The choices we make when buying pet food can have multiple implications for the health and well-being of our pets. So it is important that we know how to read a label and understand what we’re doing when we do so! Here’s our little guide of the most important things to look for:

Ingredients: The first, and perhaps most important thing on the label is the list of ingredients. This part of the label provides information on what makes up the food. Ingredients are listed in order from highest to lowest quantity, so you want to find a food where meat or protein is listed as the first ingredient. If you see “meal” or “by-product” (such as chicken by-product, for example) it means that the food is made of rendered ingredients and does not necessarily include all of the nutritional value of fresh meat or protein. It’s good to know why an ingredient is included in the food; for example some extra fiber may be added to help with digestion or a preservative is included to help prevent the food from spoiling.

Guaranteed analysis: The following list will describe what you can expect to find in the pet food you are evaluating. It describes how much of each nutrient is guaranteed, on average, to be found in one pound of the food.

Crude Protein: this is a measure of the total amount of protein in the food, and should be listed as a minimum percentage by weight. Most foods will have considerably more than this minimum requirement to ensure adequate levels for your pet. Dogs and cats need lots of protein in their diet, so you want to make sure your pet is getting enough.

Crude Fat: this guarantees the minimum percentage of fat in the food. It is important that you know what kind of fat is being included in the food, though! A good rule of thumb is to look for a food with a fat content similar to what your dog or cat would normally get from their diet in the wild. Cats need a high amount of fat in their diet, so you want to make sure they are getting enough.

Crude Fiber: this guarantees the minimum percentage of fiber in the food. It is important to note what kind of fiber is included in the food, as well. There are two types of fiber that are important to the health of your pet: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers are beneficial because they help with digestion, particularly in dogs. Insoluble fiber is helpful for managing stool volume and weight.

Moisture: this is the maximum percentage of water found in the food when it was tested (and is listed as a maximum). Most foods are not 100% water, but you don’t want to feed your pet a food that is too high in moisture because it may spoil or foster the growth of bacteria.

Ash: this lists the percentage of minerals found in the food, which includes salt and other trace minerals. This should always be listed as a minimum percentage by weight.

Vitamins and Minerals: The amount of vitamins and minerals included in the food are guaranteed at specific levels, so you can see exactly how much is included. You’ll want to make sure that there are no minimums listed for the vitamins and minerals that your pet needs to stay healthy!