Like your own diet, you want the food you give to your pets to be nutritious and contribute to their ongoing good health. But it can be difficult to determine what type of food suits them best and even harder to read the labels on pre-made foods. Of course, you could always try cooking a vegan diet for your Fido or Mr. Whiskers, but that requires a huge time commitment that you probably can’t manage. And why should you when there are perfectly good options already on the market? The trick with choosing the right pet food lies in learning to read the labels and understand what they’re telling you. Although they are slightly different from nutrition labels found on food for people, they follow the same basic principle.
You may be surprised to learn that pet food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as are human foods. There are standards in place to track product information (such as ingredients listed) as well as quantity and quality. Many states have also decided to follow the stricter regulations set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which further requires manufacturers of feed to adhere to certain standards of nutritional adequacy as well as include caloric values and feeding instructions. However, this does not necessarily mean that the food you’re buying is right for your pet (it just means it met minimum requirements of acceptability).
The first thing you want to determine when searching for proper food for your pet is that you have chosen a product that is right for the age and size of your pet. This is important because of the way digestive habits in animals change. An older cat, for example, needs food with more fats because the ability to absorb fats wanes. Older dogs, on the other hand, will gain weight with a fatty diet because they are less active. Although most pet foods are clearly marked to show what age and size of pet they are meant for, you may want to check in with your veterinarian to find out just what your best friend should be eating at their current stage of life.
As for the nutrition label, there are several key points to identify. First and foremost, you should check the ingredient list, generally located at the bottom of the label. If the first ingredient is corn or maize, you’ll want to find another brand. Corn is a filler. It has very little nutritional value and serves no real purpose other than making your animal feel full. The first item listed on a label is present in the largest quantity, so you’ll want to find something that has meats and vegetables listed before corn. If you’re keen to try organic food, this portion of the label will also tell you which ingredients are organic (as the word “organic” will appear before each applicable item).
You should also check nutritional values. Your vet can likely provide you with a list of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) that your pet should be ingesting. While you may find some of them on a food label, you will likely discover that you come up short, no matter what brand you check. For this reason, you should consider supplementing your pet’s diet with a daily multivitamin. Other than that, check the label for proper feeding instructions, be aware of your pet’s age, weight, and activity level, and try not to overfeed. Most pets will eat as much as they’re given, meaning you hold their health in your hands. By keeping them at a stable weight, you’ll ensure that they lead long, healthy, and happy lives.