The ingredient deck in pet food can be downright confusing. Even when a food has a so-called “clean label”, there are often fortifications that go into the food, which can help confuse a savvy pet parent.
As with human food, ingredients are listed in order of volume – the higher on the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food. In most commercially available foods, including the natural foods found at stores like Kriser’s, the vast majority of the product’s volume sits in those first 4-5 ingredients.
Our furry friends are carnivores and have 99% DNA similarity to their wolf ancestors. So you want to make sure that they are getting the majority of the protein from animal sources, since that’s what they can process. You don’t see many wolves hunting for oats and barley, do you? Look for brands that feature animal protein in the first 2-3 ingredients—it will be called either by a protein name (lamb, chicken, beef), a deboned protein (deboned chicken) or a meal (chicken meal). Note, this is different than “poultry by-product meal”. While by-products can be natural—feet, beaks, some of the less appealing digestive organs are in fact natural—it’s ideal to stick with better cuts of meat and bone for the every day diet of the pet. That’s what they’d chase down in the wild and contains most of all the nutrients.
And then there’s the lower part of the ingredient list, which can be very daunting. In fact, many of those somewhat long-named ingredients are essential vitamins and minerals. Some brands today are starting to note “Vitamins” and “Minerals” in the ingredient list, so you know what they are, but it’s not everywhere, so better to familiarize yourself with what they are. These “vitamin packs” are added because the food loses some of the essential nutrients in the cooking process, so in order to keep the price reasonable, brands add it in. It’s a little like the vitamins we feed ourselves and our kids, if we weren’t getting any of those from the food we eat. Necessary.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes and legumes (like lentils, peas and garbanzos), are often among the top ingredients. These provide some level of plant-based protein and a reasonable amount of carbohydrate for your pet. If you’re furry friend is on the rotund side, or if he or she has any skin issues, you may want to look for a food that has less in the way of potatoes and more of the meats and vegetables. Reducing starchy components to the food can not only help with calorie intake, but can also limit how much yeast the pet starts forming from the excess sugars, thereby stopping itching.
Some brands also add pre and probiotics to the food, to help with digestion and overall wellness – items like Lactobacillus and the such. This is great, but often not enough for what the pet really needs. We still recommend a probiotic supplement to help with that digestion.