Understanding what the label means on a bag of pet food is like reading a foreign language with no one to translate. Trying to decipher what’s important becomes a crash course in pet nutrition, pet food company jargon and ingredients we can’t spell let alone pronounce. Of course I want to feed my pets food that will supply their daily nutritional needs, but why does that darn pet food label have to be so hard to understand?
Pet food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under a branch called the Center for Veterinary Medicine, but it’s the American Association of Feed Control Officials that actually determine what is on the pet food labels.
Instead of making it easier to read and understand what a dry pet food label is saying, it seems like the pet food industry has gone out of their way to make it almost impossible for mere humans to understand what we are feeding our pets. Most pet owners understand we need to pick a bag of pet food based on the one that provides our pet with the best diet for optimum health. But with so many dry pet foods to choose from, how can we tell which one to buy?
The easiest way to determine if a bag of pet food will provide your pet’s nutritional needs is to read the first three ingredients listed on the pet food label. Seventy-five percent of the top three ingredients make up that bag of dry pet food and they should be ingredients you know and can pronounce. However, if one of them is corn, it’s best to stay away from that brand if you can. Dogs and cats are carnivores, not chickens. Both have digestive tracts that are short and made to process raw meat quickly and efficiently.
Corn is one of the culprits in dry pet food that causes many a pet to scratch and whine because they have an allergy to the corn in their food. It doesn’t matter what form the corn is in. Corn meal is still corn and it’s not only hard for the pet to digest, it can cause bloating, ear infections, kidney or liver inflammation, head shaking and frenzied scratching and biting. That’s why it’s important to read the dry pet food label. You want to purchase a pet food that has meat as one of the first three ingredients on the label.
Animal and poultry fat will be further on down the list. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Animal and poultry fat comes from animal and vegetable fat and it’s not something we would eat, nor is it something our pets should eat. It’s rendered down and mixed into dry pet food.
Soy is used as a filler. It comes from soybean hulls that have no nutritional value what so ever and is another product that’s hard for pets to digest and, like corn, causes allergic reactions in some pets.
By products – what the heck are by products? This is where that bag of pet food gets all it’s yummy flavor a company proudly displays on the outside of the bag and the wording on a pet food label is written to make us think it’s a good buy. Anything that’s not fit for human consumption is acceptable to go into our pet’s food supply. Hooves, feet, bones, hair and dead animals that are listed as 4D livestock and means, dying, dead, disabled or diseased. Brains, spines, or any part of the animal a pet food company wants to use along with additives and chemicals that may or may not be toxic can end up in our pets’ food supply. Chicken by products, like meat by products, can contain all parts of the chicken.
Then we get into the really interesting stuff. If you find any of these listed on a bag of pet food or treats, you would be doing your pet a favor by leaving it on the shelf. Avoid food and treats with unnamed by products, animal fat, fillers like cornmeal, rice gluten, wheat or bran in any form or soybean meal. Also on the list of ingredients to avoid are unnamed bone meal, corn syrup, cellulose and unnamed meat or peanut hulls. Preservatives to avoid are, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol, BHA or BHT.
Pricer pet food isn’t necessary better. You still need to read the label to determine what the first three ingredients are. If you see meat, vegetables and even fruit that are human grade quality and whole foods, you’re on the right track. All pet food companies claim their food is the best one for your pet, but the proof is in those first three ingredients. It may cost a little more for dry pet food that contains ingredients that are actually healthy for our pets, but it’s worth it to pay more for quality pet food and saves on vet visits for allergy related problems or life threatening conditions brought on by the wrong bag of pet food.
A quality pet food is actually cheaper in the long run to feed because they don’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied. A healthy pet who is fed a healthy diet will have only one or two bowel movements a day. The choice we make in their food does make a difference and understanding how to read a pet food label can help keep your pet healthy. If your pet has an itchy, thin coat that smells and feels greasy or if they have stinky ears with recurring ear infections, you should consider changing your pet’s food to a higher quality pet food. Runny eyes, gas, diarrhea, constipation, bad breath and a lack of energy are also signs of a poor diet.
On average, a healthy pet food costs under $1.00 a day to feed a pet. The next time you buy a bag of your regular pet food, take a look at the label and then take a good look at your pet. Is he getting everything he needs for a well balanced and healthy diet? In the long run, you will save money by understanding how to read a pet food label so you can purchase a quality food that keeps your pet happy and healthy.
Read Any Good Pet Food Labels Lately?, bluebuffalo.com
How to Read Pet Food Labels, PetPlace.com
Misleading Words on Pet Food Labels, The Healthy Living Site