Easy Way to Read Pet Food Labels

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

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

1. Start With the Name: Ignore words like "premium" and "gourmet." These terms aren't regulated. The word "Natural" is the trend now, however, it really doesn't mean anything when it comes to pet food.

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. Take Caution with Supplemental Food Sources: 
Pet food that’s labeled “supplemental” isn’t complete and balanced.  Unless you have a specific, vet-approved need for it, it’s not something you want to feed your dog for an extended period of time, she says. Check with your vet if in doubt.

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

7. 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.

8. 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.


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 pre-portioned 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.