Deciphering Pet food labels

There are more than 22 brands of pet food available in South Africa. With excellent marketing, colourful packaging and each one promises to be the best for your pet. It can be difficult to make an informed decision.  Empower yourself by reading the labels and questioning the claims. Know what to look for, we have compiled a short summary of the detailed articles published on the Advertising Standards Authority of SA (ASASA) and FDA websites.

Pet food is “one book you need to judge by its cover”.

Pet food manufacturers in South Africa are required to register their product with the Department of Agriculture under Act no 36 of 1947. To qualify for registration the product needs to meet certain minimum nutritional standards.

Make sure your choice of pet food is registered under this act and meets AAFCO’s (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) regulations which set the minimum nutritional standard.

Some key words with “hidden” information:

  1. “With chicken flavour” – this food only needs to contain traces of the flavour substance, essence or extract and contains less than 4 % chicken meat. Some will only contain chicken flavour/essence and therefore zero real chicken.
  2. “With chicken” – this food contains more than 4% chicken
  3. “High or rich or with extra chicken” means that there is at least 14% chicken present
  4. “Chicken dinner or Chicken recipe or Chicken menu” should contain at least 26% chicken
  5. “All chicken” is supposed to contain more than 65% chicken.

Checking the ingredient list, especially if you have an allergic pet is crucial. Remember the “Tuna recipe cat food” may still contain more chicken than tuna. The “Cat food with Tuna” may only contain 5% tuna whereas the “Tuna cat food” is supposed to contain at least 65 % tuna.

A closer look at the pet food ingredient lists

How do you decide on what bag to buy? The best place to start is by turning the bag over, ignore the pretty pictures and claims on the front and get in to the ingredient list.

  1. Ingredients are required to be listed in order of predominance by weight. Preferable we want to see a specific meat or meat meal in top two. 
  2. The source of the protein is much more important than the percentage of protein. Although a product contains a high enough percentage of protein it may not be a type of protein our pets can use. Ask if the protein source is antibiotic and hormone free.
  3. A good quality food contains more good quality, bio available protein than carbohydrates.
  4. Be on the lookout for manipulation of ingredients where an ingredient is broken up in its components – if the label states whole corn and lower down on the list, corn gluten meal the total amount of corn may be more than the meat ingredient listed first.
  5. Look for specific meats like chicken, lamb ect. and do not settle for just “meat”; “animal” or “poultry”.
  6. Ask the manufacturer if the ingredients are human grade.
  7. Preferable free from artificial colorants and preservatives like BHA and BHT.
  8. Do not feed your cat a food containing propylene glycol – it has been associated with anaemia in cats.
  9. Most pet food will have sufficient Omega 6 content. Look for a pet food with added Omega 3. It is important that the source of the omega 3 is a high quality fish source. Dogs and cats cannot use vegetable base (sunflower, flax, coconut, and canola) omega 3 efficiently.

Good health starts with good nutrition. A good quality food will cost more but a healthy happy pet is worth every cent.

References :


Article by:  Dr Adel Ferreira


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