One of the most important choices you will make as a pet owner is deciding what to feed your pet. A good diet can help your pet–whether it is a cat, dog, or something else–live a longer, happier and healthier life. And the cornerstone of that good diet will be the primary food you plop into a bowl at meal times. If you are trying to choose the best food for your pet, take a look at the following handy guide that will help you make your decision.

What kind of pet do you have?

Naturally, the food you choose will depend on what type of animal you have. If you have a dog, for instance, then you will need to read up on the ins-and-outs of dog food packaging; this will include learning how to “read” dog food bags for the best ingredients.

How old is your pet?

Another important factor to consider is the age of your pet. Many pet food brands have formulas which target certain age ranges, such as kittens/puppies, adult dogs/cats, and senior animals. You should look carefully at the pet food bag to see if the formula is designed for any specific life stage level, as this can help you find a food that is just right for your animal.

Does your pet’s breed have any specific health concerns or requirements?

Certain breeds may have health concerns or dietary requirements which you will need to consider when choosing a pet food. If you are unsure about what types of food is best for your pet’s breed, you can consult with your veterinarian or a specialized breeder about the best options. And as with life stages, you can always inspect the pet food bags to see if the formula is designed for certain breeds or animals with certain conditions.

What is listed first on the ingredients list?

One of the little known tricks of the pet food industry is this: the first few ingredients listed on the back of the packaging are the ingredients which comprise the bulk of the food. Your pet’s food may or may not contain grains and fillers, but depending on where “grains” and “fillers” fall on the ingredients list, the food may be more (or less!) nutritionally valuable. For instance, if the ingredients list for a “turkey and fish” pet food formula has turkey and fish listed 10th after ingredients like “corn filler” and “grain,” then the formula contains more negligible amounts of turkey and fish. This means that the food is mostly grains and fillers, and your pet will not be getting as many good nutrients.

However, if “turkey” and “fish” are listed first or at least within the first few ingredients, and appear listed before fillers and grains, then the formula contains primarily fish and meat. You should always inspect the ingredients list to make sure you aren’t buying pet food which is not nutritionally valuable.