We know how confusing it can be choosing the right the right food for our pets, and we are always here to help! We've put together our handy Pet Food Checklist to help you ask (and answer) the right questions.
What's The Protein Source?
Ingredients in pet food are listed on the label in order of quantity. Ideally, you want the first ingredient to be a named protein source (e.g. “fresh chicken”). If the food doesn't state what meat is being used in the food, the protein source may be a combination of different meats and there may not be a guarantee on the quality.
Does The Food Contain "Meat & Animal Derivatives" Or "Animal By-Products"?
Meat and animal derivatives are defined as being:
“All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals.”
Animal by-products are defined as being:
“Entire bodies or parts of animals, products of animal origin or other products obtained from animals, which are not intended for human consumption.”
The above definitions are very broad, and while its true that derivatives and by-products can contain beneficial ingredients such as organ meat and offal, it is also possible that they can contain other parts of an animal carcass such as feathers, beaks and hooves. Ingredients such as these are less digestible and contain less essential amino acids.
Is The Food Higher In Protein Or Carbohydrates?
Dogs and cats are both animals that thrive on protein as an energy source. Cats in particular are obligate carnivores so require high levels of meat in their diet to survive.
Dogs can tolerate higher levels of carbohydrates in their food, but high carbohydrate diets are still not ideal in most cases. Ideally, the percentage of meat protein should be higher than the percentage of carbohydrates.
There is no legal requirement for pet food manufacturers to state the carbohydrate content of their food, but by looking at the list of ingredients we can infer whether the food is a high carbohydrate food or not.
Is The Food Grain-Free?
Grain-free foods can be ideal for pets suffering from certain allergies. Wheat and other cereal ingredients are common allergens for both dogs and cats, as well as not being highly digestible. Wheat, for example, has a high glycaemic index which can negatively affect our pets' blood sugar levels.
Another common grain found in pet food is rice. While rice is more digestible (especially brown rice), too much rice in a pet food can act more as a filler than having beneficial nutritional properties, and may also provide our pets with too much fibre.
There's also the risk of storage mites in grain-based foods, which you can read more about here.
Sweet potato is often used as an alterative in grain-free foods. This carbohydrate has a low glycaemic index compared to other commonly used carbohydrates so does not cause noticable spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead, it causes a gradual rise which is considered more healthy, and is also beneficial for weight management.
What Is The Fibre Content?
Although fibre is not considered to be an essential nutrient for dogs and cats, it does have certain benefits. Most dry pet foods contain a fibre content between 2.5% and 4.5% and it has been proven that in these small amounts dietary fibre can be particularly beneficial to aid in digestive health. Higher amounts of fibre can also be beneficial for pets with certain digestive disorders.
However, too much fibre can have a detrimental effect on our pets' health as it can reduce the digestibility of other important nutrients. Also, pets with pancreatitis require a diet lower in fats and fibre, so it is important to understand our pets' needs and feed them accordingly.
Does The Food Contain Any Important Supplements (E.g. Joint Protection, Omega Oils)?
Joint care in pet food usually comes in form of glucosamine, chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and green lipped mussels (to name a few). Different joint care ingredients have different benefits, which we have outlined in our blog post here.
If a pet food contains these ingredients they should be listed on the packaging, ideally with the amount stated. If needed, a high-quality joint supplement should be provided alongside any supplemental ingredients included in the food by the manufacturer.
Another important supplement to look out for is Omega 3. Ideally, this will come from marine sources rather than plants. We outline the reasons why this is important here. Omega 3 is important for boosting our pets' immune systems, reducing inflammation, and can also aid in the management of heart disease, renal failure and skin disorders.
Are There Any Added Sugars, Salts Or Added Preservatives?
Just like with humans, too much added salt and sugar can be detrimental to our pets' health. Salts and sugars are sometimes added to pet foods to increase their palatability, especially in foods with a lower meat content.
Most high-quality pet foods will contain natural preservatives and additives instead, and these should be listed on the product's packaging alongside other ingredients.
Is The Food Suitable For The Pets' Lifestages?
As our pets grow they will develop different nutritional needs. It is important to feed a food that is appropriative your their life stage and to ensure the food reflects our pets' ages and energy requirements.
Puppies and kittens can benefit from food specially designed for them, as these tend to be higher in proteins and fats than adult pet foods. This can help with healthy bone and joint formation as well as provide them with the energy they need while they grow.
Senior pets can benefit from foods containing lower levels of protein and fats (depending on the level of exercise they receive). Feeding a high quality pet food with a high protein content is good for a pet who has plenty of exercise, but if these foods are fed to a pet that has little exercise then it may be better to select a more senior appropriate food to help prevent weight gain.
Do you have a question about pet food that you don't see on our checklist? We are always happy to offer unbiased nutrition advice so feel free to get it in touch!