Why do they add grain to cat food?

Field of grains, later to be put in cat food
Photo by jayneandd, CC 2.0

If you take a look at labels of commercial cat foods, you will notice the vast majority of them contain grain ingredients. Even more, plenty of them will have grain listed as the primary ingredient.

On the other hand, if you take a look at a natural diet of a cat, you will find no grain in there. At all. As well as no vegetables, no fruits, hay or any other plant material. But why do they add so much grain to cat food? And should you avoid grain in the cat food?

There are two main reasons why grain is added to cat food in so high quantities:

1. Grain is cheaper than meat. So, in order to make more cat food for the same price of money, manufacturers have to add grain. The part is, cat does not require any grain. At all. So, generally speaking, the amount of grains just serves as a bulk. If you see a jumbo pack of dry food, and twice as small for the same price right next to each other, you, unless educated in feline nutrition (you are becoming better educated one, right now) you are most likely to choose the larger one. It’s called marketing.

2. Grain serves as a binder between other ingredients in case of dry food. If you dry out meat, it will be hard to formulate the recipe so the kibbles won’t fall apart. Grain, containing binding agents, like gluten, are well suitable for this task. So, in order to make dry food, your cat’s paying the price of necessity to eat grain – an ingredient which is not necessary to him. And this is all because people like it easy. Dry food is easy, it’s easy to transport, easy to store, easy to feed. It’s easy. Unfortunately, that’s the only benefit of the dry food. Everything else is a drawback when compared to wet food.

So, even though cats do not eat grain in the natural conditions, they are forced to do so in an era of commercial cat food. Kymythy Schultze, in her book “Natural Nutrition for cats” (which we have include in our list of must read books for cat owners) points out that it’s ironic since cats became appealing to early humans do to their ability to hunt mice, but leave the grain storage untouched; thus safe.