A guide to interpreting pet food labels

The truth is not many pet owners know how to interpret the list of ingredients on a pet food label, or more to the point, not many even look at the list of ingredients when purchasing a pet food product.

Because our lives are so busy…

it is very easy to rely on the food sources already available to us for our pets, so even if we were to read the label, would we really even know what all those ingredients actually meant? The majority answer for most pet owners is a firm NO.

Don’t beat yourself up about it! Unless we have a food allergy or intolerance of some kind or are watching our weight, most of us don’t read the list of ingredients on human packet food, so it’s not at all surprising that we don’t do this for our pets either.

To help you…

I am going to share a little bit of knowledge about the ingredients contained in commercial pet food. A word of warning, it may shock you (or not), but this is not my intent. I just want to bring your awareness to the ingredients on the labels so that the next time you do purchase a pet food product, you have a bit more of an understanding and you are able to make some conscious decisions on food choices. Knowledge is a very powerful tool!

I won’t be naming or shaming any particular pet foods or brands, but I can say that they are all pretty much the same in terms of how the ingredients are listed on the product (both dried and wet foods).

Let’s begin with the ingredients…

on pet food labels which are always listed by weight in descending order. That is, they begin with the heaviest product at the top of the list and end with those of the least weight at the bottom of the list, such as vitamins and minerals. That all sounds pretty easy to understand, however, pet food manufacturers use the pre-cooked weight of ingredients to make-up this list, not the raw ingredients.

I’ll explain in detail…

and for this example, I’ll use chicken. Chicken meat in its raw state contains 80% moisture, making the protein quite heavy, so it is at the top of the list of the pet food ingredients. Once the chicken is cooked however, there is only about 20% of the actual meat and moisture remaining. Realistically this would make the chicken one of the least amount of ingredients in the actual product.

Let’s say you pick up a can of your dog’s favourite food and you look at the label and the first ingredient you see is chicken, followed by the rest of the ingredients. You are pretty happy that the food contains chicken as the number one product, but in fact it is more like the fourth or fifth ingredient of the product once cooked. Pretty deceiving wouldn’t you say?

Meat isn’t always just meat…

but when you think of chicken (or any other meat for that matter) being a product in pet food, you would usually think of a succulent piece of chicken breast or some thigh fillets perhaps, but sadly that isn’t always the case. Some pet foods contain meat by-products. When you see the word ‘meat by-products’ on a label, by-products are left over waste material from the human food production consisting of non-rendered clean parts, other than meat, including lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomach and intestines. With chicken, it can include necks, feet, underdeveloped eggs and intestines. All cooked and very hard for your pet to digest. It’s enough to make you gag!

The other ingredients…

are a myriad of additional components added to the product. Here are my top three you should definitely avoid:

  • Gelling agents – are used to mimic the jelly found naturally in the marrow of animals. It is a carbohydrate used to improve the appearance and taste of the pet food. It is non-nutritive and has been designed to slow down the food so that it sits in the intestine for longer. This is bad news for your pet as their digestive system has been designed to digest food fast. When a pet consumes a diet high in cooked food, the acidity level in the stomach is unnaturally decreased. Basically a pet eating commercial pet food has a confused digestive system.
  • Colouring agents – used to make the pet food look more appealing to the consumer. Colouring are non-nutritive and are synthetic chemical dyes that have been linked to cancer and other ill health problems.
  • Vitamins & Minerals – because the cooking process used to make commercial pet foods destroys any of the natural vitamins and minerals found in raw food, pet manufacturers add synthetic supplements. Overuse of synthetic supplements can actually create more harm than good and can be potentially toxic to some pets.

I could talk for days…

about the different kinds of ingredients that are found in so many commercial pet foods on the market today. So rather than overwhelm you with too much information, I hope that what I have provided will give you a glimpse or at least some insight into what your pet is actually eating. Whether you continue to feed your pet commercial food is entirely your choice and I am not going to judge anybody on their personal preferences. Most importantly I want you to be mindful of what some of these ingredients actually mean, so that you are aware and able to make a conscious choice when choosing what your pet consumes.


Helping pet owners make healthier food choices for their pets 🐶😺