Pet Food Ingredients: Choosing the Right Bag
How Do You Choose the Right Food for Your Dog or Cat?
With the recent pet food recalls still fresh in the minds of consumers, people are now asking more questions about what goes in to a bag of cat or dog food. Understanding the ingredients listed on a bag of pet food is essential when choosing a diet that is right for your pet.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, is the institution that defines the ingredients and terms listed on pet food labels. AAFCO standards state that the first ingredient listed on a bag of food has to be the ingredient that there is the most of in the food. The second ingredient listed has to be the second largest constituent of the diet, and so on down the list.
This means that the first three ingredients in a bag of pet food are very important, as these ingredients will make up the bulk of the diet.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must eat meat to survive. Dogs have evolved to be opportunistic feeders, meaning that they may eat some vegetable matter, but still need lots of meat in their diet to stay healthy.
Many experts agree that pet foods should not have grains listed as a first ingredient, such as corn. Cats and dogs have not evolved eating grain based diets. Feeding pet foods too high in grain content can cause health problems for your pet, such as obesity and allergic reactions.
The first ingredient should be a meat protein, for example, chicken, or chicken meal.
Many people feel that when the word "meal" comes after a meat protein, it means that this is an inferior ingredient. This is not true. As a pet food is cooked down into kibble, much of the original moisture weight of the meat evaporates, making it necessary to use fillers such as corn or wheat to compensate for this loss of protein. A meat meal has already been dehydrated, so that when it is added to the food, very little of it escapes as moisture.
Not all meat meals are created equal, though. By-product meals are inferior ingredients. By-products are the left over pieces of animals after they have been processed, such as the heads and feet. Though there is some nutritional value to by-product meals, using real meat in a pet food diet is preferable.
Ingredient splitting is another method pet food companies use to avoid the expense of adding lots of meat to their diets. For example, the first three ingredients listed on a bag of food may be chicken, corn, and corn gluten. Though there is more chicken than each of the corn products products listed, the two corn products together may, in total, outweigh the meat protein.
A quality pet food often has a meat listed as a first ingredient, a meat meal as the second, and a grain as the third.
Natural preservatives, such as vitamin E and mixed tocopherals should be used in a pet food diet, not chemicals.
There should never be any coloring or dyes in a bag of dog or cat food. These are added to appeal to the consumer, but can be harmful to pets.
Quality pet foods usually cost more than grocery brands, but your dog or cat will have to eat less of a premium food, because they are absorbing more nutrients. Most premium foods cost less than a dollar a day to feed. This is a small price to pay for a decrease in visits to the vet, less stool clean up, and a long and happy life for your pet.