We all realize that proper nutrition is the foundation for health. Choosing the best diet is one of the most important factors for a pet’s well-being. Every pet food claims to be superior to the rest in their flashy ads and packaging can be quite enticing. It is important to read the pet food label carefully and not be taken in by pretty pictures. But choosing the right pet food is tricky because the labels themselves can be very misleading.

Conceal the Carbs

Most pet owners know that dogs and cats are carnivores. In fact, these pets do not require starch-laden carbohydrates in their diets at all. And yet, most pet foods are loaded with carbohydrates. There are two main reasons that pet foods contain a lot of starch. The first is that carbohydrates are a cheap source of calories. The second is that convenient, dry food requires carbohydrates to bind it into kibble. Cost and convenience, not nutritional soundness, are the reasons for excessive carbs in pet food.

Many people relate carbs in pet food to the grains the diets contain. It is certainly true that most pet foods supply the carbohydrates in the form of grain. However, “grain-free” does not mean “carb-free.” If it is dry pet food it contains starch in some form. Look closely at the label and you’ll find potatoes, tapioca or some other carbohydrate source.

Deceptively Boost the Meat

Pet food manufacturers often manipulate the raw materials in the food so the ingredient list looks good to the consumer. The companies know that conscientious pet owners are looking for foods with the meat component at the top of the ingredient list. There are several clever ways to accomplish this.

For example, “whole chicken” on the ingredient list of a dry dog food sounds good.  However, whole chicken is 70 percent water. This water is removed during the processing of dry food, reducing whole chicken to chicken meal.

Three pounds of whole chicken cooks down to one pound of chicken meal. Now, the ingredients are listed on the label in order of pre-processed weight. So having “whole chicken” on the list, as opposed to “chicken meal,” is just a ploy to move that meat up on the list.

Here’s another trick. Wheat flower and ground wheat can be listed as two different ingredients even though the only difference between the two is the size of the ground particle. The only logical reason to do this would be to make the label look like the food contains less grain because if the total amount is split in this way, then it falls lower on the ingredient list.

Another ploy is to include several grains so there is proportionately more meat than any one grain. Both of these techniques allow the meat component to be brought to the top of the ingredient list and this makes the food look more healthful.


Speaking of grains, one of the most common grains in pet foods is soy. Soy contains chemicals called phytoestrogens that mimic the body’s estrogen. It has been found that some dog foods contain enough soy that they can wreak havoc on an animal’s endocrine system when fed long term. Another study linked excessive soy in cat food to hyperthyroidism – one of the most common hormone diseases in cats.

Pet food labels are so deceptive I can’t fit all the tricks into one post. Stay tuned for next week’s Lying Labels – Part II.

In the mean time, look at your pet food label and see if you can spot any of the above and tell us about it.

2 replies
  1. Cheryl Minda
    Cheryl Minda says:

    I’ve been reading labels for years & thought I was doing good but I never thought about several grains on the label totaling more than the meat that was at the top. I guess this trick would also apply for human food labels so it’s something to think about if you’re trying to avoid certain ingredients. Thank you again for caring enough to take the time to educate people.


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