What Makes A Good Pet Food?

By Claudia Loomis

The best place to start is with the ingredient panel. Just like the foods we buy in the grocery store, ingredients on pet food packages are listed in order of weight before cooking or processing. So it is very important to see high quality minimally processed foods at the top of the list. Here are some key things to look for:

1- Named source of Protein as the first ingredient: It is important that the first ingredient listed be a named meat or fish protein source to address the nutritional needs of carnivorous dogs and cats. Examples of named sources of protein are beef, chicken, lamb or beef, salmon, herring or lamb meals. If the first ingredient listed in the pet food is a grain such as corn meal, wheat flour etc., then the food will not have a high enough protein level to sustain optimal health.
2- No animal by-products should be in the food: If ingredients such as animal by-products, animal by-product meal, beef by-products, or chicken by-products are listed, this is a huge red flag that the food is made from low quality, low cost and inferior ingredients. By-products are the parts of the animal that are not meat. This can include hooves, beaks, feathers and any part of the animal that is not fit for human consumption. By-products may also include remains of animals considered 4D - Diseased, Disabled, Downer or Dead (dead when they arrive at the slaughter house).
3- Whole Grains as a source of carbohydrate: As we humans have been taught, whole grains are important to maintain optimal health. The less processed the food is, the better it is for us. The same is true for our pets. A food that contains whole grain sources such as brown rice, oats, millet, or a carbohydrate source like sweet or white potato, provide wholesome sources of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates deliver a higher percentage of vitamins, enzymes, minerals and antioxidants than the highly processed carbohydrate sources listed in the pet foods available in the grocery store and big box retailers. Corn meal, wheat flour, and soy flour are lower quality sources of carbohydrates and provide little nutritional value in their highly processed state. They merely act as filler.
4- Look for Natural Preservatives in the food and make sure that there are no artificial colors or preservatives: Many of the better pet foods will clearly state on the label that they are all natural, or contain no artificial preservatives, colors or ingredients. What you want to see on the ingredient panel is Tocopherols (natural form of vitamin E), Vitamin C or rosemary extract. These indicate that the food is naturally preserved. What you do not want to see are the chemical preservatives that include BHA, BHT, propyl gallate, propylene glycol and ethoxquin.

Wheat and corn are generally less digestible than whole grains such as oats, barley and millet. In order to increase their digestibility they need to be ground, cooked and processed to break down the cellulose and fiber. Once the corn and wheat are processed they lose all of their nutritional value and merely act as a low cost filler ingredient in pet food.

Additionally, corn, wheat and soy are common sources of allergens for pets. If your pet has frequent ear infections, bowel problems or itchy skin and a poor coat, the first items to eliminate from their diet should be corn, wheat and soy.

Also, if the ingredient panel shows corn gluten, wheat gluten or soy flour the pet food company is using this as a low quality source of additional protein. Corn and wheat gluten are dried protein sources that remain after the corn or wheat bran has been separated and removed. Corn and wheat gluten are not as digestible as high quality animal protein and are deficient in essential amino acids. These are not acceptable ingredients in a quality pet food.


  1. Very informative article. Many people feed their pets left overs/scraps. I wonder how many of them take the time to notice if their family pets have allergens from feeding them human food. I would like to swap Blogroll links to help get the word out about nutrition for pets. If your interested my email is yfamily_pets@yahoo.com


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