You may have noticed a curious thing called “ash” listed among the ingredients in your cat’s food. Perhaps you’ve heard that ash in cat food was not good for your kitty’s health and want to check it out.
Ash, which is also called “crude ash,” indicates a measurement. This measurement corresponds directly with the number of minerals that are present in the cat food
A percentage of ash is present in almost all pet foods. It makes sense to find out more about it and what effect it may have on your cat.
Thankfully, there is no need for concern. Here is the explanation of ash, and how it might actually be beneficial to your pet’s health.
What Ash Is and Isn’t
Well, this isn’t the kind of ash that Cinderella swept up out of her fireplace. And some folks believe it’s an extra additive that manufacturers use to bulk up their pet food. But it’s not that either.
It’s not an additive, but it’s actually part of the food. Ash is the inorganic mineral content made of calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and other essential minerals. The mineral content is in the bone, tendons, and cartilage that become part of the meat protein mix.
The amount of inorganic material corresponds with the amount of bone and cartilage present in the meat meal. In other words, cuts of meat with higher amounts of bone and cartilage yield a higher ash content in commercial pet food.
Why Is It Called Ash?
In a laboratory setting, pet food scientists submit samples of cat food to extremely high heat. All of the protein, fat, and carbohydrates burn off completely. This test procedure shows them the amounts of moisture, crude protein, crude fat, ash, and fiber in the food. [Source]
The term ash refers to the non-combustible material that is left behind. This residue constitutes mineral content that cannot burn. It is also called inorganic matter and is used to measure the minerals in the test sample of cat food.
The laboratory burn test is only to determine the total nutritional and ash content. The percentage of ash present is among the ingredients listed on the cat food. There is no burned ash added to the cat food. Ash is simply what the mineral content is named.
In general, high ash content (around 10% or higher) is associated with a lower quality of pet food. This association is not because ash is dangerous to your cat’s health, but because higher ash content indicates lower a lower presence of meat protein. Simply put, a lower ash percentage implies a better quality of meat protein.
But don’t disregard ash completely.
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Your Pet Needs Ash
A small amount of ash is beneficial to your cat’s health. Minerals are a necessary part of a balanced diet. They ensure the proper development and function of your cat’s body.
There are 12 minerals known to be essential nutrients to felines. Calcium and phosphorous are necessary for strong teeth and bones. Magnesium, potassium, and sodium are needed for proper nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction. [Source]
In the wild, when cats catch their prey, they eat the whole rodent with bones included. In this way, feral cats get minerals that are crucial to their diet.
With commercial pet food, around 2% ash will meet your cat’s daily mineral needs. Anything more than that is not really necessary.
Does Ash Cause Urinary Tract Problems In Cats?
Ash in pet food got a bad rap back in the 1970s and 1980s. It was blamed for causing Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). UTI’s (Urinary Tract Infections) are treatable with antibiotics. But urinary tract blockages and bladder stones often need a surgical fix. 1970s veterinarians believed that the ash in cat food contributed to the formation of tiny struvite crystals in urine.
Struvite is a mineral combination of ammonium, phosphate, and magnesium. It’s normal to have low levels of struvite in urine. In some cats, however, struvites come together and create small stones that irritate the lining of the bladder and the urethra. These stones can become large enough to block the urinary tract completely. [Source]
Male cats are particularly more susceptible to urinary tract problems due to having a narrower urethra. A narrower urethra can get obstructed more easily. Obstructions can be dangerous and even deadly to cats if not treated.
Magnesium And FLUTD
Later studies showed that the only mineral in ash that might contribute to crystal formation was magnesium. Magnesium is an essential nutrient needed for dental health, bone growth, heart health, and energy production. However, an excess of dietary magnesium is linked to the formation of urinary crystals.
So, if your cat is susceptible to stone formation, feeding it a low magnesium cat food is advisable. There are low ash and low magnesium cat food formulas available. But pet scientists have also discovered something additional you can do to prevent crystal formation.
Low pH Diets
Veterinarians found that acidic urine thwarts the formation of struvite crystals, even in the presence of higher magnesium levels. Acidic urine is created by consuming foods with lower pH. Low pH foods are low in grains and high in meat protein.
A low pH environment in the bladder prevents stones from forming.
Conversely, even with low magnesium levels, crystals can form when a cat’s urine is not acidic enough, meaning that its pH level is high.
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High urinary pH is the result of diets high in grains and cereals and low in meat protein. Dry cat food tends to be higher in grains and cereal than wet cat food. Be sure to read the ingredients of your cat’s food carefully. Feeding your cat high meat protein and grain-free food is the best way to help Kitty naturally maintain a low urinary pH.