There has been a steadily increasing awareness concerning the importance of our pets health of over the past ten to fifteen years.  Most people have learned to read the labels and the list of ingredients on pet food packaging, yet we don’t always know how to interpret what these labels are telling us.  For instance, the first ingredient on any dog food should always be a specific meat or specific meat meal.  Chicken rather than poultry meal or any other specific meat (lamb, beef, venison, etc.) meal, is actually a benefit in dog foods as it uses the entire part of the animal, such as the shank, which would include the bone.  In cat foods, however, you should see meat first rather than meal, as this reduces the minerals from the bone and keeps the PH lower in the food.  It also supplies arachidonic fatty acids which are necessary for cats. 

If grains are included in the pet food the grains should be listed as whole grains, not what are called fractionated grains.  Wheat bran, rice bran, rice flour and brewers rice are examples of grain bi-products.   By including these “fractioned” grain components in pet foods, manufacturers are able to increase the stated protein in the foods.  These grains bi-products may also be listed as many as four times on a product label when they are split into these forms.  When you combine the weight of all the grain bi-products, grain may actually make up the first ingredient in the food rather than meat.  Grains that have been processed and split into components have lost much of their nutritional value and increase the likelihood of allergies.  Whole grains will maintain the nutritional integrity of the grain and reduce greatly the possibility of allergies. 

There are often vegetables or fruits in many foods now.  The best possible source would be for them to be fresh and not dehydrated as they will offer more nutrition.  That will not usually be clear on the label but you may ask your retailer if they know this information. 

Foods should also be a source of good fats, such a coconut oil, chicken fat, sunflower oil, hemp oil, garlic oil, or flaxseed oils.  They should provide a healthy balance of Omega 3’s and 6’s to keep good skin and coat. 

Most foods are no longer using chemical preservatives, such as ethoxoquin, BHA, or BHT but it is always good to read the labels to be sure.  The healthier, more natural preservatives are tocopherols which are a combination of vitamin C and E. 

In the end, the most important thing is that you are feeding the best possible ingredients in your choice of a dog or cat food.  Don’t be overly concerned with the stated percentages on the bags, your animals don’t eat percentages, they eat nutrients.  Foods containing human grade ingredients with high quality proteins, gives them what they need.  Read labels, ask questions and know that you will increase your animal’s healthy life for many years with a good diet. 

(Good info source