Navigating the pet food aisle can be tricky: A
pet food label’s numbers and percentages can easily be misinterpreted, and
marketing claims may lack regulatory definitions or objective, verifiable evidence to support them. Choosing your
cat or dog’s food is a big decision, and one that should be made with your veterinarian’s guidance. But it doesn’t hurt to know a little about how to decode those labels.

The reality is that the “best”
pet food is the one that meets the unique nutrient and
energy needs of your individual pet’s life stage and health status, and that’s a decision you should make with your veterinarian. Check out our gallery below for things you should keep in mind when reading pet food labels.

  • Puppy Eating
  • Two Cats Eating Food
  • Cat Eating From Bowl
  • Closeup Dog Food
  • Organic Pet Food
  • Cat Food Closeup
  • Dalmatian Eating

7 Things You Should Know About Pet Food Labels

Puppy Eating


1. Feed a diet that’s right for your pet’s life stage.

Two Cats Eating Food


2. Don’t get too caught up in the ingredient list.

Cat Eating From Bowl


3. Understand that byproducts aren’t necessarily bad.

There’s a lot of talk — and seemingly endless opinions — about byproducts. AAFCO defines byproducts as “secondary products produced in addition to the principal product.” This may include organs, many of which can be nutritionally valuable. “You can imagine that there are lots of different kinds of organs, and that they would be nutritionally diverse,” Dr. Farcas explains. “So I might be able to make a mixture of say, lungs and fat. And that would be byproduct meal. But nutritionally, it’d be very different from something that contains heart and liver, which is going to be a lot higher in vitamin and mineral content and higher in protein. Both of those items are called byproduct meal on the label.”

Closeup Dog Food


4. Don’t fear preservatives.

According to Dr. Farcas, some chemical preservatives have been determined to be safe for animals. So there’s not necessarily a reason to discount chemical preservatives outright. Still, if you do make the personal choice to buy pet food with only natural preservatives, ask your veterinarian which kind to feed and how to store it. One example: If you have a small dog, don’t buy giant bags of kibble that will expire before you use it up.

Organic Pet Food


5. Be savvy when it comes to marketing claims.

Cat Food Closeup


6. Know that not all types of protein are the same.

Dalmatian Eating


7. The right amount to feed your pet may be different than the recommendation on the label.

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