The vet’s office: Reading pet food labels
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM, and Dana Marcott, CVT
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
I recently was trying to decide what senior food to switch my dog to and was overwhelmed by the number of choices I had. While the choices may seem endless, there are a few important things you should know when selecting a bag off the shelf.
The pet food industry has regulations on what companies can put on their pet food labels, and knowing some of these can help you decide on a quality food to feed your pet.
First, the list of ingredients goes by weight, not volume. This means that the heaviest items are listed first, but they may not be the majority ingredient of a diet.
Secondly, when looking at the list of ingredients, many people look at the protein source. It is important to know that the flavor descriptors used can explain the percent of that source in the diet. For example, if the bag says “beef” with no other descriptors, then beef is the only meat source in the diet. Words like “entree” or “dinner” indicate that 95 percent of the meat is one type, whereas words like “with” can mean the diet is made up of only 25 percent of meat described on the bag, and 75 percent is some other meat source.
It is important to understand what you feed your pet. A good resource for information on labels is the American Association of Feed Control Officials.
Nutrition choice is important for the long-term health of your pet. We veterinarians are often asked by clients what we think of diets they are feeding their pets. Label reading is a skill to develop as it lets you compare diets and make intelligent choices.
Pets all have different lifestyles and activity levels. A diet that works well for an active dog may not be best for a sedentary dog. For example, protein is tougher to metabolize than fat and starch and puts more stress on kidneys and the liver as it is digested. An active dog that does a lot of heavy exercise likely needs more protein to maintain muscle than does an older dog that sleeps more. A diet for an older dog should have enough protein but not so much that its organs have to work harder.
Another part to labels is knowing what is not on them. There are limited-ingredient diets out commercially that have been found to have protein sources that are not listed on the label.
Also, the quality of a protein source is not something that is listed. A larger amount of a poor-quality protein is worse than a lesser amount of an excellent-quality protein.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.