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What to look for in pet food ingredients

We know what to look for in our food ingredient labels: low sodium, high protein and natural ingredients. For the most part, a quick glance lets us know if the item in hand proves healthy enough for our daily regimen — if only the same applied to our pets’ food. Don’t be fooled by pet food bags featuring colorful images of wholesome-looking meat and vegetables. The tips below give you a few basic steps you can take to ensure a healthier meal for your four-legged friend.

Woman feeding her dog dog food

Where to start

If the never-ending list of ingredients seems too overwhelming to deal with, you’re not alone. Take baby steps by focusing on the top five. According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration, pet food ingredient labels must ensure proper listing of ingredients in descending order from most weight to least weight. What does that mean? By looking at the top five ingredients, you’ll know immediately what composes a considerable amount of your pets’ food.

What to look for


Seeing a juicy steak on a food label should be self-explanatory, right? Wrong. “Meat” doesn’t necessarily mean beef. Seeing “meat-meal” as an ingredient on your pet food label can mean any kind of mammal tissue is included in the mix. Know where your meat comes from by looking for specifics such as chicken, lamb or other specific sources of meat. In addition, consider “poultry” as another hazy source that can be interpreted as any bird, not necessarily chicken.


Pay attention to the source of protein in your pet food. Just because the food shows a high percentage of crude protein doesn’t ensure the quality of the source. Once again, look for specific sources of meat as the main source of protein instead of items like corn gluten meal or bone meal, as they tend to have lower absorption rates than meat-based proteins.


How would youfeel about eating food with “byproducts” in it? Items like “chicken byproduct” contain ground parts of chicken, possibly including feet and beaks. As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of byproducts altogether.


As with the kind of carbs you eat, whole grains are the way to go for your pets. Flours such as wheat flour and corn flour tend to be highly processed sources of carbohydrates. Also look for ground rice as a carbohydrate source that usually offers higher nutritional value.


Keeping Fido’s skin and coat looking squeaky-clean and soft to the touch can be as easy as choosing the right food. Fatty acids play an important role in keeping that snuggly fur in tip-top condition. Look for foods with sunflower oil, flaxseed oil or chicken fat for great sources of this nutrient.

More tips for pet owners

Grooming tips for stylish dogs and cats
Pet separation anxiety: 4 Tips to help cope
How to find a trustworthy pet-sitter or doggy day care

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