. Typically, a key component or flavour is highlighted in the product name.
  • Know the intent or purpose: The food must state that it is for cats on the container. Cats have highly specific nutritional requirements that necessitate a certain type of diet.

  • Choose the right product for your cat: The information on the back of the cat food container is extremely important. You can determine whether the food will offer a complete and balanced diet for your cat’s life stage by reading the nutritional adequacy statement. The term 'life stage' describes a cat's particular stage of growth. The information can also state that the food is suitable for cats at all life stages, for breeding cats (growth and reproduction), and, possibly, for indoor or outdoor cats.


Company Information And Satisfaction Guarantee

The manufacturer's information should include the company name, address, and phone number so customers can quickly and easily obtain product information.

A toll-free telephone number should be provided as a convenience to the customer and to ensure that a charge is not incurred when calling for information.

The satisfaction guarantee should be an 'active' statement. This means that in addition to stating that the product is guaranteed, the company should indicate what action will be taken to meet customer expectations (replace product, money returned, etc.).


  1. What Percentage Of Cat Food Should Be Protein?
  2. According to AAFCO guidelines, cat food should have a minimum of 26% protein content on a dry matter basis. This portion is typically regarded as complete and nutritionally balanced.

  3. What's The Difference Between +1 And +7 Cat Food?
  4. The difference between +1 and +7 cat food is the high fiber content in +7 cat diets. Despite having the same proportions of protein, fat, and minerals as adult cat diets (+1), senior cat foods (+7) have fewer calories than food for cats aged 1+ years.

  5. What Is Not Required On A Cat Feed Tag?
  6. Details about the quality of food ingredients are not required on a cat feed tag. 

  7. Is Pet Food Regulated By The FDA?
  8. Yes. The production of cat and dog food as well as other dog treats or snacks are all regulated by the FDA. 

  • Understanding Kitten Food Product Codes
    Understanding Kitten Food Product Codes-mob
    Understanding Kitten Food Product Codes

    Understanding and learning how to decipher kitten food product codes will help you choose the right kitten food. While selecting the right ingredients is important, making sure those ingredients are fresh is just as vital to your young cat. Learn how to read the product codes of kitten food packages and cans with our handy guide.


    What Is a Product Code?

    A product code is a series of numbers and letters printed on the outer package of each product a manufacturer produces. This code provides information about when and where the kitten food was made.

    As part of the product code, IAMS™ products include a “Best Used By” date, or the date at which the product is no longer considered fresh and should no longer be sold. This date is expressed in “ddmmyy” and “ddmmmyy” formats.

    The second line of the product code represents company internal information for use in traceability and inventory control.

    Line 1: (ddmmyy) (ddmmmyy)

    Example: 040220 04FEB20

    Line 2: 60351111## QQQQQQQ

    This product should be used before February 4, 2020.

    Depending on the production line, pouch products* may have code date information in a single or double line. By recognizing and understanding these codes, customers can make sure they are receiving a fresh product.


    What Is Shelf Life?

    Shelf life is the duration, measured in months, during which a properly stored kitten food product maintains its freshness. This means if a product has a 16-month shelf life, it is fresh for up to 16 months from the date of manufacture.

    The shelf life for IAMS dry kitten foods is 16 months. All canned formulas have a shelf life of 24 months.


    How to Properly Store Dry and Wet Kitten Food

    Unopened dry kitten food products are best stored off the floor in a cool, dry place. Open bags of kitten food should be stored in a clean, dry container with a tight seal. Dry kitten food products may also be frozen without loss of nutrients.

    Opened wet kitten food products are best kept refrigerated in tightly sealed containers for no more than three days after the container has been opened. Wet products should not be frozen in unopened cans. However, wet kitten foods can be frozen if removed from the container, packed in freezer containers and frozen immediately.

    *IAMS has no kitten pouch products at this time.

    Understanding Kitten Food Product Codes