Did you know that pet food labels are considered legal documents? Most people look at legal documents and do not interpret them correctly due to lack of knowledge of their content. The American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the legal body that creates the laws, regulations, and policies for pet food manufacturers to follow. They regulate manufacturers distribution and sale of pet food. At aafco.org, you can find ingredient definitions, standard feed testing methods, and how to calculate calorie content.
We all want to feed our pets a balanced diet. For example, feeding an all meat diet is not nutritionally balanced. Look for the words "complete" or "balanced" on the label. Manufacturers need to prove to you, the consumer, that their diet is nutritionally balanced for either dogs or cats. The label may say, "(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Dog/Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles."
On the other hand, the manufacturers can follow the AAFCO's guidelines for testing animal food. The AAFCO requires a minimum of 8 animals of any breed and either sex per test group. The trial is completed in 26 weeks while the animals are closely monitored by veterinarians to ensure no harm is done to their physical health. Pet food that is tested and proven to treat a certain condition (weight loss, hyperthyroidism, etc) will be the best choice for your pet. Look on the label for a similar phrase, such as, "Animal feeding test using AAFCO procedures."
The pet food's name tells the consumer what they are buying. Titles that include the main ingredient beef or fish, ect., that is stated as, "Beef Dog Food" or "Fish Cat Food", should contain no less than 95% (water excluded) or at least 70% (water included) of the total product. If the title includes the words "dinner, entree, platter, or formula", stated as, "Beef Formula", ect., then the meat ingredient should not be less than 25% (water excluded) or 10% (water included) of the total product. In addition, products that use two main ingredients, such as "Lamb and Rice Formula", should not be less than 25% of the total product. Furthermore, products including the words, for example, "with beef" or "beef flavored" will contain less than 3% of the named meat/grain ingredient. Lastly, foods labeled as "organic" or "natural" are approved by the FDA, whereas "Holistic" or "Human Grade" is not legally defined.
Ingredients are listed heaviest to the least heavy prior to removing the moisture and being processed. Meat products contain moisture, which makes it heavy, so it is generally listed as the first or second ingredient. Pet foods usually contain grains like rice, corn, or oats which are heavy and generally listed at the top of the list. Other dry ingredients and fillers are listed last because the are the least heavy. Dry ingredients like vitamins and minerals are necessary for a balanced diet. Ash (ground up bone) is a common dry ingredient which is used as filler. Ash has no nutritional value and should be minimal or not existent in the food.
As a consumer, we all know that manufacturers will try to market their product by making the package look the most attractive in the store or on TV. But don't fall for their gimmicks; you must be an educated reader of pet food labels prior to purchasing your pet's food. You can find more information at aafco.org, or simply ask our veterinarian team here at Eagle Animal Hospital to help guide you in your decision.
Eagle Animal Hospital serves Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and surrounding areas.
Written by Jennifer Styer, veterinary technician