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Learn what to look for when reading pet food labels and find out which ingredients are the best for your pet.
Stay away from food containing "byproduct meal" or "meat and bone meal." These rendered products are the most inexpensive sources of animal protein. The contents and quality of these meals can vary tremendously from batch to batch and are not a reliable source of nutrition for your animal.

Avoid foods that rely on byproducts as the sole source of animal protein. Byproducts consist of organs and other parts, either not desired or condemned for human consumption. An occasional byproduct based food may be okay, since in the wild, carnivores do consume the whole prey including the organs, but these foods are not acceptable as a steady diet.

Look for a named meat or meal ("lamb" or "chicken meal," for example, instead of the generic term "meat") as the first ingredient.

In general, select brands promoted to be "natural." While they are not perfect, they may be better than most. Several brands are now preserved with vitamins C and E instead of chemical preservatives (such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and propyl gallate). While synthetic preservatives may still be present, the amounts will be less.
If you're not satisfied with the nutrition in store-bought pet food, try cooking your own all-natural pet food.
Pet owners willing to invest time and resources into understanding how to prepare complete and balanced homemade meals for their pets may improve an animal's general health and can even reap some potential cost savings.

When preparing meals for your pet at home, it is important to understand the types and quantities of nutrients your pet requires. The nutritional requirements of dogs and cats are somewhat complex and require nutrients to be in proper balance with the energy density of the food and with each other, according to

Most dogs require a diet that includes 38 daily nutrients, while cats require a diet containing 40 daily nutrients. Pet foods are usually designed to appeal to vast quantities of pet palettes to ensure pet owners repeatedly purchase the product.

When cooking at home, it is not important what the source of the nutrients is—beef, chicken, etc.—as long as it meets your pet's nutrient profile. The focus for preparing homemade meals or feeding your pet should be on giving them complete and balanced meals, but that doesn't mean it can't be done with foods they enjoy that taste great.

This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of Angel Tales, the magazine of PAWS Chicago.


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