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How to Read & Understand Pet Food Labels

pet food labels

Understanding Ingredients on Pet Food Labels

Taking care of pets means understanding ingredients on pet food labels, knowing what to look for on pet food labels, and why the ingredients matter. While most of us scan the basics of the packaging, labels are cluttered with information and small print, so it’s not always easy to tell what’s most important. All claims on pet foods are required to be truthful, and every product must undergo regulatory scrutiny and approval on federal and sometimes state-by-state levels before it ever lands on retailer shelves. The front of a package must include brand and product name, species the food is intended for, and the quantity statement. It will often feature bright logos, graphics, and enticing photos or illustrations. The back and side panels will contain a variety of other information, including the food label and nutritional breakdown. Here’s a simple guide to reading food labels that can help take the guesswork out of pet food and treat purchases.

Guide to Reading Food Labels

All pet food labels follow the same basic format, but they can still be confusing for many customers. Once you know the most important things to look for, you’ll be able to choose the right foods and treats for your pet. If you’re not sure what food is right for your pet or if they have particular conditions or special needs like weight control, always consult with your veterinarian.

What Must Be on Pet Food Labels

  1. Product and brand name, species, and/or other unique identifiers. Many pet owners will base their buying decision on a specific ingredient their pet likes, like chicken, beef, or salmon. Most brands will try to highlight that particular ingredient in the product name. 
    • Words to watch for on pet food labels: AND, WITH, flavor, and descriptive qualifying terms like dinner, entrée, feast, stew, or platter. Each of these differences correlates to percentages of ingredients by weight or volume. These words tend to signal smaller primary and individual ingredient quantities, so understanding ingredients and how they are listed and described is essential.
    • The 95 Percent Rule: In order to name a product that includes a specific ingredient, i.e. Savory Chicken Dog Food or Salmon Cat Food, the food must contain 95 percent of the named ingredient by weight and must be at least 70 percent of the total product when added water is factored in. 
    • The 25 Percent Rule: Products named Chicken Dinner for Dogs, Salmon and Sweet Potato Entrée, or Lamb and Vegetable Stew, for example, must contain at least 25 percent of the product (not counting the water for processing), but less than 95 percent. In this case, the product name must include a qualifying term, such as dinner, entrée, or platter. When counting added water, the named ingredients must comprise at least 10 percent of the product. If more than one ingredient is included in a “dinner,” the combination of the named ingredients must total 25 percent of the product and be listed in the exact same order as found on the package ingredient list.
  2. Product weight, liquid measure, or count, depending on the food formulation. Savvy pet food purchasers know that these measures will vary by the type and density of the product. These are included in metric measures by law. If you’re not sure if a particular food or treat is worth the price tag, do a cost-per-ounce or cost-per-pound comparison between your choices. It’s OK to choose something in the middle range.
  3. Guaranteed Analysis: Specifies the number of specific nutrients from crude protein to crude fat to moisture, vitamins, and minerals and any added flavors or ingredients. Guarantees for other nutrients may be required to support any claims made in labeling (High Calcium Formula or other benefits). These can include voluntary guarantees for other nutrients. All guarantees must be given in a particular order, specified units, and as a minimum or maximum, depending on the nutrient.
  4. Ingredients listed in order of highest weight to lowest. Understanding ingredients is easy but can get more complex if you really dig into the details of “defined names” for added flavors and colors. By law, the ingredient making up the highest percentage of the total weight is always listed first, followed by the next highest, and so on. All ingredients used must be GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), approved food additives, or otherwise sanctioned for use in animal feeds (i.e., as defined by AAFCO, a pet food industry regulatory body). Ingredients must also be declared by the correct AAFCO-defined name if it exists. If not, the “common or usual” name customers might expect must be used.
  5. Nutritional adequacy statement. These must be backed by professional lab testing that confirms the food provides a certain level of nutrients suitable for consumption. These may also include values for the appropriate life stages (puppy/kitten, adult, senior, weight control, etc.).
  6. Feeding directions and guidelines by weight range. Feeding frequency must also be clearly stated. All pet foods labeled as “complete and balanced” for life stages or general use must include feeding directions stating “Feed (XX amount of product) per (weight) of dog/cat” per day. Feeding directions are optional for treats, but all must be labeled as snacks or treats.
  7. Manufacturer name and address. This may also include a general number for customer service contact. If someone else makes the product for the company, the words “manufactured for” or “distributed by” will be included before the address.

