Decoding Pet Food Labels: Dr. B’s Guide to Making Informed Choices

Hey there, pet parents! Dr. B here from Pet Health, ready to tackle one of the most confusing aspects of caring for our pets: deciphering pet food labels. You’re not alone if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed standing in the pet food aisle, staring at rows of colorful bags, wondering which is the best choice for your beloved companion. In this blog, I’ll explain the essentials of understanding pet food labels, helping you make informed decisions about what goes into your pet’s bowl. Let’s dive in!

Understanding pet food labels is crucial for ensuring your pet gets the nutrition they need. Rest assured, pet food labels are regulated by both the FDA and AAFCO. The FDA sets federal guidelines for ingredient identification and net quantity statements. At the same time, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) establishes specific rules that pet food manufacturers must follow to ensure the quality and safety of your pet’s food.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, let’s address something crucial: the plethora of information plastered on pet food bags. While some are undoubtedly significant, much of it amounts to little more than marketing fluff. I want this blog to focus on the four most critical factors you should consider when scrutinizing pet food labels.

Ingredient List

When deciphering pet food labels, understanding the ingredient list is paramount. The list follows a specific rule: all ingredients must be listed in decreasing order based on weight. It’s crucial to note that the weight of whole meat includes water content, while other ingredients are measured dry. So, what should you be on the lookout for? The same principles apply when selecting food for yourself – prioritize real, wholesome ingredients over artificial additives like coloring or preservatives. Scrutinizing the ingredient list is the first step to ensure your pet receives nourishment from quality sources.

Guaranteed Analysis

Understanding the guaranteed analysis is the next crucial step when deciphering pet food labels. This section provides essential information for pet parents, detailing the levels of key nutrients such as protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. The guaranteed analysis must also specify the amount provided if a product includes vitamin or mineral supplements. It’s essential to note that canned food incorporates water into the guaranteed analysis. For instance, if a dog food label indicates 75% water in the guaranteed analysis, the dry matter content is 25%. This affects the interpretation of other nutrients listed.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

Understanding the nutritional adequacy statement is my third important step when deciphering pet food labels. This statement confirms whether the pet food is “complete and balanced” or “100% nutritious.” It also indicates if the food does not provide complete nutrition and is not intended to be served as a meal, such as if it’s a topper. Additionally, the statement specifies if the food is formulated for a specific life stage, including gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance, or all life stages. However, it’s crucial to note a particular point regarding foods labeled “All Life Stages.” While marketed for all life stages, these foods are nutritionally equivalent to puppy or kitten food, potentially leading to weight gain in adult pets due to increased calories. Thus, pet parents should exercise caution when selecting food for adult pets labeled as “All Life Stages.”

Feeding Directions

Understanding the feeding directions on pet food labels is my final recommendation.   This is an essential step to maintaining your pet’s optimal weight. These guidelines offer a starting point for determining the appropriate serving size based on breed, age, and activity level. However, it’s essential to recognize that each pet has unique nutritional needs, requiring adjustments to the recommended amounts depending on your pet’s weight changes.   These amounts often decrease as your pet’s age or activity levels change.

You can make informed decisions about your pet’s diet by understanding the ingredient list, guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, and feeding directions. Remember, pet food labels are regulated to provide accurate information, but it’s up to you to decipher what matters most for your pet’s health. With this knowledge, you can confidently navigate the pet food aisle and choose the best options for your beloved companion.

Demystifying Grain-Free 1

Demystifying Grain-Free Diets: Separating Fact from Fiction

As we delve into the intricate world of pet nutrition this month, grain-free diets have emerged as a point of contention and concern among veterinarians and pet parents. Grain-free pet foods have gained popularity in recent years, with many pet parents opting for these diets based on various beliefs about their purported benefits. However, recent veterinary studies have shed light on potential health risks associated with grain-free diets, particularly concerning a form of heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Let’s explore this topic further and debunk some common grain-free diet myths.

Grain-Free Diets: What You Need to Know

Since 2018, veterinarians have been analyzing the potential link between grain-free diets and DCM in dogs. DCM is a severe heart condition characterized by an enlarged heart and decreased cardiac function, leading to possible complications and reduced quality of life. Some studies have suggested a correlation between grain-free diets and an increased risk of DCM in certain breeds, such as the Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, English Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, and Portuguese Water Dogs.

Several additional points shed light on the complexities of the grain-free diet debate. In July 2018, the FDA issued a warning regarding diet-associated DCM in dogs, prompting further investigation by veterinary cardiologists. While some studies have implicated diet and taurine deficiency in specific breeds, others have failed to establish a strong association.

Debunking the Grain-Free Food Myth

The notion that grain-free diets are superior for pets is a common misconception that many pet parents have bought into. However, there is no concrete evidence to support the idea that grain-free diets offer any significant health benefits. In fact, food allergies to grains are very uncommon, rendering the exclusion of grains unnecessary for most pets. Additionally, grains serve as a valuable source of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals in pet food formulations. Contrary to popular belief, grains do not contribute to health problems and can contribute positively to a balanced diet for pets.

Guidance for Pet Parents Feeding Grain-Free Diets

If you feed your pet a grain-free diet, it’s essential to be proactive about their health, especially in light of recent concerns surrounding diet-associated heart issues. For dogs showing no clinical signs of cardiac problems and appearing healthy, the simplest and most conservative action is to switch to a diet that includes grains until more definitive information is available regarding the potential risks of grain-free diets.

