We all want what is best for our pets, but finding the ideal food for our pets can be overwhelming. The Whole Dog Journal has some suggestions on how to read the ingredients in pet food, what ingredients to look for, and what ingredients to avoid.
Look for foods that contain a lot of high-quality animal proteins. Ingredients are listed by weight, so ideally a food will have one or two animal proteins (meat, poultry, fish) in the first few ingredients. Understand that whole meat (chicken, beef, lamb, etc.) contains a lot of water weight. If a food list starts out with chicken (rather than chicken meal), and there is no other animal protein listed until 5th or 6th on the list, the food does not actually contain a lot of animal protein. Look for chicken or another meat with a meal in the second or third spot.
Reject any food containing meat by-products or poultry by-products. There is a much wider range of quality in the by-products available for pet food manufacturing than there is for whole meats.
Reject foods containing fat or protein not identified by species. “Animal fat” is a euphemism for low quality, low-priced mix of fats of uncertain origin. “Meat meal” could be practically anything.
Look for whole grains and vegetables. Too many grains or vegetables on the upper side of the ingredient list lessens the quality of the food.
Eliminate all foods with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. A healthy product full of top-quality ingredients shouldn’t need non-nutritive additives to make it look or taste better.
Eliminate all foods with added sweeteners. Dogs like people, enjoy sweet foods. Like people they can develop a taste for these nutritionally empty calories.
“The proof is in the pudding. If your dog does not thrive on the food, with a glossy coat, itch-free skin, bright eyes, clear ears, and a happy, alert demeanor, it doesn’t matter if we like it or not-switch!” Always make your vet a partner in your choices, but read that label and ask questions about the food you select.