Ingredients to Avoid in Cat Food

Last Updated on March 15, 2020

When buying cat food you may be overwhelmed by all the choices you have. Most people opt for the cheapest or the well-known “healthy” brands. Much like human food, looking at the ingredients list should be the determining factor when choosing your cat’s food. You will come to find that there is a lot of unhealthy ingredients on the labels of many top brands.

Brands to Avoid

These brands are known to have food options filled with by-products, corn, soy, and synthetic vitamins. You will want to do your research on each one. Some do offer healthier options but not many of them are ideal. You will want to check where their meats are sourced and if they use food-based or synthetic vitamins.

  • Purina
  • Hills
  • 9 Lives
  • Meow Mix
  • Ami Cat Vegan
  • Iams

Read the Labels

When shopping for food for your cat, always read the nutrition labels. You will want to avoid certain ingredients that can do harm to your cat. Most people are not aware that almost 50% of the feline population is allergic to corn. This will lead to diabetes, obesity, pancreas illnesses, kidney and liver malfunctions, tumor growth, and yes – even cancer.

The first 5 ingredients in your cat’s food are the most important. You should never see any questionable ingredients here and if you do, switch brands.

Questionable Ingredients

Here are ingredients to look out for when shopping:

Wheat flour – A pointless filler that is the leading cause of allergies in dogs. Offers no nutritional value.

Corn – Avoid all corn substances (oil, starch, meal, etc). Most corn is GMO and very bad for cats, as well as other animals (including us!).

Food Fragments – A fancy word for leftover crap that can be just about anything (literally).

Soy – Cats are not designed to eat metabolism soy. Avoid any and all soy products.

Meat Meal – When you see this on a label, think of a zombie’s meal, plus bones. Avoid it!

Meat By-Products – By-products of any kind is a term used for ears, eyes, tongues, feet, bones, brains, etc. How gross.

Brewer’s Rice + Rice – Most rice (unless non-GMO) contains arsenic. Bad for us. Bad for cats.

Beef Tallow – It is used as a flavor enhancer. Very, very low-quality stuff.

Animal Digest – Another flavor enhancer that is made from 4-D animals (dead, diseased, disabled, or dying).

Animal Fat – The fat could have come from anywhere and can cause pancreatitis.

Animal Plasma – Yup, its blood. It’s not the good kind either.

Yeast – Most forms of yeast is toxic to cats and dogs. They can’t properly digest it.

Propylene Glycol – This is used in antifreeze solutions. I don’t even have to say why this is bad.

TBHQ (Tert-butylhydroquinone) – A very toxic preservative much like BHA, BHT, propyl gallate, ethoxyquin and so one – which should ALL be avoided.

Hydrochloric Acid – Also used in chlorides, fertilizers, and dyes, this nasty stuff is what the name implies; Acid.

Meneadione Sodium Bisulfite – A fancy word for fake vitamin K. It should NEVER be consumed long-term. Effects the cells by mutating them. Not good people.

A-Tocopherol Acetate – Known to cause tumor formation in high doses.

Beet Pulp – Crappy sugar filler; It feeds arthritis and causes weight gain. Any kind of “beet” should be avoided.

Benzoic Acid – Used to prevent mold, bacteria, and yeast, this chemical is used to manufacture plastic. Not good to the digestive tract of a feline.

Bone Phosphate – May contain lead and other heavy metals.

Broth – Contains hidden MSG sources known as excitotoxins. (Also avoid Carrageenan)

Canola Oil – Not good for humans. Not good for cats. Very synthetic oil that contains soy.

Calcium Carbonate – Used commonly as an antacid, daily consumption can be hazardous. Also used in pencils, matches, crayons, and linoleum. Yummy.

Calcium (anything) – should be avoided as a safety measure.

Caramel Color – Yeah that crap they put in dark soda that takes paint off cars… That stuff. AVOID IT!

Celery – Celery can cause fluid retention, leading to respiratory problems.

Chloride Dioxide – It is a pesticide chemical and used in deodorizers.

Citric Acid – Causes damage to the teeth and gums.

Cobalt Carbonate – Known carcinogen, mutagen, and CMR.

Copper (Anything) – Synthetic mineral in pet foods.

Dried Cellulose – Can contain peanut shells and/or cardboard.

Dried Whey – Cheap protein source from cow’s milk.

Egg Product – Egg waste (garbage) from egg companies.

Hops – A cat or dog should NEVER consume this. It damages the liver more severely in them than humans.

