Reading the labels on our pet’s food is just important as reading the labels on our own food. One trip to your local pet superstore will turn up vast quantities of pet food brands and varieties. Choosing the right one can be confusing to say the least. To add to the confusion, pet foods often use terms like digest, bone meal and by-product. Not your everyday words to be sure! Then they top it off with big money advertising and it’s no wonder choosing a pet food can be confusing.
Pet food production and labeling in America are both regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture and manufacturers must follow strict guidelines. This is great news because it can make our label reading job a little easier. Just as in human food, the ingredients are listed in descending order with the ingredient present in the largest quantity listed first. A little education can go a long way in helping you navigate the kibble isles with confidence, so we have compiled some definitions to help you choose the best food for your furry friend.
First up is what you could call a name game. A clue to the amount of an ingredient can be found right in the product name itself. If the food is labeled “Beef Dog Food” , then at least 95% of the product (by weight) must be the named meat. If the name is a combination of meats such as “Salmon and Tuna Cat Food” then the two products together must make up 95% of the product. If the amount of meat used in the product is more than 25% but less than 95% then the words “dinner”, “platter”, “entree” or “formula” must be added to the name. If the product contains at least 3% of a certain meat then the word “with” must be used in the name such as “Cat Food with Tuna”.
Whew! Are you still with me? Ok then here we go with the definitions.
By-product – This is usually a cheap source of protein and can be hard for the body to utilize. By-products are considered unfit for human consumption.
Soy – This ingredient is used to increase the amount of protein in the food but it has been linked to gas build-up and bloat.
Digest – This is a generic term for insoluble animal tissues that are hydrolyzed chemically. The chemicals used in this process do not have to be included in the ingredient list.
BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin – Artificial preservatives that have been linked to autoimmune illnesses and some cancers.
Gluten – Glutens come from all types of grains but wheat and soy are the most common. Gluten is commonly used as a “glue” to hold the product together.
Beet pulp – Used as a fibrous filler to prevent diarrhea and create hard stools.
Meat and bone meal – This is a generic ingredient that is mostly bone and little meat. This is usually the main protein source in commercial pet foods. If a certain source such as “beef” or “chicken” is not specified, the manufacturer can use whatever was cheapest at the time of manufacture.
Animal fat – A generic term that allows the source of the fat to change to the cheapest source at the time of manufacturing.
Propylene Glycol – A preservative and also used to make foods “chewy”. This ingredient can lead to serious digestive tract problems.
Artificial colors – May be known carcinogens and may suppress the immune system.
Artificial sweeteners – Just as in human foods, these are just empty calories and contain no nutrition. In animals, artificial sweeteners are known to contribute to aggression and hyperactivity and can over stimulate insulin and digestive acid production.