How To Read a Pet Food Ingredient Label

Food is very important – critically important. It supplies the building blocks for a healthy body. Keeping your companion nourished and healthy can mean avoiding many of the sicknesses a lot of our pets currently experience (and the vet bills that accompany them… which could be hundreds or even thousands a year).

Lets say you want to be sure the food you buy for your pet is quality, healthy food.

How do you know?

Aside from having the capability to fully analyze the food yourself, your biggest clue is in the label… and the knowledge of how to decode it.

One large difference between food manufactured for pets and food manufactured for people is what’s known as the “4–D Rule”… Commercial pet food can contain parts from animals that are Dead, Diseased, Dying or Disabled. Human food cannot.

When animals are slaughtered, the lean muscle is trimmed away for human consumption.

That accounts for about half the animal. The rest – “remnants” (bone, blood, ligaments, beaks, hoofs, ect. as well as organs) – become “by products” and are used in pet food, animal feed and other products.

Similarly when it comes to grains – that which is waste from human food processing is used for pet food.

When you’re scanning the ingredient label, in general,

You WANT: real/human grade meat, vegetables and fruit, whole grains, phytonutrients, antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, natural preservatives.

You DON’T want: BHA, BHT, Propylene glycol, Ethoxyquin, phosphoric acid, benzoic acid, sodium nitrate, MSG, sodium metabisulphite, formalin, dyes, by-products, “meal”, fractions, middlings and gluten.

Ingredients are listed by quantity in descending order. Generally, the top ten ingredients account for about 80% of the total.

To start, you want the first ingredient to be an animal based protein.
“By–products” can be “everything else” that you wouldn’t find in the meat department at a grocery store. Stuff such as hair/feathers, beaks/nails/hooves, tendons, ect.

Inexpensive and not very nutritious or digestible.

One gauge of the protein quality is ash content. The lower the better. 2–3% is good. Ash content is often not listed on dry food.

Food fractions – “middlings”, gluten – are what’s left over from human food processing. Corn husks, peanut shells, wheat chaffe, ect. Inexpensive and not very nutritious or digestible.

Commercial pet food should have antioxidants: Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

It should have Essential Fatty Acids.

Preservatives: Vitamin C, Vitamin E and mixed tocopherols are good.
BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin and Propylene Glycol are NOT good.

Avoid artificial flavor enhancers such as MSG and phosphoric acid.

Avoid artificial colors including any dyes, Azo and sodium nitrite.

The price of the product alone is not a true indicator of the quality of
ingredients.

Natural Dog and Cat Care 101 explains the nutritional requirements of cats and dogs, the short comings of popular commercial food products and how to read ingredient labels.