By Merridee Hansen Farr Carus, MPA

In our health-conscious world we are not only seeking to better serve ourselves with healthy food alternatives but to also ensure our furry friends are receiving the best nutrition. Reading labels can be confusing, which is sometimes intentional by the pet food industry. Even though pet food is somewhat regulated by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) and the FDA, very little regulation of commercial pet food quality exists in the U.S. Following are some helpful pointers for choosing the appropriate food for your pet.

1. The best ratios for a healthy pet’s diet are minimally 50% meat, 50% vegetables, grain-free, wheat-free, and no cheap fillers.

2. Ensure protein sources are high on the ingredient list. Remember, cats and dogs are carnivores. They thrive on a meat-based diet. Look for whole food sources at the very top of the ingredient list like “beef ”, “turkey”, “lamb”—one-word descriptions.

1373.  Grains can be a long-term source of energy, but they can also be used as a cheap filler to boost the food’s protein percentage. Leave all pet food containing corn or soy in any form on the shelf. Corn is an inexpensive filler and a known allergenic, and soy is estrogenic which can cause problems for your pet’s endocrine system. Also, keep away from formulas containing by-products as some contain animal parts that
have been ground into the mix during processing.

4. Whole fruits and vegetables listed as the third or fourth ingredients on the label are acceptable, especially if they
replace grains. As a general rule, the longer the ingredient list the more potential for filling your pet full of stuff that is biologically inappropriate, probably allergenic, and possibly toxic.

5. Avoid pet foods containing artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives, especially those known to be carcinogens. You can
find them under the names BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin and propyl gallate. A better option is to look for foods preserved with Vitamins E and C, often referred to as tocopherols.

Other things to consider when choosing healthy food is to allow moderate levels of animal fat; high moisture content (prey is
70 percent water); no grains as carnivores do not have a biological requirement for grains, and no large amounts of potatoes or other starches to offset meat content. Try introducing fresh cut veggies and some fruit to mimic stomach contents of prey.

Pet owners should take the time to familiarize themselves with food labels. There is a wealth of information available if you know how to read and evaluate pet food labels. Don’t be swayed by the many marketing gimmicks or eye-catching claims developed by the pet industry to coax a buyer into believing a product is acceptable and/or desirable. Remember labels such as “organic”, “premium”, “natural”, etc., may not be any better than other foods which do not state such terms but are far superior in nutritional value. It is all about understanding the label and making good choices for your pets. They are counting on you to make good food choices to enable your best friends to live long and healthy lives! Bone Appetit!

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