We want to give our pets the best possible nutrition, but with so many choices, how do we separate the best from the rest?
Do words like “premium” and “gourmet” actually mean anything? Are foods labeled “natural” and “organic” actually healthier? The truth is, when it comes to pet food, many of these terms have no standard definition or regulatory meaning. There is no one perfect source for comparing kibbles and chows. There is, however, some basic information that you can use to evaluate what you feed your four-legged family members.
Checking out the food label
Pet food labels have two basic parts: the principal display panel and the information panel. The first takes up most of the packaging – it includes the brand and name of the food, and descriptive terms and images. But the most important part of the label is the information panel, which is the parallel of a human nutritional information label. It contains the guaranteed analysis, ingredient list, feeding guidelines and nutritional adequacy statement.
You won’t find as much detail here as on human foods, but the nutritional information does give minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. “Crude” refers to the method of measuring that is used, not the quality of the protein, fat or fiber. These percentages are on “as fed” basis, so foods that contain more water (canned foods) appear to have less protein than foods with less water (dry foods) – but that’s not usually the case.
Ingredients in a pet food must be listed on the label in descending order by weight. One detail to remember, though, is that the weight includes the moisture in the ingredient, so certain ingredients may appear higher on the list even if lower – moisture ingredients contribute more actual nutrients. The order isn’t by nutritional value, but by weight.
For example, the first ingredient on a label may be “chicken”, which weighs more than other individual ingredients because it may contain 70% water. But wheat may be present in various forms that are listed as individual ingredients, such as “wheat flour”, “ground wheat” and “wheat middling”. Thus, the diet may actually contain more wheat than chicken. Just because a protein source is listed first does not mean the diet is high in protein.