Analysing Ingredients

It doesn’t take much to read the ingredients on a bag of pet food and get a rough idea of how good it is. Unfortunately most pet owners are unaware, overly trusting, or lured in by clever marketing and attractive packaging.

At Pet Food Reviews – Australia we urge you to have a quick look at the food you’re feeding now and consider if it’s right for your pet. If you’re daunted or unsure then take the time to read our reviews on most dry dog foods and cat foods available in Australia. If we’ve missed anything feel free to let us know.

Reading the Label

This wonderful videos by Dr. Karen Becker gives a real insight into pet food ingredients. Worth a watch.



The Whole Story

There’s a lot more to it than what’s covered in the videos. Pet food manufacturers, especially the profit-first ones, keep an ear to the ground and look for clever ways to market their products accordingly.

As the videos say, it’s common for pet foods to have a meat as the main ingredient, which after dehydration will become far less significant. Lot’s of people don’t realise that so believe they’re feeding their loved ones a food that’s mainly meat, when it isn’t.

Product branding and labelling is governed by guidelines, and they’re far from stringent. If a food is advertised “with beef”, it doesn’t necessarily need much beef in it. “With chicken” might mean it has chicken fat in it, but no chicken meat.

Corn has become a very controversial grain in pet foods, so we seem to find some manufacturers labelling it as maize instead, which is the same thing.

It’s worth watching out for nondescript ingredients, such as “meat” or “fish” as these will be the worst and lowest quality ingredients in the category. It’s even worse when they’re by-products.

Ingredients, at least the top 5, are listed in order of prominance. What it doesn’t tell you is the percentage of each ingredient. If a cheap food contains a grain in the number one spot, and a decent meat ingredient second, then we can’t say for certain what ratio there is between these two ingredients. We may be able to gain an idea by looking at the guaranteed analysis, but that depends on other ingredients in the food.

Here are two examples:

1) If a food has a meat as the first ingredient, then 4 sources of carbs, we can be fairly certain the protein % comes from the meat source.
2) On the other hand, if the first ingredient is meat, then corn and corn gluten meal, we can deduce the bulk of the protein will come from the corn, which isn’t as good.

You get what you pay for?

Many people believe a highly priced food has to be good. This is not true. In my experience, some of the worst brands are the most expensive.

With pet food, we often see marketing words such as premium, super premium, and holistic. In some cases these terms are justified, but in other cases they’re not. There aren’t any standards that are adhered to with this terminology, so it’s fine for a manufacturer to use them regardless of the quality of food.

Common Ingredients

Below is a glossary of some of the common ingredients found in pet foods. If you want my opinion on other ingredients, feel free to contact me or comment.

Animal By-Products:

The word “by-product” is an instant turn off when it comes to pet food. It basically entails anything that humans most certainly would not touch. In most cases it will be what’s left over after the quality meat has been removed for human consumption.

By-products may contain beaks, feet, random organs, feathers, blood, and so forth. For nondescript “meat by-products” it may contain hooves, pig noses, roadkill, rats, and other pointless nasties. If we see “meat by-products” on a label we know there’s a reason why they won’t disclose what kind of meat.

It’s always better to see a named meat, such as “chicken by-products”. At least then we know what’s included.

Animal Digest:

The first two ingredients by alphabetical order are two of the worst. “Animal Digest” is a broth that’s cooked up of stuff that we’d rather just not know about. It can include some of what’s in the aforementioned by-products, but also skin and the contents of the animal’s stomach after it was slaughtered.

Again, it’s better to see a named meat, such as “chicken digest”, but it’s still cheap and nasty. Digest is normally used to add flavour, not for nutrition.


Barley is a pretty good quality grain in pet foods. It’s not a main source of allergies, and it’s easily digestible. So if grains are in the pet food, as they are in most, this is a welcome sight.

Beef Tallow:

If you’re going to ingest pure fat, what animal would you rather it be from….chicken or cow?? Turkey or cow?? The reason why cheap pet food companies use beef tallow is simple: it’s very cheap. It’s also a very bad fat source for pets as it is for humans. This is pure, greasy, white cow fat. Yummy.

Brewers Rice or Brewers Yeast:

At first, a person may look at the word “brewer” here and be reminded of a person who makes alcohol. Well, there’s a good reason for that, because that’s exactly what these ingredients are. They happen to be the leftovers from the alcohol-making process, which is bought very cheaply by the pet food companies. It’s devoid of nutritional value, being as how it’s been absolutely used up by the time it’s used in the food. It’s just a filler. Despite this, it’s found in one third of pet foods available here in Australia.

Recent studies show “brewers yeast” can provide some nutritional merit, so that justifies it as an ingredient somewhat. This isn’t the case for brewers rice though, that’s purely waste.