Remember, marketing for pets is very similar to that of people, and everything on pet food labels is carefully worded and designed to attract the buyer’s attention. Since pets don’t have wallets and they can’t really shop for themselves (unless it’s helping themselves to enticing treats or toys in open boxes at lower levels at the pet store), it’s up to each pet owner to choose the best foods and treats to meet the dietary needs of their pets throughout their lifetime. If you’re still unsure how to read pet food labels and choose the right food for your pet, consult with your veterinarian.

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms & How to Protect Your Pet

heartworm prevention

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a very serious disease found in ferrets, cats, and most commonly dogs. If untreated, it can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and in some cases it may be fatal.

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis, which spreads through a mosquito’s bite. The mosquito serves as the intermediate host, meaning the worms live inside the mosquito only for a short period while becoming infective and able to transmit heartworm disease. The next time this mosquito bites an animal, it will transfer the larvae into its bloodstream. The animal will then serve as the definitive host, which means the worms mature into adults, mate, and even produce offspring while living inside the animal. 

These worms often nestle into the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of the infected animal, hence the name “heartworm” disease.

  • Mature heartworms can live for up to 5 to 7 years in dogs and 2 or 3 years in cats.
  • Every mosquito season puts animals at increased risk for developing the disease or growing numbers of worms in already infected animals.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs?

In the early stages, many dogs will show only few symptoms (if any at all) and the severity depends on several things: 1) how many worms are residing inside of the dog (worm burden), 2) how long it has been infected, and 3) how its body is responding to the presence of the worms. The dog’s activity levels also play a role in the severity of heartworm disease and when the symptoms are first noticed. 

Inactive dogs, recently infected dogs, or those that have low worm burdens may not show obvious signs, whereas dogs with heavier worm burdens, active dogs, or those that have been infected for a long time will often show more obvious symptoms.

Some signs of heartworm disease can include:

  • Mild, persistent cough
  • Lethargy/avoids exertion
  • Fatigue after mild to moderate activity
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As the disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and/or a swollen tummy as excess fluid builds up in the abdomen. Dogs can also develop sudden blockages of blood flow in the heart, leading to cardiovascular collapse. This is marked by the sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark, bloody or coffee-colored urine usually requiring prompt surgical intervention.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Cats?

While most heartworms do not survive to the adult stage in cats, it is possible. Both outdoor and indoor cats are at risk, and the signs can be either very subtle or very dramatic. 

Some symptoms displayed by infected cats may include:

  • Coughing or asthma-like attacks
  • Lethargy
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

Occasionally, an infected cat may have difficulty walking, experience seizures or fainting, or suffer from fluid build-up in the abdomen similar to that in dogs.

How to Prevent Heartworms in Your Pets

The best treatment is prevention, and fortunately, there are many FDA-approved preventative products available today. However, all of them require a veterinarian’s prescription so scheduling an appointment is the first step toward preventing heartworm disease. 

The most common products are given on a monthly basis either orally or as a topical liquid applied to the skin by the pet owner. Another option is an injectable product, administered just under the skin every 6 or 12 months by a veterinarian. Additionally, some preventative medications also contain effective ingredients against certain intestinal parasites (hookworms and roundworms).

Year-round prevention is the best option to help ensure the safety of your pet. Contact us at AZPetVet to schedule a preventative care exam and we can help you decide which options are best suited for your pet!

