Zach Day

Pet Food 101: Becoming a Label Reader

by Zach Day, Owner of Pawsh Pup

What to look for in a pet food is not difficult.  Turning your pet food bag over and looking at the label may be the hardest step.  Let’s go over general basics for finding and choosing a quality food because what you feed your dog truly does matter.

All pet foods must contain a protein, carbohydrate, and a fat source.  Knowing an ingredient’s source is vital to understanding its quality. Fresh whole ingredients are more nutritionally dense and always a better option.

Fresh meat protein sources will be labeled chicken, lamb, beef, buffalo, and venison, as well as chicken meal, lamb meal, and salmon meal.  A meal is simply dehydrated meat.  There are more but these are just a few.  Avoid fishmeal, poultry, meat, or any other unidentified meat sources.  The author of The Truth About Pet Foods, R.L. Wysong, D.V.M. recommends avoiding fishmeal “because the entire fish is not used for most of the pet foods, it does not contain many of the fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids necessary for good nutrition” (Martin, 2008 p.11).

Poultry by-products or any meat by-products should also be avoided.  Poultry by-product is defined by AAFCO as the “ground, rendered, clean parts of slaughtered poultry, including necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amount that may occur unavoidably in good processing habits” (Martin, 2008 p.10).  The digestible nutritional value is hard to quantify. 

Remember that dogs and cats are carnivores and a meat-based protein should make up a significant amount of your pet’s diet.  Proteins from grains such as corn and wheat are not the same.  Dogs and cats both have acidic digestive tracts made specifically to aid in the digestion of meat.  Their acidic digestive tract makes digesting carbohydrates more difficult. 

Look for whole carbohydrates low on the glycemic index.  Brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and flaxseed are a few examples of whole carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index.  Glycemic index is determined by measuring the spike in blood-glucose levels after consuming a food (Glycemic index, para. 3). Avoid corn gluten meal, ground corn, middlings, and other splitting grain fractions, since they contain less nutritional value and spike blood sugar levels

Grain free doesn’t necessarily mean the pet food is low in carbohydrates.  There are grain free pet foods with a higher percentage of carbohydrates than pet foods containing grains.  Natura’s pet food brand Evo contains 12 percent carbohydrates which is the lowest carbohydrate content on the dry pet food market today.

When looking at fats you also want to look for defined fats such as chicken fat and avoid undefined fats such as animal fat.  Pay attention to what a fat is preserved with.  Look for preservatives including topcopherols (vitamin E, citric acid or other natural preservatives).  Avoid BHA and BHT.  These are synthetic preservatives used to add shelf life to the product.  There are inconclusive reports on whether BHA and BHT promote or prevent cancer (Klausner, 2003).  If you are feeding your pet the same food every day, why take a chance when natural alternatives can be easily substituted?

When you look to upgrade your pet’s food, you will not find top rated foods including Evo, Innova, Orijen, Acana, Canidae, Nature’s Variety, and Natural Balance in a grocery store.  These brands are only sold to smaller independent pet stores.   Most top rated foods rely on smaller independent stores to educate pet owners on their foods.  Spending less money on marketing allows more money to go into ingredients and research. 

While buying your pet’s next bag of food, look at the ingredients label and keep in mind these simple tips. Always look for a fresh quality named meat source. If you choose a food with grains make sure the grains are whole and low on the glycemic index. Look for defined fats, such as chicken fat, preserved with natural preservatives. What you feed your pet everyday does make a difference.

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2010, from k nk Klausner, A. (2003) Food additives you might want to subtract from your diet. Environmental Nutrition.Academic OneFile database. Martin, A. (2008). Food pets die for: shocking facts about pet food. Troutdale, AZ. Newsage Press.

Pawsh Pup

Pawsh Pup sells and delivers healthy and natural pet food brands such as Blue, California Natural, Canidae, Eagle, Evo, Nature's Variety, Innova, and Orijen. Look for these brands and others to keep your pet healthy.