How to read a pet food label … and important information you usually can’t find on the label.

There are hundreds different of pet foods available in Canada… and most claim to be high quality products. How can you tell which one is good for your furry friend? … The perspective of a Markham Veterinarian.

Pet Foods sold in Canada only have a few labeling requirements:

  • Bilingual label
  • Identify that the food is for animal use

Usually there is other information on the label which is supposed to help you understand what is in the food:

It can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Large information area (the colorful section)
    This includes the name, photos, explanatory messages, claims about features and benefits, and testimonials, recommendations etc. This is the large section that is designed to attract consumer interest, to stand out on the food shelf and to elicit an emotional response in the buyer. While the information cannot be false or misleading, it is not regulated and has little value in determining the quality of the food. Diets, and there is a huge number of them, that claim naturally grown ingredients, wholesome, complete, balanced, high energy, with wild herbs, etc. can say that, but these terms are not legally regulated. “No preservatives added” does not mean the diet is free of preservatives. The raw ingredients may have had preservatives and the processor did not add them, allowing the processor to make this claim.
  2. Ingredient List (small print)
    The ingredients are listed by weight, heaviest to lightest as it was processed.
    However some ingredients contain a lot of water and therefore skew the order. If you add whole chicken and corn meal, the chicken has 75-80% water while the corn meal about 12%. Chicken would be listed first, Corn second. On a dry matter comparison – if you would dry all the ingredients to eliminate the water – the same food would have chicken in the second or third position. The ingredient list is valuable to determine whether an undesirable ingredient is present. For instance, if a pet has a food intolerance to chicken, then choose a diet without chicken or egg. The list does not give the quality of the ingredient. For instance whole chicken sounds better than chicken by-product meal, but whole chicken could be made of refuse carcasses, while the by-product meal could be meat separated from the bones, unlaid chicken eggs, chicken livers, chicken stomachs, etc.
  3. Guaranteed Analysis (a table)
    This analysis is done according to accepted standards and gives a minimum or maximum value for certain nutrients on an as-fed basis. The devil lies in the details: For instance for Protein the label may read

Crude Protein ….. minimum 25%. It does not answer the following questions:

  •         What is the maximum? Some diets have dangerously high levels.
  •         What is the digestibility of the Protein? How much actually passes into the body?
  •         What is its biologic value? Protein is made of a combination of different Amino Acids. Some of these Amino Acids are essential, meaning the body cannot make them. The perfect protein would have a biologic value of 100, meaning, it has the exact amount of each essential Amino Acid in the correct ratio to all other Amino Acids in the diet. Values close to 100 can be obtained by scientifically mixing different protein sources often including soy or wheat protein.
  •        Why CRUDE protein? The test performed determines the amount of nitrogen since proteins contain nitrogen and multiplied by a factor to  calculate protein. However this requires that there are no other sources of nitrogen in the diet which could come from contaminants.

In summary, the labels give only a limited amount of information and can be ambiguous. We understand how confusing this can be.  Good manufacturers are prepared to give their complete information upon request. If you would like  to find out, call the 1-800 customer service number and ask them the questions above.

Veterinarians in Markham have done the work for you.

Veterinary recommended diets have been investigated beyond the label claims. Veterinarians tend to carry some diets for sale which they feel comfortable recommending, however there are diets available elsewhere which are top quality. The onus is to determine the facts beyond the label claim and we assist you gladly.

Veterinarians from the Animal Hospital of Unionville

A Markham Veterinary Clinic  Providing Compassionate Advanced Health Care for a Long and Happy Life of ALL Your Pets.

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