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July Tip

Read Any Good Pet Food Labels Lately?

As more and more pet parents like yourself consider feeding their dogs and cats a healthy diet, learning about the ingredients in your pet’s food becomes all the more important.

While many leading dog food and cat food brands cover the front of their bags with beautiful photography or illustrations of healthy ingredients, the ingredient listing on the back is where you can determine whether your pet’s food is as good as you think.

Why is the first ingredient the most important? How do some brands categorize certain ingredients to make their food appear to be of a higher quality? Why is corn not necessarily the best ingredient? Take a minute to find out the answers to these questions and more.

How to compare dog and cat food.

According to Blue Buffalo, when evaluating pet food ingredient listings, consider these factors:

  • The first ingredient by weight is the most important because there is more of that ingredient than any other. All dog foods and cat foods must list the ingredients of their food in order of weight. When you compare the labels below, you see the first ingredient in BLUE is always real deboned chicken, fish, or lamb. In contrast, the first ingredient in a leading brand pet food is ground yellow corn (which has very little nutritional value, and has been linked to allergies in some dogs).
BLUE Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe   A Leading Brand
Deboned Chicken   Ground yellow corn
Chicken Meal   Chicken by-product meal
Whole Ground Brown Rice   Corn gluten meal
Whole Ground Barley   Whole wheat flour
Oatmeal   Beef
Chicken Fat
(preserved with Mixed Tocopherols)
  Soy flour
Peas   Water
Tomato Pomace (source of Lycopene)   Meat and bone meal
Natural Chicken Flavor   Propylene glycol
Whole Potatoes   Sugar
  • The top 10 ingredients usually comprise 80% or more of a dry pet food's entire formula and give you a real insight into the formula’s overall quality. For example, if you compare the top 10 ingredients in BLUE Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe dog food to some of the leading dog food brands, the differences in ingredient quality are clear.
  • Some dog food and cat food brands define their ingredients in several different ways so that the ones of lower quality appear further down the ingredient list. For example, a product list could contain chicken, ground corn, corn gluten, ground wheat and corn bran. And, if you were to group all of the corn ingredients as one, they might far out-weigh the amount of chicken in that food, and be the first listed ingredient.
  • Be sure to read all of the ingredients at the end of the listing to know if any artificial preservatives and colorings are being used.

The kinds of ingredients you’ll find in quality pet foods.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to read a label, it’s important to know the specific ingredients that comprise healthy dog foods and cat foods—as well as the ingredients that should give you pause.

  • Real meat, such as chicken, fish or lamb, is a source of high-quality, highly digestible protein. Proteins are essential for growth, maintenance, reproduction, repair and energy.
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, barley and oats supply complex carbohydrates to maintain your dog's or cat’s energy level , and healthy fiber not found in most processed grains
  • Veggies and fruit provide essential phytonutrients, antioxidants and enzymes, plus natural vitamins, minerals and fibers that promote and maintain health and wellness.

Many leading dog foods and cat foods contain the ingredients below, which are not of the highest quality.

  • Poultry [Chicken] By-Product Meal Read more here.
  • Artificial color and chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and propylene glycol. They provide no nutritional value and have been associated with possible side effects.
  • Corn, wheat and soy have been linked to allergic reactions in some dogs.

The bottom line on pet food label comparison.

Choosing the best food for your beloved pet isn’t easy, especially when there are so many brands touting themselves as having high-quality ingredients. Next time you’re in the store, take a minute to review the dog or cat food you’re using now. With what you’ve learned about pet food labels, that minute could mean a big difference in your pet's life.