Canola Oil:

A decent fat source, although not the best. It certainly beats beef tallow, but isn’t as good as any named fish oils or sunflower oil.

Corn Gluten Meal:

This is the remainder of the corn after the best parts of the corn have been removed. This is why I call it “filler of a filler”. It’s one of the worst ingredients and can cause allergies. It’s high in protein, but in a form that dogs and especially cats struggle to digest. This is good for profit-first pet food manufacturers as they can label the food as having a decent amount of protein without using expensive meat ingredients, but it’s not in the interest of our pets.


Eggs are one of the best protein sources there are. The best thing to see is “whole eggs”, but even “dried eggs” or “egg product” is going to be a fairly good protein source.

Fish Meal:

This is a non-descriptive source of protein which is low in omega fatty acids as the oil is pressed out. The quality of this ingredient in pet food is suspect, as poor quality and rancid fish are often used. It’s found in approximately 8% of pet foods on the market.

Fish Oil:

Fish oils are very rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, which are absolutely excellent for heart health, as well as healthy skin and coat. A named fish oil is one of the finest, if not the finest, fat source possible in pet foods. Unfortunately, when we see nondescript “fish oil” we can’t be certain of the quality – it might be good, it might not.

Flaxseed Oil:

Another great fat source, with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids for heart health. Cheap foods will almost never have this, but fortunately most foods these days do.


Much like humans, animals benefit from fruits as well. They’re excellent sources of fiber and vitamins. Some you’ll see in foods include blueberries, cranberries, and apples. It’s an expensive ingredient, so expect to find this in your finer foods.

In the case of felines, many argue fruits aren’t part of their natural diet. This isn’t true, as their natural diet would be rodents and birds who had in turn been eating fruits.

Meats (chicken, turkey, duck, etc.):

Any time a meat is named on the label, this is a good thing as long as “by-product” isn’t behind it. The key thing to be aware of is a meat ingredient is weighed before dehydration/cooking, where it will be reduced as much as 80%.

The exception is when we see the word “meal”. This leads us to our next ingredient…

Meat “meals” (chicken meal, turkey meal, fish meal, etc):

If we see the word “meal” then this means the food has been weighed after dehydration, so we can be sure it’s a solid ingredient. The same applies if the label says “dehydrated”.

This is one of the best ingredients you can see in a pet food, ensuring the meat is of a decent quality and rich in protein and nutrients. Seeing these towards the top of the ingredient list is a great thing, even better if it’s the #1 ingredient.

Meat and Bone Meal:

One of the lowest quality meat products available. The origin of the meat is suspect, as it isn’t named. If the manufacturers wanted you to know what the source was, they’d name it. Since it’s probably not braggable, it’s just put down as “meat”. Not only that, but the lowest-quality parts of the animal are generally used as well.

Natural Flavors:

There are varying reports about this. The more expensive companies state they are using broth created when the animals are cooked, but I’ve read about there being not-so-flattering methods of getting these flavours with bargain manufacturers.


This is another good grain, much like barley. It’s generally found in more expensive foods.


Peas and pea starch are a good source of carbs, with the latter containing omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also a good addition to any pet food if you cook them to a pulp so they’re easier to digest (so there’s a little tip).

Pea fibre has been seen in recent years as a replacement for corn, wheat, beet pulp, and soybeans. It is regarded as a largely insoluble fibre, but this is questionable. Peas also contain protein, so may be used to inflate the protein percentage in the food. It’s better to see meat proteins, so this is something to be wary of – it’s a cost saving manufacturers trick.

Potatoes (or sweet potatoes):

This is a good carb source in pet foods and we often see it as an alternative to grains. It’s better for dogs than cats (who really don’t benefit from carbs). If you’re looking for a better carb source, then we find sweet potatoes used more and more often these days.

Rice (or whole grain rice):

This is generally thought of as being a good grain that can be put into pet food. Rice “bran” or “flour” is not the same, however, as nutritional quality is diminished with those processes are used on the rice. This is easily digestible, and a good source of fiber for animals. It’s better to see whole ground rice, especially brown over the inferior and cheaper white rice.


Run, don’t walk, if this is included highly in a pet food. Excess salt isn’t good for humans, and it isn’t good for pets either. If this is included in a pet food, chances are it’s missing something else. It may be used to entice an animal into eating an otherwise poor quality food.


A rather low-quality grain and source of food allergies. It’s a cheap ingredient typically used by profit-first companies, with little benefit to our pets.

Sugar (or corn syrup):

Bad ingredient used by companies to make food more palatable to the animals if the ingredients themselves aren’t enough to make the dog or cat actually want to eat it.


Absolutely useless ingredient in pet food and a leading cause of food allergies in dogs. “Wheat middlings” are especially bad, since they are considered to be the “sweepings” off the floor. Avoid wheat if possible.


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