What’s in a Name? Understanding Pet Food Labels
Trends in food and diet will never end, even among pet foods. From expensive grain-free products to organic labels, it can be quite difficult to understand what your pet needs and why. And don’t even try reading the ingredients list! That’s a lot of cryptic stuff, right?
However, there is method to the madness of pet food labels, and there are key indicators to look for when choosing a healthy, well-balanced diet. To help you navigate the strange land of pet food labels, the team at Schertz Animal Hospital has put together some helpful suggestions.
Pet Food Labels: The Good, the Bad, and the Nutritious
Like the food you choose for yourself and your family, zeroing in on recognizable ingredients is usually a good place to start. When reviewing pet food labels, items are listed in descending order, with the ingredient that represents the majority of the product listed at the top. Here’s what else to expect when looking at typical pet food labels:
Protein – Quality protein should top the list of any pet food. Complete meats, such as chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef, are preferable to “meals,” but these can also be healthy and provide the necessary nutrition your pet requires. By-products include organ meats and meats that aren’t suitable for human consumption. This sounds unnerving, but the process of rendering these parts requires them to be sterilized and more easily digestible for pets. In some cases, plant-based proteins like soy, corn, or gluten can also be a great choice for pets who are allergic to certain ingredients (but they’re unsuitable for obligate carnivores, like felines).
Carbohydrates – These are the building blocks of energy and should come right after protein. Suitable choices for pets include rice, oats, soy, barley, beans, and certain vegetables. In many cases, diets will showcase their inclusion of healthy vegetables and fruits, which are good choices for carbs and other essential vitamins.
Vitamins and minerals – You may be wondering why your pet needs a multivitamin. Actually, the vitamins and minerals found in most commercial pet foods are essential. In the wild, animals get these nutrients through their natural diets, but not so for domestic animals. To be intentional about providing good nutrition to our pets, we must include vitamins like B, D, and K, as well as biotin, thiamin, and beta-carotene. Minerals that are needed include calcium and phosphorus.
Fats – Good fats are an essential part of any diet, including our pet companions,. They’re necessary for skin and coat health, as well as cell growth. They also aid in digestion and make your pet’s food a lot tastier!
Additives – Unfortunately, dyes and preservatives also make up a good portion of many pet diets. These necessary ingredients give pet food a shelf life and are sometimes used to make food more visually appealing to your pet (e.g., color additives). They also help food retain its shape, size, and texture.
Look for the AAFCO Statement
Since there are one too many choices in the pet food aisle these days, one easy way to identify a quality product is to look for a statement by the AAFCO on the pet food label. The Association of American Feed Control Officials sets FDA guidelines for pet food requirements.
This statement guarantees the manufacturer followed specific guidelines and has proven the safety and quality of its product. They must also identify for which life stage the diet is appropriate (e.g., puppy/kitten, adult, or senior). This is vital since your pet’s life stage determines which nutrients are best for optimal health.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right food for your pet, and there are many variables that come into play. The best place to start is right here at Schertz! Our team is happy to discuss your questions and concerns. Please call us to set up a consultation!