I posted this on my own forum and another, hopefully it will be just as useful here.
First off, reading the label...pet food companies (especially the large ones) are very smart. They want to make the most money per bag as they can. Ingredients such as poultry fat, meat meal, etc. are collective feed terms. Basically, they do not specifiy the EXACT ingrediets (chicken fat, chicken meal). Here is a definition of collective feed terms and why they are used.
When collective feed names are used, individual ingredients within a group aren't listed on the label. Collective feed names are used on feed labels when diets are developed based on least-cost formulation, which ensures a constant guaranteed analysis. Least-cost diet formulation will select the most inexpensive ingredients to provide the guaranteed analysis. As a result, the percentage of ingredients selected may vary with each diet formulation.
If the type of animal is not specified, you can assume that it comes from any animal...including other cats and dogs. For example, meat and bone meal gives no indication of what is actually in the food. It could be horse, cow, dog, cat, chicken, etc. or any combination of meats.
Next...fillers. Corn is a VERY common filler in feed. It is cheap and it tastes sweet to the animal. This is part of the reason why dogs and cats will devour some cheap foods and turn their noses up to the higher quality foods. Corn is also a very common allergen in dogs and cats and IMHO, should be avoided at all costs. Higher quality grains include rice and oats.
By-products should also be avoided. By AAFCO (the major governing body on pet foods) definition, by-products are:
By-product: An ingredient produced in the course of making a primary food ingredient; a secondary or incidental product. Feathers are a by-product of poultry meat processing. Feathers which are removed from a carcass during production of poultry meat are then hydrolyzed (pressure cooked with steam until they are an edible gel) which makes them an acceptable feed grade ingredient. Hydrolyzed feathers have been assigned the (IFN) International Feed Number 5-03-795 and can appear on a label as "Poultry By-products." On page 158 in the AAFCO book, Official Publication, 1994, Association of American Feed Control Officials Incorporated, they show: Hydrolyzed Poultry By-Products Aggregate is the product resulting from heat treatment, or a combination thereof, of all by-products of slaughter poultry, clean and undecomposed, including such parts as heads, feet, underdeveloped eggs, intestines, feathers and blood." The IFN assigned to this mix is 5-14-508. Today's regulations allow the entire mix or any part of it to appear on a label as "Poultry By-products." A "Fish By-product" can contain heads, tails, intestines and blood. This fish process residue has been assigned the IFN 5-07-977.
Yum, feathers, tails, feet, etc.
Another thing to consider is the quality of meat going into the feed. Most pet foods use already dead, dying, diseased or disabled. They are rejects for human consumption and are cheap. I prefer use foods that are human grade, such as Innova, Felidae/Canidae, Solid Gold, Wysong, etc.
Also avoid chemical, man-made preservatives such as BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, and Ethoxyquin.
Finally, and this is if you really want to get picky, opt for foods that include chicken/beef/lamb/fish meal as the first ingredient versus simply chicken/beef/lamb/fish. The ingredient list is organized based on weight before processing. Chicken as a first ingredient indicates that it is the meat/flesh of the chicken. However, the meat of the chicken is mostly water and after processing the weight of the chicken meat in the food is greatly reduced. Chicken meal is the same as chicken meat but with the water weight removed before weighing and processing. This essentially makes more chicken in foods using chicken meal as the first ingredient. More on this discussion can be found here.
If you compare four foods, mentioned in this thread (on another forum), you will see amazing difference when they really didn't look much different to start with.
Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Brown Rice, White Rice, Lamb Meal, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, Citric Acid), Herring Meal, Flax Seed, Sun Cured Alfalfa Meal, Sunflower Oil, Chicken, Lecithin, Monocalcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Linoleic Acid, Rosemary Extract, Sage Extract, Yeast Culture, Dried Enterococcus Faecium, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus Oryzae Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract, Inulin (from Chicory root), Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Fermentation Solubles, Yucca Schidigera Extract Mixed Tocopherols (source of Vitamin E), Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Cobalt Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (source of Vitamin C), Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (source of B2), Beta Carotene, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, D-Biotin, Sodium Selenite, Dried Papaya, Vitamin B12 Supplement.
No collective feed terms, no corn (rice instead), no bad preservatives, and uses meals.
Nutro Natural Choice Lamb and Rice
Lamb Meal, Ground Rice, Rice Flour, Rice Bran, Sunflower Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of natural Vitamin E), Poultry Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of natural Vitamin E), Natural Flavors, Rice Gluten, Dried Egg Product, Dried Beet Pulp, Potassium Chloride, L-Lysine, Dried Kelp (source of Iodine), Salt, Choline Chloride, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Taurine, Ferrous Sulfate, Ascorbic Acid (source of Vitamin C), Biotin, Copper Proteinate, Niacin, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement (source of Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Supplement, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of Vitamin B6), Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (source of Vitamin K activity), Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid.
Poultry fat is a collective feed term. Rice is used instead of corn. No bad preservatives, and uses meals. This food is decent, not as good as Canidae.
Iams Adult Lamb and Rice
Lamb Meal, Brewers Rice, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E, and Citric Acid), Fish Meal (source of fish oil), Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Grits, Dried Beet Pulp (sugar removed), Natural Chicken Flavor, Dried Egg Product, Potassium Chloride, Monosodium Phosphate, Brewers Dried Yeast, Salt, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Rosemary Extract, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement (source of vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Potassium Iodide, Folic Acid, Cobalt Carbonate
No collective feed terms. Look at how many grain ingredients there are! I count 5 and 3 of them, corn meal, corn grits and brewers rice (a by-product of alcohol production) are low quality. This feed contains corn while the others don't. By products are also used. There are no bad preservatives and meals are used.
Kibbles and Bits
Corn, soybean meal, ground wheat, beef & bone meal, animal fat (BHA and citric acid used as preservatives), corn syrup, wheat middlings, water sufficient for processing, animal digest (source of chicken flavor), propylene glycol, wheat, salt, hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, caramel color, sorbic acid (used as a preservative), sodium carbonate, choline chloride, minerals (ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite), vitamins (vitamin E supplement, niacin supplement, vitamin A supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement), calcium sulfate, titanium dioxide, yellow 5, red 40, yellow 6, BHA (used as a preservative), dl-methionine.
Collective feed terms: bone meal, animal fat, animal digest. Look at all the fillers! Fillers should NEVER be the first ingredient...K&B has 3 fillers before the meat starts. No by-products but bone meal is bad enough! BHA is listed twice. They add color to the food? Why? This is obviously the worst food of the bunch.
I hope this helped a bit. Ingredients can be very confusing if you do not know what you are supposed to be looking for.