Reading pet food labels, part 2 – Sifting through the Marketing Hype

Pet food manufacturers are experts at making labels and packaging look attractive, attempting to convince you that their food is better than the rest.  Their objective, however, is to sell their food, not help you feed your pet a healthy diet.  As I said in part one of this series, the most important thing you can do for your pet is to read the actual ingredients before you buy a bag of food.  You will see colorful packaging, wonderful claims, even ingredients that sound nutritious on the package; but don’t be fooled – these are methods of marketing to you, with the sole purpose of selling foods.  

There are definitely pet foods out there with some quality ingredients, but to pick them you must learn the language of the pet food industry.  A truly meat-based diet, which is required to have 95% of the meat protein present, will list the ingredient simply, such as ‘Beef dog food’.  If a name includes an adjective such as dinner, formula, or meal, only 25% of the ingredient listed is required to be present.  Something like beef flavor does not necessarily contain any beef at all, rather some by-product sprayed on the food to make it taste like beef.

On most bags of food, you will likely see something about meeting AAFCO nutritional standards.  Who is AAFCO?  AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officers.  AAFCO is not a regulatory agency.  It is a non-profit organization that creates guidelines that other regulatory agencies can use, but the guidelines are rather loose.  Feeding trials are often done to show that a pet food is nutritionally complete.  An AAFCO feeding trial may consist of a minimum of 8 pets and lasts for 6 months.  The criteria for approval consists of weight stability and a few blood parameters, which are measured before and after the study.  This type of study does nothing to address long term health maintenance, only short-term survival.

What about feeding for different life stages?  After weaning, dogs and cats can eat the same type of food for their entire life – from growth to geriatric.  There may be modifications for certain health conditions, but the average, healthy pet does not need a different diet just because it turns a certain age.  Regular check-ups will help determine if your pet needs something different.  Most likely if your pet is doing well on a certain diet, then there will be no need to change it. Life stage marketing is another marketing game that manufacturers play in order to sell more food and keep pace with competitors.

There is no substitute for good nutrition when it comes to keeping your pet healthy.  The best thing you can do is to use these guidelines and examine the food you are feeding closely.  You will be helping your pet live a longer, healthier life.

Part 1 – The Ingredient List:

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