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

True Facts About Cats You Might Not Know

Common Truths in Things About Cats

Why are cats so cute and compelling and yet mysterious and complex? Cats appear in different cultures throughout recorded history, so they come by it naturally. Today, there are many legends and myths about cats – some true, some false, and others domestic short-haired in blend. Here are five true facts about cats they probably wish you knew:

  1. Cats like a routine. They want food delivered on time but also early. Cats don’t care about the time, so they’ll wake you at odd hours to remind you that they have never, ever eaten in their entire lives – or begin systematically knocking things off the counter to get your attention that they are starving to death here, people. Cats also like cuddles, and as descendants of royalty, they have the right to sleep wherever they please; even if that’s on top of your head at 3 a.m.
  2. Cats can talk. They are vocal in many ways – and some breeds can be very chatty! Cats speak by purring to convey contentment, stress, when they’re feeling anxious due to changes in the household or routing, or to tell you when they’re in pain, so it’s important to listen to what they are saying. Watch their behavior and act appropriately. What do cats not like? Oh, they’ll tell you in so many ways!
  3. Cat and water don’t mix. OK, typically cats aren’t big fans of water. Most cats don’t like to get wet, and it’s understandable. Thick coats often hold water, so they may be uncomfortable as they air dry. Most know it’s going to take hours to get their fur just right and will spend a lot of time grooming. But many cats adore water and even relax in warm baths just like humans! 
  4. Cats are loners. Like people, cats need their alone time. Many love spending time with their people and will often form bonds with one person they will connect with more than anyone in the house. Cats also love to get up close and personal while you’re working or trying to focus, demanding attention right meow (pun intended). Cats are also stars, making cameo appearances in many Zoom calls while people and reporters work more from home.
  5. Cats were considered gods in history. Many cat lovers will tell you their cats act like gods too, and they end up ruling the kingdom of the household! It’s not surprising when you see how cats were treated throughout history. Ancient Egyptians domesticated cats around 4,000-5,000 years ago. Fittingly, they called them Mau. The Egyptians considered cats sacred, so there were laws protecting them from harm under the penalty of death. Egyptian families also revered cats as family gods, so cats were afforded ceremonial mummification and burial in sarcophagi. Cat mummies are quite commonly found in Egypt to this day. Many of our domestic cats descend from the Mau, so their regal and sometimes standoffish behavior comes naturally. 

    Cat Families: Learn more about the cats of Ancient Egypt

Our final true fact about cats: all purebred and domestic cats need regular veterinary care and wellness checks, especially as they get older. Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of playtime and exercise, combined with core annual vaccinations and annual or bi-annual checks at the vet will help them stay healthy while they rule the kingdom you call home.

Tips for Traveling with a Cat: What You Need to Know

Tips for Traveling with a Cat

No-Fuss Tips for Travelling with a Cat

How to calm down a cat in the car is not what you want to be frantically Googling while you’re already on the road. If you’re considering taking a trip with your feline friend –– whether by plane, train, or automobile, you’ll appreciate the following tips for traveling with a cat.

  1. Talk to your veterinarian. Some cats are unphased by car travel, others may feel stress, and some may need medication to help them stay calm and happy. Some cats can also get carsick, so watch for signs like panting, crying, or vomiting. Your veterinarian can help.
  2. Get your cat used to car trips gradually. Bringing your cat along for short trips helps get them acclimated to the environment and movement, so there’s less fuss and distress to contend with in the future.
  3. Introduce the cat carrier early. Some cats will freak out the second they see the cat carrier, which is always a challenge. Cats love boxes, but a carrier is the enemy to many due to unpleasant associations. 
  4. Keep your cat inside the carrier. It’s tempting to let them out, but the carrier helps keep everyone safer and reduces the chance of an accident.
  5. Bring all your cat’s necessities on longer trips. Don’t forget food, bowls, toys, medications, travel-sized litter, and a bed or blanket. When choosing bedding, opt for your cat’s favorite or the one in which they choose to spend the most time. The familiar feel and scents provide a sense of security.
  6. Make frequent pit-stops. Animals can’t tell you, “I need to use the bathroom!” and the last thing you want is to have to clean up potty accidents. Plan on stopping every 2-3 hours so everyone can stretch a bit, hydrate, grab a bite to eat if needed, and use the bathroom.

How to Travel With a Cat on a Plane

Traveling by plane with your cat doesn’t have to be an ordeal. With a bit of careful planning and preparation, you can minimize any stress. Utilize the below tips for traveling with a cat on a plane.

