Many pet owners select a pet food based on the ingredient list. Unfortunately, this is the most useless piece of information on the pet food label. It is best to learn as much as you can about how to read pet food labels and how to choose a reputable pet food company. This information should be coming from a veterinary nutritionist or your veterinarian and not your neighbor, breeder, groomer, some pet food rating websites, or sales person at the pet store.

Tufts Veterinary School and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are two veterinary schools that have done a lot of research on nutrition. Tufts Veterinary School has a website — www.Petfoodology.org — that has many great articles written by veterinary nutritionists about how to read food labels. Articles to read are:

• Questions You Should Be Asking about Your Pet’s Food

• Why you shouldn’t Judge a Pet Food by its Ingredients List

• Stop Reading your Pet Food Ingredient List

• A broken heart: Risk of Heart Disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients

• Asking the right questions to make informed decisions about pet foods

In order to assess a pet food manufacturing company’s quality control and nutritional expert staff, one would need to call them and ask the tough and detailed questions. Fortunately, a company, called Pet Nutrition Alliance, has already done this. You can go to www.petnutritionalliance.org and select the tabs in this order at the top of each page to the right: More from PNA, Pet Food Report, DARE to ASK, Manufacturer Report and look at the answers to all of these questions. This website lists many food companies and if they own their own plants and where their food is manufactured. It will also show you if they have a veterinary nutritionist on staff.

A veterinary nutritionist from UC Davis has done an incredible job developing a website and nutrition tool that many veterinarians use frequently. It is called Balance IT. This website, www.balanceit.com, is for owners and veterinarians to use to develop completely balanced homemade diets with the correct vitamins and minerals for healthy animals as well as ones with special needs. It is very important that if you feed a homemade diet that it is fully balanced.

As we learn more and more about our own health as humans and how the gut is so important in our overall health, it makes sense to be sure that what you put in your gut is healthy — but make no mistake, what is good for us may not be good for our pets. We need to be careful to not let the food companies sway our thinking and buy into all the myths and marketing they do to get you to buy their food.

Kim Donovan, associate veterinarian at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital in Seminole and adjunct instructor at SPC Veterinary Technology Campus for anesthesia/surgery lab, has been in practice for 22 years.