Pet Food Ingredients 101
DR. SUSAN LAUTEN, UNIVERSITY INSTRUCTOR AND PET NUTRITION CONSULTANT
Determining the quality of a dog or cat food begins with reading the pet food label. Many pet owners look over the label, but don’t completely understand it. Susan Lauten, PhD and founder of Pet Nutrition Consulting, offers the following tips to help you interpret what you should look for and what you should avoid.
What to Look For:
- In canned and raw foods, look for a specifically named meat, poultry, or fish protein (such as “chicken” or “duck”) as the first ingredient. Dogs and cats prefer to be fed with more meat, as they would eat in nature.
- In dry kibble foods, look for a single-source meat, poultry or fish protein meal (such as “chicken meal” or “duck meal”) as the first ingredient. Since ingredients on a pet food label are listed in order of descending weight, “chicken meal” (which is already dried) as the first ingredient on a kibble bag is more desirable than “chicken” (which is mostly water). In other words, kibble made with a single-source meal as the first ingredient suggests the food has higher total meat content than a kibble made with fresh meat as the first ingredient.
- Wholesome fruits and vegetables (like “cranberries” and “spinach”) will provide healthy antioxidants, vitamins, and other important nutrients.
- Some whole and hearty grains (such as “brown rice” or “oatmeal”), which provide carbohydrates and fiber.
- Natural preservatives (such as “mixed tocopherols” and “citric acid”) are preferred over chemical preservatives.
- A statement that the food has passed AAFCO feeding trials.
What to Avoid:
- Low quality grains (such as “corn” and “wheat” and “soy”) used for protein are indicative of a lower quality food as these ingredients are much less experience than desirable meat proteins.
- Glutens and gluten meals (such as “wheat gluten” and “corn gluten meal”), which are inexpensive substitutes for meat protein, and might be imported products that could be less desirable for pets.
- Generically named proteins and protein meals (such as “poultry” or “meat meal”). Ingredients like these can include by-products and other various animal parts that you wouldn’t want to feed your special dog or cat.
- Generic fat sources (such as “animal fat”), which could contain fat from any type of animal.
- Foods with too much grain. Dogs and cats thrive on foods made with more meat, not grain! (If your pet has any grain allergies, it’s best to avoid grains altogether.)
- Chemical preservatives (like “BHA” and “BHT”) and artificial coloring (such as “caramel color”). These are unnecessary artificial additives.
The best rule of thumb is to avoid ingredients you don’t recognize. Look for fresh, wholesome ingredients that are easy to distinguish and simple to read.
It’s important to understand each ingredient in your pet’s food. To learn more about the healthy ingredients Nature’s Variety uses, visit the Ingredient Glossary.
Also remember to go beyond the pet food label and find additional nutrition information online. The Nature’s Variety website provides caloric content, complete nutritional analyses (the quantities of each nutrient) for each product, information about sources of ingredients, and more!