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The labels on pet food divulge a lot about its nutritional value, but understanding it can be a challenge. If you are at the pet food aisle of your local supermarket and are having a difficult time wading through it and deciding on the best choice of food, here are some tips to help you out.A lot of the animal protein in pet food comes from the by-products and scraps left over from facilities that process meat, and the premium dog food you are looking at may actually derive its protein from chicken feet. The regulations for the ingredients that go into pet food are different for every state. Although there are regulation standards for the definitions, ingredients and nutrient levels associated with pet food, there is no authority to oversee its enforcement. So if you want to pick out the healthiest food, you should understand the labels.A primer for pet food labels
The labeling on pet food can often be misleading. Knowing what to look for might help:
Tips for choosing healthy pet food
- Pay attention to the name – If the label on your pet food says “Beef for Dogs”, it has at least 95% beef. Some products like the Wellness 95 Percent Beef Canned Dog Food mention the beef percentage right on the label. If the pet food clearly states the type of meat, that is what your pet will get.
- Beware of “dinners” - The exception to the above rule is when manufacturers combine the meat name with the terms “platter”, “dinner”, “formula”, “entree”, or “nuggets”. If you find any of these words on the label, the meat might make up as little as 25 % of the food.
- Stay away of the terms “with” and “flavor” - If the pet food says “chicken flavor dog food”, it means that the products just needs to taste like chicken and might be chicken meal or chicken by-products. The word “with”, as in “with real chicken”, means that manufacturers only need to include 3 % chicken by weight.
- Ignore superlatives – Terms like “gourmet”, “premium”, and “super ultra premium” mean that the food is not regulated. So they do not mean anything.Know the difference between “organic” and “natural” - The term “natural” is not an official definition and can be used indiscriminately. On the other hand, the term “organic” has a strict legal definition and cannot be used unless the food meets the Agriculture Department's standards.
- Read the list of ingredients – The actual ingredients are always listed in descending order by weight on the product bag or can. It is the first thing you need to read to find out how healthy the pet food is.
- Buy cat or dog food that contains meat protein – Since they are carnivores, real meat is the best option. Cows, goats, pigs or sheep should be the ideal meat sources for cat and dog food. The whole meat source should be listed as one of the top two ingredients.
- Choose wet pet food – Wet pet food is usually packaged in pouches or cans and is fresher, is of higher quality, and has more protein. Dry pet food is often sprayed with fat to lend more taste. Spraying dry food with water or other liquids allows the bacteria on the surface to multiply, which is bad for the health of your pet.