How to Read & Understand Pet Food Labels
Pet food labels are confusing. They are hard to understand,
include all kinds of unfamiliar terms, and can often be misleading to make it
seem like a food is “all-natural” or “holistic” when, in fact, it is highly
processed, contains low quality ingredients, and is deficient in many essential
nutrients. So how do you know what you are really feeding your dog?
The first thing is to know how to read the ingredient list
and “decode” any tricky marketing tactics.
• The first
ingredient may not be the main ingredient.
Ingredients are listed in order of weight, which is determined before
processing. Meat is about 75% water, so
when the moisture is removed, the meat would be much further down on the
list. That’s why claims of “meat as the
#1 ingredient” are deceptive.
• Meat meals
can be a high-quality ingredient because the water has already been removed.
However, be sure that it is a named animal meal, like chicken meal or lamb
meal. When the source of meat protein is
not specified – like poultry meal, fish meal, or meat meal - it likely comes
from rendered meats, which can be sourced from dead, diseased, dying, or
destroyed animals (4-D meat).
• Look for
high quality oils like olive oil or salmon oil rather than vegetable oils like
canola or soybean oil.
• Avoid soy,
corn, and wheat.
is not necessarily any healthier or better than those with grains. It’s often just a marketing term and the
grain is replaced with potatoes, chickpeas, lentils, peas etc.
dog food ingredients should NEVER be in pet food. These include: BHA/BHT,
artificial colors & flavors, animal digest, carrageenan, cellulose and
splitting is the deceptive practice of dividing a more abundant, yet inferior
quality, ingredient into different categories.
For example, a label might list peas, pea flour, pea fiber and pea
protein. If all of these pea ingredients
were combined, it might be the #1 ingredient instead of meat.
guaranteed analysis panel shows the percentages of protein, fat, moisture and
fiber. Realize that the protein
percentage is made up of all sources of protein. Many pet foods include cheap, inferior
ingredients, such as pea protein, to boost the protein percentage. However, most
dogs and cats do best when the majority of their protein is from animal
carbohydrate percentage is not listed on the label – so you have to figure it
out yourself by subtracting the protein, fat, moisture and ash (usually 8%)
from 100%. Most dry dog foods are made
up of 40–60% carbohydrates, even though dogs are carnivores and have very
little need for carbohydrates.
• Found at
the bottom of the ingredient list is a long list of vitamins and minerals.
These nutrients have usually been “cooked out” of dry pet food, so they need to
be added back in synthetically. Minerals
added back in should be chelated so they can be absorbed by your pet’s body.
• The label
does not tell you the quality of the ingredients. For example, “chicken” could be the same as
chicken in human food, or it could be condemned chicken that is inedible for