There is a lot of information on the back of a bag of pet food, and it is nothing like the nutrition facts label you would find on human food packaging. How can you know what the best choice is for your fur-baby? Well, there are 2 main things to look for: 1) the Guaranteed Analysis 2) the Ingredients List.
The Guaranteed Analysis can include a variety of information, like calcium or phosphorus content, but by law they have to tell you a few key facts:
- Minimum percentage of protein in the food.
- Minimum percentage of fat in the food.
- Maximum percentage of fiber in the food.
- Maximum percentage of moisture in the food.
This information alone doesn’t actually tell you a whole lot. Keep in mind, the percentage of protein doesn’t mean the percentage of meat. That protein can come from soy, corn, beans, and other plants. Since dogs are carnivores, and cats are obligate carnivores, neither of them have many of the digestive enzymes needed to utilize that plant protein. If you want to find out the amount of protein derived from animal products, be sure to call the food manufacturer. The best dry pet foods will get a full 90% of their protein from animal products.
The next thing to keep in mind are the different forms of pet food: dry food, canned food, or raw food. You may notice that the amount of protein in a can looks like it’s much lower than that of dry food. This is because of the moisture. To compare foods accurately, you need to check the “dry matter content,” which unfortunately requires some math: First, subtract the listed percentage of moisture from 100% to find the dry matter remaining. In the pictured example, that would be 100% -78% moisture = 22% dry matter. Then, take the amount of protein listed (here it’s 10%) and divide it by the dry matter amount (22%). That’ll give you the true percentage of protein in the can. In this example it’s 10/22 = .45, or 45%. It can be confusing, but it’s worth it to find out what you’re really feeding your pet!
The next thing to consider is the Ingredients List. These ingredients will always be listed in the order of weight before the products are cooked down and added to the mixture. While this sounds nice, it can be misleading. For example, if a pet food lists boneless chicken breast as the first ingredient, and potato flour and pea flour as the second and third, remember that the boneless chicken breast weighed more than the potato or pea flour because of the water in the meat--but the water had already been cooked out of the potatoes and peas to make them a flour! So in reality, there is a lot more potato and peas in the food than the ingredient list would have you believe. And if the guaranteed analysis lists the protein at 30%, you can bet that a large portion of that protein is derived from the potatoes and peas, not from the chicken breast.