Pet Nutrition - 101 (1 of 4)

Feeding a healthy and safe diet to “Fluffy” or “Fido” has become a priority for many pet owners.  Pet food recalls are too prevalent and are getting the attention of many who are concerned about their pets.  Many pet owners want to learn more about what they are feeding, but reading pet food labels can be confusing and deceiving. 

 The pet food manufacturing industry is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center of Veterinary Medicine.  The regulations for pet foods are very lax and poorly monitored.  Therefore, as pet owners, we must take a proactive role in understanding pet food labels and our pets’ nutritional needs. 

List of Ingredients

To easily analyze the “main” ingredients of your pet’s food, identify the fat and every ingredient listed prior.  Because fat content is around 10%, everything listed afterwards is a minor ingredient based on weight.   From the “main” ingredients, determine what ingredients are most prevalent.  Watch out for a couple of tricks manufacturers play to make you believe certain ingredients are more prevalent (meat) or less prevalent (grains) than they really are.

Example 1:  If an ingredient is list as just “chicken” or “beef”, it is added to the mixture when it is fresh and therefore contains 75% water.  If a grain is listed after the fresh meat, then in its dry state, the grain likely weighs more than the meat.  Chicken Meal, on the other hand is added after the meat has been processed into a dry meal, and therefore does contains less than 20% water.  This does not mean you should avoid “fresh” protein sources.  Just be sure that if a fresh meat is used as an ingredient, be sure it is followed by a specific meat meal before a grain is listed.

Example 2:  Look for a grain that is listed several different ways.  (ie, whole grain corn, corn meal, corn gluten)  If listed separate, they many be 20% in volume and all listed after the meat source.  But in the aggregate, you could be feeding your dog 60% corn!


Cats are true carnivores and dogs are opportunistic carnivores.  An opportunistic carnivore will thrive on a meat diet, but can survive on some carbohydrates, although there are no nutritional requirements for carbohydrates. In the wild, canines consume small amounts of carbohydrates by eating the stomach contents of their prey.  However, the canine’s primary purpose of eating the stomach lining is for the high levels of digestive enzymes they need to help breakdown and absorb the nutrients in their food. 

 Often, pet food manufactures will use inexpensive substitutes for protein such as corn gluten, wheat gluten and soy.  Protein derived from plant sources are not biologically appropriate for dogs and cats and can not be readily absorb; therefore, the “guaranteed analysis” for protein levels becomes deceiving.

With that said, the first ingredient listed on the label should be a meat source.  Avoid “meat by-products”, as they are low quality parts of the animal that are unsuitable for human consumption.  They consist of feet, beaks, brains, intestines and some feathers.  They can also be derived from "4-D" meat sources -- defined as food from animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as "dead, dying, diseased or disabled." 



 Avoid corn, wheat and soy as these are the top three allergens for dogs and cats.  Many mass market pet food manufacturers use these ingredients because they are inexpensive.  Surprisingly, many of these ingredients are listed first, indicating that a “filler” is the most prevalent ingredient in the food.

Look for low glycemic carbohydrates such such as Barley, Millet, Brown Rice and Oats.  Grain free options to look for are peas or lentils, which also have a protein value.  Watch out for grain fragments such as Brewers Rice, Peanut Hulls, Rice Hulls and Oat Hulls,   These are the byproduct left over after human food processing. White potatoes are high glycemic and can cause inflammation.  They should be avoided with seniors and overweight dogs.Type your paragraph here.