Ever look at the ingredients list on your pet’s food? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Most of us don’t. And if we do, the experience can be confusing or even frustrating. There’s no doubt we want to offer our pet’s the safest and healthiest foods available. To do this we need to understand what ingredients our pets should eat and make sure they’re included in our pet’s food.
Dogs and cats are meat eaters. In fact, cats require meat in their diets for proper nutrition. Unlike people, dogs and cats have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates. Like us, however, they benefit from nutrients found in fruits and vegetables – like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Healthy fats should be included to nourish skin and coat and promote overall health. These basic ingredients can be complemented by the addition of both pre- and pro-biotics to promote proper digestion. Lastly, since water is such a simple but important part of your dog’s diet, it should be provided in his food, not just his water bowl.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it covers the basics.
To find out if your pet’s food contains any or all of these ingredients, first find the ingredient panel on the can or bag. Make sure an identifiable meat source is listed first (ingredients are listed in order of their weight). If the meat – chicken, for example – is followed by the term meal, it means the chicken was cooked and ground-up prior to adding it to the recipe, which is acceptable. If the type of meat is followed by the term by-product, however, you may want to consider another food for your pet. “By-product” isn’t the meat you and I are used to eating; instead, it’s any combination of internal organs, intestines, and other “leftover” parts, up to and including feet.
If you’re feeding your pet a kibble diet, you’ll also find grains or grain substitutes, like potatoes, in the ingredients list. Not all pets are sensitive to these carbohydrates, but excessive amounts may lead to health issues. So if you feel your pet might not be thriving on a traditional kibble diet, consider switching to one with fewer carbohydrates. Canned, freeze-dried, dehydrated, and raw commercial pet foods are typically very low in carbohydrates.
Next, look for real fruits and veggies on the label, such as blueberries, apples, carrots, and broccoli. These excellent natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants offer the same health benefits for your pet as they do for you. Pets don’t need a lot of these, so finding them further down the ingredient panel is fine.
Fats, like salmon and flaxseed oils, will help give your pet a soft, shiny coat (and reduce shedding) and are beneficial for immune health, as well. If you see ingredients like lactobacillus acidopholus – what a mouthful! – don’t panic. It’s included to help your pet better digest his food and assists in eliminating gas and reducing stool volume.
So, to sum up, look for foods that contain:
- An identifiable meat as the first ingredient;
- A minimal amount of grains and grain substitutes;
- Real fruits and vegetables;
- Salmon and/or flaxseed oils;
- Pre- and probiotics; and
- Lots of water (canned and raw commercial pet foods often contain 75%+ water).
- And here are the ingredients to avoid:
- Meat, poultry, or animal by-products; and
- Excessive amounts of grains or grain substitutes.
Use this information to help you determine if your pet’s current food is one you’ll want to continue feeding or one you may want to change. Either way, congratulate yourself on taking the time to become better educated on proper nutrition for your pet.
Sue Tasa is the Director of Education for locally owned and operated pet supply company, Pet Food Express.