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How to Read Pet Food Labels

How to Read Pet Food Labels

Knowing the ingredients on dog food labels, what to check for, and why they matter are all part of taking care of pets. Unfortunately, food labels are often crowded with information and written in small font, making it difficult to determine what is most crucial.

Before being placed on store shelves, every pet food product must pass regulatory review and clearance on the federal and state-by-state levels. This ensures that any claims made about the food are accurate. Brand and product names, the species for whom the food is for, and a quantity statement must all be on the front of the package. It will frequently have vivid logos, graphics, and alluring images and illustrations. Other details, such as the food label and nutritional breakdown, will be included on the back and side panels.

With all the information available, what must you look for in buying dog food? Here is a quick introduction to understanding food labels that can help simplify buying pet food and treats.

Guide to Reading Food Labels

Although all pet food labels have a similar structure, many consumers still find them confusing. Knowing what you need to look for will make choosing the best foods and treats for your dog easier. If you are unsure about the proper diet for your dog or if they have any specific ailments or requirements, such as weight control, consult with your veterinarian first.

 Essential Pet Food Label Details

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that dog food labels provide eight essential details, and individual states may have their own labeling laws:

  1. Product Name
  2. Net Weight of the Product
  3. Name and Address of the Manufacturer
  4. Guaranteed Analysis
  5. List of Ingredients
  6. Intended Animal Species (i.e., dog or cat)
  7. Statement of Nutritional Adequacy
  8. Feeding Guidelines

Front of Pack

The brand, flavor, and pet’s age should all be indicated on the front of a meal package, tin, or tray. By glancing at the front of the pack, you should be able to determine how many primary ingredients are present in the food. Additionally, it may state whether the food is a diet for a specific ailment or whether it is hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive pets.

Back (or Side) of Pack

The small print, or the crucial information, is located on the back or side of the food package, tin, or tray. The ingredients, which are typically listed as part of the composition, the analytical contents, the nutritional additions, and the feeding recommendations, are the primary things you should be looking for. Find out as much as possible about the company that makes the food so you can get in touch with them if you have any questions or issues.

Why is the Order of Ingredients on a Pet Food Label Important?

Always verify the list of ingredients and their placement just on the back of your food bag. The descending sequence of the order will reveal the percentage of each item (by weight before cooking). This means the first item on the list provided the most while the last ingredient was the least during the manufacturing process. For instance, if maize starch is one of the initial components listed, the product will have more of it than any of the substances listed after it.

Make sure to look at the order of ingredients to establish the number of ingredients in items advertised as premium and high-quality ingredients, such as "smoked salmon" or "roasted turkey." The further down the list is, the smaller the amount included. You might be overpaying for or giving your dog a subpar product.

Essential Pet Food Ingredients

  1. Animal Meat

The protein proportion listed in the guaranteed analysis on your pet food package includes proteins from all sources, not only animals.
Vegetables, grains, legumes, and other carbohydrates contribute to the protein proportion. However, these proteins are not usually as nutrient-dense or accessible as proteins derived from animals.
  • Meat First
A high-quality formula should contain at least 50 percent of the total of its protein from animal sources. The term "animal inclusion" refers to this. It lets you know what percentage of animal sources make up the protein in the diet.
Except for high-quality vegetarian foods and special therapeutic prescription diets, all high-quality foods should have a designated animal protein as the first ingredient (e.g., chicken, beef). Although it's not a guarantee, foods that don't feature animal protein as the first component rarely achieve the 50% requirement.
  1. Vitamins

The "scary" portion of every pet food label is located at the bottom of the list of ingredients. To achieve a balanced and complete diet, processed foods like kibble and canned meals must be supplemented. In contrast, raw and fresh foods usually don't.
To ensure that food contains the correct quantity of each crucial vitamin and mineral, supplements are added because cooking might deplete the natural nutrients in the components.
Your pet needs dietary supplements to get the vitamins they can't make on their own. Not all vitamin additives are regarded as essential. Antioxidants like Vitamins C and E are frequently added to foods to naturally preserve them or to give pets additional protection.
5 Vitamins in Pet Food
    1. Vitamin A
    2. Vitamin B1
    3. Vitamin B4
    4. Vitamin B7
    5. Vitamin B3 
  1. Minerals

Many common minerals added to pet food are very well known, such as calcium and zinc. Still, many have odd names you may be unfamiliar with. Minerals are inorganic substances that must be converted into chelated minerals for your pet's body to utilize.

Chelated minerals can be more easily absorbed with an amino acid to produce "complexes." Complexes having the suffix "ate," such as calcium carbonate or sodium phosphate.
It's simpler to demystify this bewildering list of ingredients once you have a solid idea of what these fancy phrases imply.

Guaranteed Analysis

Every pet food product must have a Guaranteed Analysis (GA) label. Regulators assess each label for conformity with nutritional standards and optional label claims using the GA supplies product information. Additionally, the GA gives consumers information that enables them to determine the amounts of at least four nutrients: protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. The percentages for nutrients may appear to be highly different when assessing the GA of two types of goods because pet food will have variable moisture levels depending on whether wet or dry.

