Tips for picking your pets’ food

Feeding your pets high-quality pet food can have a positive effect on their behavior, health and overall well-being. But with hundreds of products to choose from, how do you know what is right for your pets?

For proper nutrition animals need a combination of protein, carbohydrates, fats, oils and fiber. When evaluating a pet food, check the ingredient list carefully. Terms like “meat meal,” and “meat by-products” are very low-quality protein sources. They also may include body parts such as bones and intestines, slaughterhouse wastes and meat from diseased animals.

A good way to determine the major components of any food is to look for the first named source of fat in the ingredient list, says Sabine Contreras, a canine nutrition consultant and author of The Dog Food Project website.

According to Contreras, ingredients listed before the fat source, and including it, make up the main portion of the food. So a food that contains “turkey, chicken, chicken meal, ground barley, ground brown rice, potatoes, ground white rice, chicken fat…” has more high-quality ingredients with good nutritional value than a food with “ground yellow corn, meat meal, chicken fat, ground wheat…”

Ingredients to look for


  • Fruit
  • Meat and meat “meals” by species, e.g. “chicken meal”
  • Potatoes or sweet potatoes, good sources of carbohydrates
  • Oatmeal and barley
  • Oils from a specific source, e.g., flaxseed oil
  • Rice, a good source of carbs and fiber


  • Animal by-product
  • Animal digest, derived from unspecified parts of unspecified animals
  • Bone meal, a very low-quality protein source
  • Corn gluten meal, a binding agent with no nutritional value
  • Fat not identified by species
  • Meat not identified by species, e.g. “meat meal”
  • Sugar, corn syrup, fructose or other sweeteners

Visit these websites for more information on picking a pet food: