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What do pet food labels mean?

Cats and dogs are carnivores, so animal protein should be the 1st ingredient. All pet foods must list the ingredients present in the food. The ingredients must be listed in order of weight. This is one of the best ways to determine the quality of the food.

As a dog trainer, I know the importance of good nutrition. With a little knowledge of the ingredients, you can choose a food that is highly digestible and free of unwanted products. Be careful of one tactic used by manufacturers to disguise less desirable ingredients. Breaking an ingredient into several different smaller ingredients and listing them individually is used to lower the undesirable ingredients farther down the ingredient list.

For example, a product list could contain chicken, ground corn, corn gluten, ground wheat, corn bran, wheat flour, wheat middlings, etc. If we were to group all of the corn ingredients as one, they would far out-weigh the amount of chicken. (I don’t remember the last time I saw cats or dogs grazing in a corn field!)

As a consumer, you must read all of the ingredients carefully including the ingredients at the end, to know the type of preservatives and colorings that are used. Here are a few of the more common ingredients you will see and an explanation of what they are.

Meat: Meat is the cleaned flesh of chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc. Can include skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, fat and skin also. This is should be the number one ingredient.

Meat By-products: Clean parts of animals not including meat. Lungs, spleen, liver, brain, kidneys, intestines, stomach etc.

Poultry By-products: cleaned parts of poultry, such as head, feet, and internal organs.

Ground Corn: Ground corn is the entire kernel ground or chopped.

Corn Gluten Meal: The by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch, and is the dried residue after the removal of the bran, germ and starch.

Brown Rice: The unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed. (Better grain choice.)

Ethoxyquin: Chemical preservative that is used to prevent spoilage. (Not a good preservative choice)

Tocopherols: Naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives. (Better preservative choice)

In summary, what is the best dog food on the market? There is no one best food for all dogs/cats. I tend to stay away from foods with meat by-products, artificial preservatives, colors and sweeteners. If your dog experiences chronic ear infections, diarrhea, or allergies, look at his food ingredients. Are there many of the undesirables in it? Many products are deficient in essential nutrients and vitamins needed to maintain good health.

This basic information will not give you a complete understanding of “what is in it?”, but hopefully it will help. Many labels and measurements are still a mystery to me!

If you have any questions, your veterinarian is an excellent source, or feel free to contact me. email: or call/text 480-652-4900.

Kathy Fabish, Owner, Pet Services of Ocean Isle Beach

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