AnimalFam_iStock_000084005055_LargePart of being a responsible pet owner is providing your pet with a nutritious diet. For most of us, this nutritious diet is probably going to come in the form of a commercially produced pet food. Easy, just run to any store, grab the first bag of food you see, and you’re all set, right?

Not so fast. It’s safe to say that most pet owners give a little more thought to the food they buy for their furry friends. Unfortunately, choosing a food amidst the seemingly endless varieties and the ever-present marketing claims that pet owners are bombarded with can be a daunting task.

Choosing the right food for your pet is much easier when you have a basic understanding of how to read a pet food label.

The Pet Food Label Decoded

Because pet food is a regulated commodity, there are a few items that must appear on every bag or can:

AAFCO statement – The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets the nutritional standards for pet foods. The required AAFCO statement on all pet food indicates the testing method for the food; either laboratory tested (formulation) or fed to actual pets followed by extensive testing (feeding trials). The AAFCO statement also indicates for which stage of life the food is best suited.

Ingredient list – The ingredients are the actual products present in the food. Ingredients are listed in order by weight, with the heaviest being first. Due to the high water content of most meat products, these are often listed first.

Guaranteed analysis – These numbers indicate the minimum or maximum levels of nutrients such as protein, fat, fiber, etc. This does not indicate the exact nutrient levels present in the food because it doesn’t take water weight and other factors into account that could throw off the percentage values. If you want to use the guaranteed analysis to compare foods, convert the percentages into dry weight values using an online calculator.

All animals require adequate protein to thrive, so while it’s ok if meat is not the first ingredient on the list, it should be one of the top few listed. The package label should also contain the manufacturer’s name and toll-free phone number.

Things To Watch Out For

When examining pet food labels, it’s important to be aware that pet food companies are trying to sell their products, which means they are not above the use of various advertising strategies. Be aware of the following:

  • “By-products” – Many of us have been led to believe that by-products are an undesirable component of pet food, but this is not necessarily the case. Contrary to popular belief, by-products are not “hoofs and feathers” but other non-meat animal parts including necks and organ meats, many of which are highly nutritious.
  • Advertising claims –Watch out for words such as “all natural” and “holistic”, these words are not regulated by the AAFCO and therefore have no legal standing.
  • Grain-free is not for everyone – The grain-free trend is going strong in the pet food industry, and many pet owners believe that their pets should be fed a grain-free diet for their health. While grains should never make up the bulk of a pet food, they can actually contribute valuable nutrients when used in correct proportions.

Your friends at Animal Family Veterinary Care Center are here to help! If you have any questions or concerns about pet food labels, don’t hesitate to give us a call.