How to Read Your Pet's Food Labels

Those who obsess over nutrition facts can turn their attention to pet food, too. Dr. Jeff Werber of PBS's <em>Lassie's Pet Vet</em> helps us decipher the labels.
dog treats

You know what to watch for when reading your own food labels, right? Here's what's important for your furry friends.

How to Read Nutrition Labels

1. Start With the Name Ignore words like "premium" and "gourmet." These terms aren't regulated.

2. Peek at Percentages Werber says not to obsess over fat and protein percentages unless you have a dog with special needs.

3. Look at the Order Just as with people food, a variety of meat, grains and vegetables should top the list.

4. Check for Zinc and Linoleic Acid These ingredients help maintain a shiny coat.

5. Ask About Glucosamine and Chondoroitin If your dog has arthritis, look for these dietary additives, which can help maintain joint health.

6. Read the Nutritional Adequacy Statement This is the most critical part of the label. It means the recipe meets the requirements of the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which develops pet-food regulations.

7. Check the Meat Products labeled as "beef" contain more beef than those labeled "beef dinner." Anything called "dog food with beef" contains the least amount of beef. And "beef flavor" is not the same as beef!

... Or, Cook it Yourself You'll know what goes into your pet's food dish if you make it yourself -- try one of our Pet-Friendly recipes, like Doggie Tuna Casserole and Arroz con Pollo para Fido.


Get Them Gym Memberships Yes, we're kidding, although dog personal trainers do exist, says veterinarian Karen Halligan, author of Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know. Just make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes of activity (like walking, running, swimming or obedience training) twice a day. For cats, aim for 15 minutes twice daily. Try having them chase around a toy.

Measure, Don't Eyeball Meals Read the label to find out exactly how much your animal needs based on its weight and life stage, then be precise. "Most pets will eat whatever's in front of them, even when they're not hungry," says Dr. Halligan. Pet food companies are coming out with preportioned servings (like those 100-calorie snack packs for people).

Sprinkle Seaweed on Their Food It sounds bizarre, but your pet shouldn’t mind the extra seasoning: Dogs especially like the salty taste of dried kelp flakes or kelp powder. Adding a teaspoon a day can help improve thyroid function, which may promote weight loss. (Now if only it were that easy for humans.)

Go Easy on the Treats Think about it: Regularly giving your 20-pound pup a 30-calorie dog biscuit is like you regularly eating a glazed doughnut, says Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Substitute edible treats with affection or play, says Dr. Halligan -- or use some of the food your pet was already going to eat that day.


Learn how to read people-food nutrition labels