However, suppose you prefer to keep your pet on a grain-free diet. In that case, it’s advisable to consult with your Pet Health veterinarian and consider conducting an echocardiogram to assess for underlying heart conditions. Testing for taurine levels in the blood is also recommended, particularly for breeds susceptible to taurine deficiency. If myocardial failure is identified or if taurine concentration is low, transitioning to a diet that includes grains and initiating taurine supplementation may be necessary. Seeking guidance from a veterinary cardiologist can also provide further insight and assistance in managing your pet’s diet and overall health.

Navigating Nutrition: Additional Information 

Stay tuned for future blogs this month as we delve into other aspects of pet nutrition, guiding you toward optimal health and well-being for your pet companions. Remember, your pet’s nutrition is crucial to their overall health, so choose wisely and prioritize evidence-based care for your beloved pet.

Pet Food Myths - 2

Unveiling the Truth: Dr. B’s Guide
to Pet Food Myths Revealed!

Welcome, pet parents, to Dr. B’s myth-busting blog on pet food! As we delve into June, dedicated to all things nutrition, I thought a good place to start was separating fact from fiction and shedding light on some common misconceptions surrounding what we feed our furry companions. Join me and the Pet Health team on this enlightening journey as we debunk the top five pet food myths, providing evidence-based insights to help you make informed decisions about your pet’s diet.

Myth #1: Dogs are Carnivores and Should be on a Raw Diet

While dogs share some characteristics with carnivores, their dietary classification is omnivores. This means they remain healthy in the wild on a diet consisting of plant and animal foods.

Besides the fact that wild canines can eat plants, several other important considerations must be made when choosing a raw diet.

Nutritional Deficiencies: Raw diets, if not carefully formulated, can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies, posing a risk to your dog’s health.

Bone Risks: Feeding bones in raw diets can pose risks of obstructions, constipation, and tooth fractures.

Bacterial Contamination: Raw food carries a significant risk of bacterial contamination, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can harm pets and humans.

Lack of Scientific Evidence: It’s important to note that despite the claims, there is a significant lack of solid scientific evidence supporting the purported benefits of raw diets.

Myth #2: Corn is a Filler and a Major Cause of Pet Allergies

Contrary to popular belief, corn is not just a filler in pet food. Corn provides a highly available source of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids like linoleic acid, essential amino acids, and fiber. Corn can be highly digestible when adequately processed, ensuring that pets can absorb vital nutrients for optimal health.

Secondly, corn is not a common cause of pet food allergies. Documented allergies to corn are quite rare. The ingredients most frequently associated with adverse reactions in dogs include beef, dairy products, and wheat; in cats, beef, dairy products, and fish are top of the list. In fact, actual food allergies are estimated to be responsible for only 1% of pet skin disease cases.

Myth #3: Foods That Contain By-Products Should Be Avoided

By-products are simply the secondary products created during the manufacturing process of something else. Like cheese and butter are by-products of human milk production, pet food by-products can be an excellent source of nutrients for our furry friends.

Contrary to popular belief, many by-products, such as organ meats, provide exceptional nutritional value compared to non-by-product counterparts. These include parts like lungs, spleen, kidneys, brains, livers, stomachs, and intestines – all rich in essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins crucial for pets’ well-being.

Not only are by-products nutrient-dense, but they’re also more palatable for pets than skeletal muscle meat. Many popular dog treats like bully sticks (this is a bull penis), pig ears, and tendons fall under the by-product category.

Myth #4: All Dogs Have Allergies to Chicken

Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are allergic to chicken. Actual cases of pet food allergies are rare, affecting less than 1% of all skin disease cases and only 15% of confirmed food allergen cases—that’s one out of an estimated 750 dogs! Symptoms of food allergies can vary widely, from itchy skin to chronic ear infections and gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea.

A comprehensive review of 297 dogs found that while chicken is a common allergen (reported in 15% of cases), other culprits include beef, dairy products, wheat, lamb, soy, corn, egg, pork, fish, and rice.

Have I seen improvement in pets with chicken eliminated from their diet? Absolutely! However, it’s essential to remember that your pet can have allergies to other proteins or even multiple proteins. The only way to pinpoint a food allergy is through a strict diet trial recommended by your Pet Health veterinarian. This trial typically lasts at least eight weeks and requires total commitment from the pet’s family.

Myth #5: A “Holistic” Pet Food is Better for My Pet

Many pet parents are led to believe that pet foods labeled as “holistic” contain only the most wholesome ingredients for their pets. However, here’s the catch: the term “holistic” is not defined by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). Pet food companies can slap the label on their packaging without meeting specific criteria.

In reality, using “holistic” in pet food marketing is more about selling than substance. There’s no solid evidence to prove that these diets offer superior benefits to pets. Instead, it’s a clever marketing tool to entice consumers to choose one brand over another.

As we wrap up our myth-busting adventure, remember that knowledge is power regarding your pet’s nutrition. Don’t be swayed by marketing tactics or trendy buzzwords. Instead, focus on evidence-based nutrition and consult your Pet Health veterinarian for personalized guidance. Stay tuned for more informative content throughout June, which is dedicated to helping you nourish your pet’s health and well-being!