The GA must disclose additional nutrients if the product label claims, such as Omega-3 fatty acids for healthy skin and a shiny coat.

8 Red Flag Ingredients in Pet Food

While it is helpful to be aware of the positive components to seek out in high-quality pet food, it is also beneficial to be mindful of the harmful ingredients. Now that you understand how to read pet food labels, look out for the following signs of subpar pet food:

Pet Food Red Flags to Watch Out For

  1. Grains

Many dog foods rely on grains as a protein substitute. Unfortunately, dogs suffer from food intolerances much like humans. One of the most common causes of allergies in canines is grains.

Avoid feeding your pets corn, wheat, all grains with gluten, or genetically-modified grains (GMO). If you must, you can try feeding them pseudo-grains like buckwheat and quinoa instead. Barley is also a good option for its high energy content.

  1. Unidentified Meats

When animal protein is present, but its origin is unknown, it most likely comes from thoroughly rendered meats. To produce inexpensive and simple-to-use animal sources for food, rendered meats are separated, ground, cooked, and occasionally emulsified. Although this is a typical process in pet and human nutrition, these types of meat frequently do not provide the same diversity or quality of nutrients as a non-rendered meat source.

The following are some proteins to watch out for:

    • Poultry meal
    • Meat meal
    • Animal by-products
    • Porcine plasma
    • Animal fat
  1. Un-named Fats

Fat may be suitable for a pet's health. However, ingredient panels for pet meals frequently list "animal fat" or "poultry fat."

Ensure that any fats or oils in the food you provide your pet come from the specified sources. For instance, "coconut oil" is preferable to "vegetable oil," while "salmon oil" is preferable to "fish oil." Product quality is frequently higher if the brand and producer know where their ingredients come from.

  1. Animal By-Products

Everything left over from an animal carcass after the meat and bones have been taken out is an "animal by-product." This is merely leftover meat from the slaughterhouse. This may include toes, feathers, beaks, hair, tumor fragments, and hide. Your dog cannot digest these items efficiently and frequently have poor nutritional value.

Make sure you choose goods for your dog that contain meat or consider purchasing a pre-mix meal plan and incorporating your own protein.

  1. Artificial Flavors and Colors

There is no reason for adding artificial flavors or colors to your pet's food. These substances have no positive effects on health and have been connected to significant diseases, including cancer and diabetes. Artificial colors are mainly used to draw in pet owners. Consumers find colorful foods more enticing, but pets don't care how their food appears! The fact that your dog's kibble looks like lucky charms is unknown to them. They only care that it tastes delicious.

Typical artificial ingredients in pet food include:

    • Corn syrup
    • Caramel
    • Propylene glycol
    • Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6
  1. Preservatives

Preservatives in pet food can cause poor digestion, which can have several detrimental health impacts, including problems with the skin and coat, bowel irregularities, depression, and more. Six preservatives are frequently added to pet food and ought to be avoided:

    • Ethoxyquin
    • Butylated Hydroxy Anisole (BHA)
    • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
    • Propyl Gallate
    • Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)
  1. Salt

Humans and animals both require salt. But too much salt can be bad for you. High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other conditions can be brought on by overeating salt. Many ingredients already contain salt without it being specifically added. To avoid additional salt, read your pet's food and treats labels. Salt and other taste enhancers won't be necessary if the components in your pet's food are healthy and of high quality.

  1. Fillers

Pet owners are aware that fillers are nasty. What components in pet food fall under the category of fillers? Any item added to pet food with minimal nutritional value but in adequate quantities to bulk up food is a filler.

Low-grade proteins, carbs, and fibers are also included as fillers in some diets for pets to meet minimal assured analysis standards. This can give the impression that a poor-quality product has more meat than it actually does.

Typical fillers in dog and cat food include:

    • corn peanut hulls
    • pea bran
    • dried beet pulp
    • oat hulls
    • rice hulls
    • wheat (or other) mills
    • brewers rice
    • soy

Ingredient Splitting

One of the most infamous strategies used by pet food producers to improve the readability of their ingredient panel is ingredient splitting. Ingredient splitting separates similar ingredients' weights to move those constituents down the ingredient panel.

Ingredient splitting is common among pet food producers, so it isn't necessarily bad. However, combined with other warning signs, it may suggest that the meal isn't as wonderful as it seems.

How to Choose the Best Pet Food for Your Dog

It's crucial to understand that there isn't a single dog food that is "best" for all dogs. Your dog has specific needs, just like you do, so what works for one dog might not necessarily be the most excellent choice for another.

However, there are several factors you should consider:

  • Breed
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Health status
  • Lifestyle and Activity Level
  • Any chronic health issues or risk factors
  • Your dog's taste and texture preferences
  • Your budget

The number of calories in the food you select will impact how much of it your dog should eat. Every pet food will contain various calories per serving, much like people's food.

To find the number of calories in a cup of food, check under the nutritional facts. Most pet food labels also have recommended serving suggestions to guide you in ensuring you don't overfeed your dog. If you're still unsure, your veterinarian should be able to calculate the daily caloric requirements for your dog.

The package label shows the ingredients you're feeding your dog. All you need to do is learn how to read it! Be a savvier and more knowledgeable pet owner and feed your dog only the best.


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