A Pet Owner’s Guide to Pet Food

Photo by: Flickr
Photo by: Flickr

Choosing a nutritional food for your pet may be more difficult than it seems. Most people look for bargains when shopping and you might think you’re getting a good deal when you find a large bag of pet food for a cheap price. However, your pet may be getting cheated when it comes to nutrition and optimal health. But bargain brands aren’t all bad and purchasing a premium brand doesn’t guarantee that it contains the best grade ingredients either. It’s important to read pet food labels and learn what the ingredients mean.

Most dry pet foods contain grains such as corn, wheat or rice. Grains are often used rather than meat as a protein source in pet foods. Grains are also prone to a type of mold that could be deadly to pets. Some pets are allergic to grain and may suffer from stomach upset. Pets that experience gastrointestinal disturbances may need to eat a grain free food.

The first few ingredients listed on a pet food label make up the bulk of the food, since they are listed by weight. Avoid pet foods with grains such as corn or wheat listed in the first few ingredients. Gluten is a protein that comes from grain, so if a pet food label lists gluten among the ingredients, it is not a grain free product. Corn and soy are often used as cheap fillers in pet food, so it is best to avoid products that contain them. Many inexpensive and premium brands of pet food are loaded with carbohydrate fillers often found in the form of corn. Even if you switch to a grain free brand of pet food, it doesn’t mean the food will be free of carbohydrates.

Be wary of the term by-products on a pet food label. Although some by-products may contain useful animal parts, it often refers to parts such as beaks, feet, feathers and hair. By-products could refer to any type of remains leftover from the human food industries that were not suitable for human consumption. By-products may also contain parts of diseased animals. Meat ingredients should always be identified on the food label. For example, the label should specifically state beef, chicken or other meat source. Ingredients that are listed simply as meat meal, meat, bone meal, animal digest, meat by-products or animal by-products may contain the remains of euthanized animals including domestic pets. It is best to avoid products that do not list the specific meat source. Some products may contain little or no meat at all. Just because a pet food states that it is chicken, beef or salmon flavored doesn’t mean it actually contains that particular food source. The key word is flavored. Many pet foods contain artificial flavoring without the actual meat.

It is also important to check pet food labels for chemical preservatives. Avoid foods with BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin listed among the ingredients. These are preservatives that have been linked to cancer. Choose foods that have been preserved with Vitamins E and C, also known as tocopherols. Look for pet foods that are AFFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) approved to meet the minimum nutritional requirements.

People often wonder whether it is better to feed their pet canned or dry food. The truth is that no food is perfect. The best food sources are the natural sources that meet the design of the animal’s biological needs. However, feeding your pet both wet and dry food can be beneficial. A steady diet of dry food lacks moisture content and canned food is 75 percent water. Dehydrated food is a good option for pet owners that want to feed their pets a raw food diet, but aren’t comfortable with the actual raw food. Pet owners can also supplement their pet’s dry or canned food diet with dehydrated meat.

It is also important to feed your pet a food suited for the animal’s stage of life. Puppies and kittens should be fed a food designed for their life stage, while a senior dog or cat should eat a diet of food designed for older pets. Different nutritional requirements are needed through various stages of life to keep the pet healthy. If you have more than one pet at different life stages, choose the appropriate food for each pet. Being aware of your pet’s nutritional needs and learning how to read the ingredients on a pet food label can help you provide your pet with a healthy and nutritious diet.