  1. Confirm pet travel details with your airline. How to transport a cat varies by airline, so confirming the details will help you determine whether your cat can travel in the cabin under the seat or if pets are restricted to cargo only.
  2. Always double-check the carrier dimensions. The weight requirements and dimensions for in-cabin carriers are essential so you can choose the correct size, or your pet may be relegated to the cargo hold or refused for travel. 
  3. Organize any required paperwork. These can include vaccination records and health certificates for travel, pet passports, or special vaccinations, which may require a pre-travel veterinary check-up.
  4. Consult your veterinarian about any sedatives that might be required. If your cat is a scaredy-cat, a little medication can make all the difference.
  5. TSA Screening. Your cat’s carrier must go through the X-ray screening sans cat, so this will require carrying your pet through the human screening devices. Make sure to have a form-fitting harness and leash to keep control. 
  6. Remember Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines. These require ALL pets in the airplane cabin to remain secured in their carriers throughout the flight.
  7. Skip feeding before a flight. An empty stomach will help minimize the risk of nausea and vomiting.
  8. Bring along extra potty pads, food, a water bottle, and medications. Zip-lock bags, wipes or paper towels, and latex gloves are also recommended in case you need to make a fast cleanup after potty time.

Remember, consult with your veterinarian before embarking on a trip or long car journey. Together, you can explore the different tips for traveling with a cat and determine the specific recommendations for your pet’s personality and individual needs. Happy travels!

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

Cats Have Allergies! Itching to Help Your Feline Friend?

All About Allergies in Cats

Just like humans, cats have allergies. However, unlike humans, your cat will likely not develop the same watery sinuses or tickle in their throat, so it’s good to be able to identify signs and determine the best treatment methods early in order to spare your feline friend many miserable months.

Signs of Allergies in Cats

Most commonly, cats develop allergies to their environment, food, and fleas, and you will likely see signs of these allergies on their skin and coat. While no two cats are the same and symptoms may vary, if you want to know how to tell if your cat has allergies, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Increased licking
  • Chewing/biting at skin
  • Hair loss
  • Lesions
  • Scabbing 
  • Dry/flaking skin
  • Redness on chin, paws, or mouth
  • Sneezing, coughing, or wheezing
  • Head shaking/frequent ear infections
  • Runny nose

Cats with allergies to food will most often scratch at their heads and necks and experience gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea. Frequent changes to diet can cause these reactions but ultimately, food allergies can show up in cats at any age or at any time. The cause of food allergies in small animals is the protein source, with chicken and beef being the most common allergens. Sneezing, coughing, wheezing, severe itching, and redness and swelling of the skin are common signs of environmental allergies in cats who spend a lot of time outdoors,. Flea allergies are most commonly transmitted from a flea bite directly and results in itchiness, redness, crusting, and hair loss of the head, neck, rump, dorsum, flank, and tail regions. It’s important to note that it may only require one bite to trigger 2-3 weeks of severe itchiness and discomfort. Cats can also be allergic to other types of insect bites, such as mosquitos, and can result in ulcerations and crusting lesions on the ears, nose, and less commonly, around the mouth and on the body.

What Are Cats Allergic To?

Not only is it crucial to your furry friend’s health for you to be able to recognize signs of allergies in cats, but it’s imperative that you understand what might be prompting these reactions. Here’s a list of some common triggers:

  • Various pollens (dust, tree, weed)
  • Protein source in food
  • Mold or mildew
  • Fleas/flea preventatives
  • Other insect bites
  • Perfumes
  • Cleaning products
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Prescription medications
  • Rubber or plastic materials

How to Treat Your Cat’s Allergies

Since the signs of allergies in cats vary, you’ll want to visit your primary veterinarian to best determine how to treat your cat’s allergies and develop a plan that meets his or her specific needs. Your vet may determine the source of the reaction(s) but if not, they may recommend skin or blood tests, medications, or suggest an elimination diet with the goal of narrowing down potential causes.

It’s unfortunate that even with technology today, our pets are still unable to verbalize their feelings. It’s our duty as pet parents to become aware of common triggers, avoid products or environments that over-stimulate the senses, and remain cognizant of abnormal behaviors in order to act accordingly and in a timely manner. Keeping a close eye on your feline friends and treating symptoms as soon as they arise guarantees more snuggles and less sneezing all year round. 

Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.