Reading pet food labels – 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 my post on reading ingredients, the most important thing you can do for your pet is to read the actual ingredients so that you know exactly what you are feeding.  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 food.

Pet foods do vary in quality, and you will need to learn some of the language of the industry to know the difference.  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.

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.