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How To Read A Pet Food Label 101

Posted by Scott Pollak on

This is a good one! It’s so confusing out there in the marketplace. So many brands, special need diets, how is one suppose to know how what would be best much less, how to read a label? So, as I am quite often asked, I want what’s best for my pet, but there’s so much out there, HELP!

I always try my best and a principle that I try to live by is, K.I.S.S.  ”Keep It Simple Stupid! First, you must understand and accept, which sometimes I have difficulty with, is believing what's printed on the bag is in the bag, but let's assume that is true.

Ingredients are listed in descending order BY WEIGHT (not percentage, WEIGHT) prior to processing (cooking).  Most of the food is listed before the fat or the oil which can be up to 95% of the product, everything after that, which can list some new or hip ingredients, are pretty much considered a micro nutrient or window dressing.

So, don’t think cranberries and yogurt listed after the fat or oil are really in each piece of the food, somewhere a pound or two per ton made it into the formulation, but not into each or many of the pieces. There are many grades or quality of the ingredients and as nice as they may sound, are NOT provided, offered or known in any way; so again, it doesn't represent the individual ingredient properly.  For instance, beef at a restaurant is beef, right?  There’s a McDonald’s beef (remember the slime episode) and there’s a Ruth Chris beef..both beef , but…not the same.  An ingredient may (and usually are by the big guys) be split into different types to prevent it from being listed higher in the list. ie: rice middlings, whole rice, rice flour, brown rice are all rice, if it is listed more than once understand when combined it really should be the first ingredient but when split up, it falls down the line.

Don’t be mislead by a meat listing…actual meat cannot be processed properly in a dry food so you have two choices, wet form of the meat, a “GEL” or “SLURRY” is made and by being wet and heavy, it can be listed as number one. After processing or cooking, the liquid is gone and the first ingredient is nowhere near the main ingredient in what you are paying for. The second choice is a dry matter of the meat, which is called a meal. This meal form of the meat results in a dry, powdered form where the water and fat are removed resulting in an extremely high rich protein form of the meat. Which when cooked, expands and actually is more of the finished product than when originally mixed dry.

I can go on and on, but the purpose of this is for you to understand that the true test of a product, even with your best intention, is for you to make an educated guess as to what you’re choosing to feed and put into the animal, follow their recommended feeding guidelines, watch the stool as it tells all, when you pet your pet, sniff your hand (after a few weeks) and see what differences you witness, good and bad.

A trick: Smaller recommended feedings by body weight is usually a sign of a better food, as over feeding  a good food will create loose stools and over feeding a poor diet creates larger stools and excess fat. So as grandma said, Less IS Best!


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