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Dietary Requirements in Cats

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Most of us were taught the importance of a balanced and nutritionally complete diet. But when it comes to knowing what nutrients our pets need to grow properly and stay healthy, we often come up short.

Many years ago, little thought or research was put into the manufacture of pet food or the proper way to feed our pets. Eventually, in response to consumer demand that pets be fed a proper diet, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) was formed. Their primary function was to publish feed regulations and ingredient definitions. After much research, committee investigations and feeding trials, nutrient profiles for pets were developed, and guidelines established.

This is still a work in progress. Despite significant advances, the importance and proper levels of some nutrients are still under investigation. The recommendations of AAFCO, for instance, may change when additional information about nutritional health in cats becomes available. For now, the minimum levels of nutrients that should be included in pet foods are listed. In a few cases, excess amounts of certain nutrients can be damaging so maximum levels are also listed in AAFCO guidelines.

When buying pet food, choose only those products that carry the statement "Formulated to meet the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profile for..." because they follow these guidelines. It is not a requirement to meet AAFCO standards in order to sell pet food, so buyers beware. Check the labels and compare products.

The nutrient list is divided into two separate profiles. One profile is for growing, pregnant or lactating cats and one is for adult maintenance. The nutrients are listed on a dry matter basis. What this means is that if you are comparing products, the moisture content of the food must be taken into consideration. If the food has 75 percent moisture, then the remaining nutrients make up 25 percent of the food.

Take each nutrient amount and divide by 0.25 to obtain an accurate dry matter amount to compare to the nutrient guidelines or even to compare one food to another. If the moisture content is 10 percent, then 90 percent make up the rest of the nutrients. Divide each nutrient value by 0.9 in order to get an accurate value.

Current AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles

For Adult Maintenance

Unless otherwise listed, all values are minimum requirements:

Protein... 26%
Fat ...... 9%
Calcium.... 0.6%
Phosphorus... 0.5%
Potassium... 0.6%
Sodium..... 0.2%
Chloride.... 0.3%
Magnesium... 0.04%
Iron... 80 mg/kg
Copper... 5 mg/kg
Manganese.... 7.5 mg/kg
Zinc....... 75 mg/kg (maximum 2000 mg/kg)
Iodine..... 0.35 mg/kg
Selenium.... 0.1 mg/kg
Vitamin A... 5000 IU/kg (maximum 750,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin D... 500 IU/kg (maximum 10,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin E... 30 IU/kg
Thiamine... 5 mg/kg
Riboflavin... 4 mg/kg
Pantothenic Acid... 5 mg/kg
Niacin... 60 mg/kg
Pyridoxine... 4 mg/kg
Folic Acid....0.8 mg/kg
Vitamin B12...0.022 mg/kg
Choline..... 2400 mg/kg
Taurine... 0.1%

(For cats diets with over 25 percent of the diet made from fish products, Vitamin K 0.1 percent is necessary)

For Growing Kittens, Pregnant and Lactating Queens

The majority of nutrient minimums are the same except for the items listed. The maximum for those listed does not change.

Protein...30%
Calcium 1%
Phosphorus 0.8%
Magnesium... 0.08%
Copper... 5-15 mg/kg
Vitamin A... 9000 IU/kg
Vitamin D... 750 IU/kg

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