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What's the Value of Comparing Pet Food Ingredients?


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We want to do what’s right for our pets, and nutrition is one place where we, as pet owners, feel we have control. However, some of the decisions we make regarding pet food, though well meaning, may be based on what we think is right, not what actually is right.

For example, comparing ingredients of two different brands appears to be a logical thing to do. And there may be some value to this. However, comparing ingredients usually means little. Here’s why:

  • Individual ingredients nutritionally work in tandem with the big picture—the combination of all the ingredients in a diet. Unless you happen to be a nutritionist, this is a lot to figure out. You may have your own ideas about what you want to see—or not see—on packaging, and that may be right or not. But it’s important to take the larger picture of the combination of ingredients into consideration, which most pet owners don’t truthfully have the pet nutritional knowledge base to do.
  • Unfortunately, the exact amount of a specific ingredient isn’t listed on (pet food) packaging, so consumers may only randomly guess about how much of a specific ingredient is in the food.
  • Ingredients are important, but so is the sourcing for those ingredients.

Another factor is the manufacturer. Does that manufacturer employ experts, including boarded veterinary nutritionists? You may be surprised to learn that some pet food companies do not. How much research and development really goes into the product? “Science” is not a bad word, and discerning between science and marketing can be challenging. While the government does regulate pet food, including what is on the packaging, many brands have gone to market with surprisingly little research.

I don’t support blindly trusting pet food companies, but what should the average pet-owning consumer do?

Many people rely on websites to help them to make pet food decisions, which, again, can include often-deceptive marketing copy. I urge you to proceed with caution. It goes without saying: Do not believe everything you read on the internet.

At the end of the day, I suggest you choose a company with ample resources, and one that is responsive to pet owners (they all are by law, but some more than others). And, develop trust.

The reality is that, for the reasons described here, making decisions based on comparison of ingredients alone is difficult to do.

I will have more to say on busting pet food myths over the course of the following months. 

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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