Learning how to read the labels
Chances are, you read the labels when shopping for yourself. We can help you understand the ingredients list when you’re purchasing food for your pet.
Commercially prepared pet foods vary widely in quality, and a well-known brand name is no guarantee that what you’re feeding your pet provides optimum nutrition. If you want to feed your pet a commercially prepared canned or dry food, here are some things you should know:
#1. Check the label to make sure the food conforms to AAFCO standards.
AAFCO is the organization that sets baseline nutrient standards for pet foods.
#2. An animal protein should top the ingredient list.
Ingredients are listed on the label in the order of the total weight they contribute to the product. Look at the relative position of the protein sources in the list. Although having protein as the first ingredient isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, proteins should be close to the top of the list. Corn should not be any higher than fourth or fifth on the list.
#3. Consider the total amount of protein in the food and your pet’s protein needs.
The label lists protein as a percentage. Different pets need different amounts of protein. Young, healthy pets usually need more protein than older, sedentary pets. For sick animals, protein requirements vary. We can help you determine what protein level is appropriate for your pet’s individual needs.
#4. Check the type of protein.
The best quality (and most expensive) foods do not contain meat by-products or poultry by-products. Although many by-products are highly nutritious, manufacturers may not handle them as quickly or carefully as they handle more expensive ingredients. As a result, their nutritional content or palatability may be reduced.
Meat meals are not considered by-products, nor do they contain meat by-products. Meat meals have similar nutritional value to whole meats. Meals are more nutrient-dense than whole meats.
#5. Be wary of unidentified sources of animal products.
The label should specify the species of the protein source, such as beef, chicken, fish, etc.), rather than “meat meal” or “animal fat.” Veterinarians are seeing an increasing number of pets with food allergies, and frequently the protein source is the culprit. Ask us for diet recommendations if your pet has suspected food allergies.
#6. Look for whole grains, potatoes and vegetables on the label
Whole grains are better than processed grains, although manufacturers sometimes need to add some processed foods to the recipe in order to provide a small quantity of a particular nutrient that is necessary for your pet’s health. In general, organic ingredients—grown or raised without man-made chemicals—are considered higher quality. Ask your veterinarian for more detailed information about organic ingredients.
#7. Avoid artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
Preservatives such as BHA or BHT are unacceptable. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your pet.
Association of American Feed Control Officials
Dog Food Advisor