1. Check the label for protein. On prepared foods, look for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval, and make sure the first two or three ingredients are a good-quality animal protein: chicken, beef, fish, lamb or turkey. Law requires manufacturers to list ingredients in descending order by weight. However, weight percentage can be misleading because it includes the water content of uncooked ingredients, says Terri Grow, owner of PetSage, in Alexandria, Virginia. “A product with chicken listed first and rice second may have less meat protein than a product with rice listed first and chicken meal second because the weight of the chicken includes water,” she says.
2. Go natural. AAFCO-approved pet food may still contain artificial sweeteners, coloring agents, fillers and byproducts. Many natural pet foods exceed AAFCO standards and are made with only whole foods.
3. Avoid additives. Steer away from foods containing unidentified meat or bone meal, wheat gluten (some was tainted with melamine in the pet food recalls earlier this year), or chemical preservatives such as BHT, ethoxyquine (a carcinogen), BHA and propylene glycol. Visit www.ThePetFoodList.com for a list of brands recalled since March 2007.
4. Raise Rex raw. Many believe raw diets for cats and dogs—which usually include homemade meals of raw meat, vegetables and whole grains—are the most healthy. Go to www.BARFworld.com to learn more.
5. Cook for kitty. If you want to make your own pet food, consult with your veterinarian about ingredients appropriate for your pet’s health, activity level, food allergies and medical conditions.