Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reading Pet Food Labels

by Carrie Boyko, CEB
Food Deliveries are the Best!
Let's be clear right from the get go. I'm not a pet food expert, just an educated consumer. Today I'm going to share some of the best tips for selecting your dog's chow based on two of the most well-respected authorities--the Whole Dog Journal and the FDA's Pet Food Labeling resources.

Before you make a switch, keep in mind that picking a food for your Fido should be just that--what's best for Bowser. This is not a selection of which food makes YOU salivate!

What to look for on the label:

  1. Where to shop: Busy independent pet supply stores often have more knowledgeable staff. If you're like me and the closest such establishment is not inside your stomping grounds, you'll have two alternatives that can offer good choices--pet specialty chain stores, both online and the brick-and-mortar variety. Start at the latter until you have made an initial selection, to allow you to read the entire label according to the tips below. 
  2. Locate the ingredients panel and guaranteed analysis to compare protein and fat to your dog's current meal choice.
  3. Always check the Best By date or Date of Production; the former is required, while the latter is provided on the label by some manufacturers.
  4. Now find the AAFCO statement that states how the maker met the requirements of a "complete and balanced " diet. Manufacturers have a choice of (1) meeting required nutrient profiles or (2) completing a feeding trial.
Here are the benchmarks that you'll want to look for:
  1. A Named animal protein at the top of the list.  Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight; the bottom half of the list is generally vitamins and minerals. 
  2. Specific animal protein (ex: chicken, beef, etc.) is not as questionable as "meat". Animal protein meals should also be specific to the animal: choose "chicken meal" over a more vague "poultry meal" for clarity and generally healthier handling. If a fresh meat is first on the ingredient list, an animal protein meal should supplement this due to excessive moisture in fresh meat. Protein meal will help assure adequate protein.
  3. Whole vegetable, fruits and grains, assuming you're not looking at grain-free foods.
  4. That 6-month out Best By date would be even better if 10-11 months away. Dates as much as 2 years away may suggest synthetic preservatives.
What to Avoid:
  1. Meat and poultry by-products are not stored as carefully as better ingredients, meaning more potential for trouble.
  2. Animal fats should be specifically named to be traceable. Don't buy food including poultry fat or meat fat; choose chicken fat or beef fat instead.
  3. Added sweeteners are enjoyed by dogs just as by us, and just like us, they don't need them. These ingredients can encourage eating challenges.
  4. Steer clear of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. The latter will generally be listed as BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin. Choose products with natural preservatives like mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), Vitamin C or rosemary extract.
I'd like to add that selecting a food maker that includes a contact phone number on their label for consumers can be extremely helpful. This phone number speaks loud and clear that the company wants to hear from you, rather than hide from you. 

The Natural Balance offices have a team of Customer Care representatives that field these calls from consumers with questions on everything from quality and ingredients to feeding frequency and amount. You'll find their phone number and email address at this link on their website also. 

I loved hearing these folks reminisce about the many callers who actually have a favorite Customer Care 
rep that they ask for by name when they contact the company. It's always nice to talk to a familiar person when you need help making a selection. Customer service is an important part of the brand you choose. 

Join me on Tuesday to learn more about Natural Balance's Buy with Confidence lab. The geek in me really came out when I visited here recently and learned so much about their testing and quality control. Yes, I admit it. I get off on that stuff!

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As a Natural Balance Insider, I have had the opportunity to tour their facilities, speak with employees and learn a great deal about the company. In addition to sharing educational information in this series, I'll offer insights into Natural Balance, our choice for Tanner and Oliver's organic dog food. While I do receive sponsored travel and pet food, the comments I share about Natural Balance are, without exception, my own opinions.


evie said...

i would like to add that there should be no wheat gluten; no by products which you mentioned; where food is made-i dont buy anything made in china nor do i buy any dog food that has ingredients made in china...i recently stopped buying dog food that has any yeast, as w/ my dogs, min. schnauzers, which are prone to skin bumps, can cause more, and also can cause the browning of the white feathers, as i learned from my breeder. i also look at the protein percentage...higher protein will cause loose bowels in some dogs...i know my dogs do better when the protein level is in the mid twenties to low 30's. if i go to the mid 30's, they have loose stools...which cant be fixed by feeding pumpkin, or adding unsweetened coconut flakes or taking an organic granny smith apple and stewing it in spring water til it is very soft, then strain the water, no seeds, feed the dogs the strained water (a tip from my dog breeder). some dogs cant eat chicken but it is not the chicken, it what the chickens are feed. i used to cook all of my dogs foods from scratch, per my homeopathic vet. she did not subscribe to any commercial dog foods, she made all of her foods for her dogs and cats (she used to have championship maine coon cats). i look for meats for the first ingredients, better if there are several meats listed, like now my kibble (i also feed raw) has salmon, sardines and anchovies as the first 3 ingredients. i am not an expert either, just learned lots from my dog breeder, who it totally homeopathic and my vet...and read alot..dogss that have any allergies do better w/ rabbit, buffaloe or venison...i have also heard kangeroo is good as well. i think natural balance has one w/ kangeroo now...

evie said...

i have also noticed that several dog foods add salt or sugar, which i avoid these foods as well. just as with humans, dogs dont need any additional salt or sugar added to their food.

Dawn said...

Thanks for the info! I never used to think about dog food ingredients until Sephi died at what I felt was an early age. She was 10, but I felt she should have lived longer and it made me wonder if her diet had something to do with it. I also felt compelled to reconsider the brand of dog food I was giving my dogs when I got Pierson. He had lived a few weeks as a stray so I wanted to make sure he got as healthy as possible. Today, both Maya and Pierson are a much better quality food.

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