How To Read Pet Food Labels Like A Pro

We are what we eat. Our pets are what they eat. Here are ways to read a food label like a pro – and no you won’t need a phD!

Chances are you’ve heard the saying, “we are what we eat.” That phrase is a truth for humans and for our dogs and cats. As a pet parent, it’s important that you find the best food for the species, size and age of the pet you’re feeding.

If you’ve looked at a pet food label recently you know how confusing it can be to decipher them. We have quick tips that will have you reading dog and cat food labels like a pro!

  1. Look for common ingredients with names you can pronounce
  2. Look for foods with limited ingredients
  3. Don’t believe all of the claims a bag of pet food touts. The labels on the pet food are geared toward the pet parent and may make claims that, while true, may not be as beneficial as they sound.

When reading a label, know that the ingredients are listed by weight and the ingredients at the top are those to concern yourself with.

Read Pet Food Labels Like A Pro: Your Pet Is What He Eats


My appearance on KCTV5 Better Kansas City

Look for foods that list: meat, poultry or meal at the top. Dogs and cats are carnivores and that means the first ingredient you want to see on a bag of cat or dog food is meat or a meat meal. “Meat” could be a combination of protein from animal sources and as such, may not be specifically labeled.

Ingredients that list meat or poultry by-products are typically comprised of bones, internal organs and muscles; those ingredients can be just as nutritious as meat or poultry.

Choose food that has added minerals and vitamins.

Avoid foods with added colors, chemical preservatives and thickeners. If the food you’re buying has these ingredients, make certain they are at the end of the ingredient list as that means they aren’t used in copious quantities.

Look at the calories in the food you’re choosing for your fur baby. Ask your veterinarian how many calories your dog or cat should have daily and measure your pet’s food based on your veterinarian’s recommendations. The bags of food will list recommended daily feeding amounts based on the average pet’s weight. Your veterinarian will base his or her recommendations on your pet’s age, activity level, overall health and weight before making a caloric recommendation.

Small batch manufacturing is ideal as are foods that use human-grade ingredients and process the foods in human-grade facilities.

Choose a brand name you recognize

Rather than choose an obscure, off-brand, go for name recognition as your first step in the label reading process.

Feeding guidelines

Look on the back for feeding guidelines. A 15-pound Doxie, like Rocky, only needs 450 calories per day; that equals 1 ¼ cups of food. The guidelines on the bag are a great starting point, but you may want to ask your veterinarian for more detailed guidelines for your pet based on his age, weight, activity level and overall health.

Remember: if you feed treats, you need to factor that into your dog’s overall calorie intake. It’s not 450 calories for his meals AND an additional amount of calories for treats!

Nutritionally adequate

Focus on the first five ingredients listed on the bag of food. The ingredients listed first are the ones that have the highest content in the food. The food’s first ingredients make up 80% of the total weight of the bag.

When choosing a bag of cat or dog food, the first three ingredients MUST be proteins. Pets raid chicken coops, not cornfields. Look for meats and meat meals not corns and grains.


Limited ingredient foods are best

Given the choice, I prefer to feed my dogs dehydrated foods)

Don’t assume that the foods you eat are good for your pet – your pets should be fed PET foods, not human foods.

Feed your pet after you eat.

Check food recalls

Google food recalls and make note of the reason for the recall. There have been food recalls based on added supplements and treats tainted with salmonella.

Trust and stick with brands known for offering quality products and touch every step of the manufacturing process.

Food for thought

I’d like to go out on a limb and say we don’t need all these “life stages” of food. Large, medium and small dog formulations and senior are sufficient. If you buy puppy food, you’re feeding your puppy extra fat and protein, and he may not need that.

Move past the marketing noise, trust your gut, ask your vet, feed your pet foods to keep him healthy for a lifetime.

Do you read food labels? Do you have questions on the ingredients? Drop me a comment and let me know — I can help!

Geralynn Cada: Entrepreneur. Dog Trainer. Peace Maker. Unshakable Optimist. Dedicated to helping you and your pet live happier together. Brand Advocate. Product Developer. Dog Trainer. TV Personality








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