Pet food manufacturers are trying to improve the quality of their products, but the fact remains that the vast majority of what is available on market shelves is of poor quality. Even the better products sold in specialty pet stores contain fillers, such as wheat gluten and cornmeal that cats cannot tolerate, and chemicals you would neither feed yourself nor your cats. Pet owners continue to be disappointed by the contents listed on the packages, and there remains little governmental oversight aimed at preventing dangerous products and unhealthy fillers from being used as pet food ingredients.
It is an unfortunate fact that fillers in pet foods are often corn- and wheat-based. Cats do not digest those carbohydrates very well at all. It may seem like your tabby is doing fine right now on a bag of corn-laced kibble, but he or she may not do well on it long-term. Because of the difficulty in digesting those carbohydrates, your cat may become overweight by eating them on a regular basis over the course of his or her lifetime. In fact, many veterinarians believe chronic health problems, such as feline diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome, can be tied to eating commercial foods with corn and/or wheat in them over the lifetime of a cat.
Fillers are not the only worry when it comes to what is in your pet’s food. There are no requirements that pet food products have pre-market approval by the FDA or any other regulating agency. There are only standards concerning how ingredients are listed and the nutrient density of the products companies should follow that are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinarian Medicine (FDA/CVM), and the Pet Food Institute (PFI).
In general, the AAFCO requires all foods labeled “complete and balanced” to meet what they consider to be the nutritional needs of a cat as listed in their annual report on dog and cat food nutrient profiles. However, that organization does not mandate that all cat food be complete and balanced. They do not pass judgment on whether or not an ingredient is good for your cat, although they do provide definitions of terms used to label ingredients. To do that, the AAFCO puts out a publication every year called the Official Publication that addresses how labels of pet food products can be worded. It just does not specify the kind of ingredients that can be placed inside the containers. For example, when a pet food label says “animal protein” is in the product, it can mean anything from the healthy meat of a cow to a cancerous tumor or other diseased tissues from any animal, road kill, leftover meat from slaughterhouses, and even “rendered animals” (stray dogs and cats that were sheltered and euthanized). In fact, in 1990, the San Francisco Chronicle detailed how millions of dead dogs and cats wound up in pet food. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed the findings even though pet food manufacturers tried to deny it.