Natural Chicken Flavor – Nasty MSG agent.

Onion Extract or Onion Powder – Onions can be very toxic to cats and dogs alike.

Petrolatum – Yeah, I wouldn’t feed your cat Vaseline if I were you.

Liver (anything) – This can be just about any kind of meat source.

Malt Syrup – High amounts of glucose, maltose, and corn syrup.

Salmon, Salmon oils, Herring – May contain high amounts of mercury.

Vegetable Oil – If the source vegetable is unknown, avoid it.

Xanthan Gum – Used from corn, wheat, dairy and/or soy.

Most Harmful Ingredients

Corn, wheat, and soy: These ingredients should be avoided in all cats, especially those who have food allergies or sensitivities. It doesn’t matter where they are sourced or if they are non-GMO and organic, they aren’t healthy for cats, period.

Good Brands

Here are some cat food brands known to have very minimal to no junk in them. Be sure to pay close attention to the first 5 ingredients on there as well because formulas differ in each brand.

  • EVO
  • Innova
  • Wellness
  • Sheba
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Halo
  • Earthborn
  • b.f.f.

Dry Food Warning
Most taurine found in dry food is destroyed through processing. This mineral is needed to prevent central retinal degeneration. Never feed your cat a dry-only diet.

It is also important to remember that cats get a good portion of their liquids from their food source. Feeding a cat only dry is just asking for trouble. You can do a 50/50 diet of canned and dry food. This will save you money and be healthy for your cat.

More on Your Cat’s Diet

If you’d like to learn more about a healthy diet for your cat, you can read the following articles:

Should I Feed My Cat Red Meat?

Best Meats for Your Cat

By-Products in Cat Food

Can Cats Be Vegan or Vegetarian?

Healthy Cat Food on a Budget

More articles

6 thoughts on “Ingredients to Avoid in Cat Food”

  1. Ugh SHEBA?! You have got to be kidding. Look at the ingredients for their meaty tender sticks. Check out the seventh ingredient for SHEBA MEATY TENDER STICKS: Chicken, Pork, Pork Liver, Turkey, Pork Skin, Brewers Dried Yeast, LOOK –> Sugar, Animal Plasma , Salt, Yeast Extract, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Lactic Acid, Potassium Sorbate (A Preservative), Glycine, Calcium Lactate, Taurine, Rosemary Extract, Sodium Ascorbate (A Preservative), Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement.
    Sugar is horrible for cats teeth, never mind their overall health, yeast extract is just another type of MSG which causes uncontrollable cravings.

    • Thanks for your comment ern. As mentioned in the article, this is for the first 5 ingredients. The bulk of what your cat is eating is in the first 5. Ingredients are listed from most to least. The sugar contained in those treats is likely due to the treats containing yeast as filler which is fine in treats since they are not eating a lot of it. Monosodium glutamate is a synthetic flavor enhancer whereas yeast extract is a natural one meant to help retain flavor and add nutrition to canned and prepackaged meals. They have the same function but are not the same thing.

  2. Only going to address one of the many errors here: meat byproducts. Meat by products contains mostly organ meat and small prices of flesh(muscle). Organ meat is one of the most important parts of cat’s diet. Being obligate carnivores, they must get (almost) all of their nutrients from meat sources. Flesh (muscle). Is very high in protein, iron, and a few other nutrients but most of the vitamins and minerals that we get from plants, cats get from the organ meat. If cats don’t eat organ meat and even bones (they will almost always eat the bones of smaller prey), they will suffer from vitamin deficiencies and eventually, malnutrition.

    What’s the takeaway? Just because you look at an ingredient list and don’t fully understand every item, or even if it just sounds gross from a human perspective, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. That being said most of the brands listed at the beginning of the article are pretty much junk.

    No disrespect is intended to the author of this article; I just want to communicate that nutrition is not as simple as it’s being presented here. Understanding pet nutrition property involves studying the biology, anscestry, and behaviour of a particular species. Simply reading an ingredient list and dismissing certain items as bad simply because they sound gross or scary is not an effective way to determine whether or not that food meets the nutritional needs of a particular species.

    • Thanks for you comment Doug. I ran in to the same issue with one of mine. The only wet food he would eat every time I gave it to him was the Wellness pouches. They aren’t traditional wet food but they are grain free and the cheapest place I found them was on Chewy. Have you tried those? I also gave him the b.f.f. brand of canned food for a little while but he started to not eat it. He is very picky.


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