Understanding pet food labels

What owners need to look for before buying dog, cat food

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RALEIGH, N.C. - Here's a number that might give you some paws. 170 million dogs and cats are owned in the US. That's a lot of mouths to feed, but what exactly are you feeding your best friend? If you don't know how to interpret what's printed on their food bags and cans, it may not be what you think!

For agility dogs good nutrition helps fuel performance.

"I try to feed my dogs the highest premium quality dog food that I can afford," said Agility Dog Trainer Debra Smith.

Some trainers spend up to 70 dollars per bag on food to make sure their four-legged athletes eat the best. But for a lot of pets, improper nutrition plays a major role in a big problem.

"Obesity is not only a problem, but it's actually a disease in veterinary medicine," said Veterinary Clinical Nutritionist Dr. Korinn Saker.

Saker says a lot of people buy pet food based on the packaging, not what's in the package.

 "They see a really cool picture; the food looks colorful; a nice cut of beef or some chicken or some fresh vegetables… I think a lot of people stop there," Saker explained.

But they shouldn't. Saker explains that there are numerous things to look for on the labels, but the most critical, "The nutritional adequacy claim, which is probably the smallest part on the label, but by far the most important," she said.

The claim will tell you if the food meets the high standards of AAFCO, the Association Of American Feed Control Officials.

As for pet food ingredients, the more protein the better.

"The higher up they are on the ingredient list the higher percentage they are in the diet," explained Saker.

But the wording on your pet's food could mean they're not getting the amount they need!

If it says beef flavor, it has less than three percent of animal protein. ‘With beef' means it has a minimum three percent. Entrées must have at least 10 percent and a label that has the name of the protein by itself will have at least 70 percent of that animal protein.

While these tips might not make your pet performing like an agility dog, understanding what their food labels mean could help keep them healthy.

If your pet seems to be gaining a lot of weight, you may need to change the way you feed it. Saker tells us you should never leave food out around the clock for your pet. She says free-feeding is a big factor in pet obesity, so it's best to give them the proper serving size at set times during the day to make sure they're not getting too many calories.

Additional Information:

You are what you eat; if that is true for humans than that is also true for our furry companions. Dogs need proper nutrition to live healthy balance lives; just like we do. And just like us, dogs need balanced, moderately-sized meals that fuel their activities, not an overindulgent diet that will expand their waistlines and put them at risk of diseases. (Source: http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/best-dog-food-choices)

WHAT SHOULD MY DOG BE EATING?: When it comes to nutrition, dogs are a lot like people. They're omnivores, meaning they can live healthy lives while eating a variety of food. Meats, vegetables, and grains all can be a part of a dog's diet. Dogs need protein. Protein should make up about 18% of your dog's diet, as it should for you. Animal protein from meat and fish offers the balanced protein dogs need. Dogs also need good fats. Fats keep their coat, skin, nose, and paw pads healthy. They are also a great energy source and contain more than twice the calories per gram than protein or carbs. (Source: http://pets.webmd.com/features/pet-nutrition)

Food Allergy and Food Intolerance: If your dog vomits frequently, has diarrhea, irritated skin, a poor coat condition or hair loss, then he may have a food allergy. Allergic reactions are most commonly associated with protein sources - usually the meat in your dog's food. If your dog has an allergic reaction to a certain meat, you may want to try a food with a new protein source - new to your dog, that is - such as egg, duck, salmon, lamb or whitefish. If none of this helps, your dog may be allergic to all of these proteins and will need a food with specially broken-down proteins. Visiting your veterinarian will help make sure you and your dog are on the right track. (Source: http://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/dog-disease-food-allergy-and-food-intolerance.html)               

Dog Obesity and Exercise: Obesity boosts a dog's risk of degenerative joint disease, chronic pain, and potentially fatal diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. If your dog doesn't have a waist, you can't feel their ribs without pressing, or there's no "tuck" in their tummy, they may be too heavy for good health. It is not only important to monitor what your dog eats, but your dog also needs to exercise to stay healthy. Although little dogs need less rambunctious play than medium- and large-breed dogs, all canines need activity at least once and preferably twice a day to maintain healthy bones and muscles. (Source: http://pets.webmd.com/features/pet-nutrition)

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