Reading labels on human food can be a difficult task. Even for those who understand nutrition and labeling, terms and ingredients can often be misleading or fall under foggy definitions. Even though canine and cat food are regulated and therefore are labeled according to guidelines, there’s still plenty of confusing definitions to navigate. Ingredients, nutritional facts, analysis, endorsement, it’s all too confusing sometimes.
This is part of a series of Vet Organics articles devoted to helping pet-guardians understand the complexities of food labeling so we can ensure our fur-babies have the healthiest options in their food bowl.
Think of pet food labels as our best means for understanding what the manufacturing companies are telling us about their food and the manufacturing process. It can seem overwhelming, but with a few short
Pet food labels are considered a legal document. That’s how we can rely on the guarantee that they are regulated. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the organization that creates the model language to be used on labels. States and other governing bodies can then adopt this language into law. The AAFCO doesn’t actually regulate the manufacturing process. That’s up the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Giving the wrong pet product to our pups and kitties can be devastating. As consumers, the best defense we have is knowledge and information. We need to know how to read the labels, choose the right food, and safely handle the food while serving our companion animals.
“Regulations for manufacturing pet food are enforced by the FDA. The labels are the domain of the AAFCO.”
Two Types of Labels
Required Labels: There are some standards that all pet food manufacturers who want their product sold in retail stores, must follow. Those items, such as ingredients and nutrient guarantees must be included. Requirements also cover things like where the label needs to be affixed and how big it should be so all the text is legible.
Optional Labeling: Marketing materials fall under this category, which might be graphics, logos, and endorsements. Manufacturers will often also add their promise to the consumer and other guarantees or promises they want to make about their product. This is where many companies outshine the rest. When it comes to pet food, looking at the choices a company makes in their optional labeling can often say a great deal about the value of the product beyond nutritional value and regulatory processes.
This is our first stop when we look at anything we or our canine and cat companions are about to eat, right? It’s where we look for words we recognize, where we stare with a furrowed brow and wonder whether anything we are reading actually makes sense to us. Here are two quick pointers:
- There is a difference between the ingredients included and the nutrients our pets will gain from this food. Salmon may be an ingredient and the nutrients it provides are proteins, amino acids, and vitamins. It may seem obvious, but it’s a common point of confusion.
- Ingredients are always in order of highest amount, in weight, to the least amount. Grains are lighter than proteins like chicken or beef, so dry ingredients will be lower on the list. The important point here is to think about whether the ingredients are valuable, not whether there should be more grain to meat protein, because the actual weight of each isn’t listed.
This is the quick reference indicator of the maximum and minimum levels of nutrients. Companies are not required to share the exact amount or percentage. It’s also not a guarantee of the nutritional quality of pet food. This section is just letting us know what the respective levels of protein, fat, fiber, and moisture are in each package.
Something to keep in mind is that there are different standards for wet food and dry food because the percentage of protein will be different. We would have to convert the wet food to dry food in order to be able to compare them.
There are different quantities and ratios of nutrients required for different life stages. Puppy and kitten, adult, and all life stages, are common markers that let us know whether this food will be adequate for our pet’s needs.
And just to be extra helpful, it’s worth noting what the words ‘complete’ and ‘balanced’ actually mean.
- Complete, when used in the nutritional adequacy section of the label, means the product contains all the nutrients they are required to have in a pet food providing nutrition for the particular life stage they are serving.
- Balanced, when used in this section, means the nutrient are not only present, but are available in the correct ratios for the life stage this pet food is serving.
So, what’s the best dog food on the market?
Well, there isn’t a single best food for all dogs and cats. Breed, lifestyle, geographic location, behavior, medical health, and more, will factor into the best food choices for our pets.
But we can sure learn about reading labels and try to make informed decisions.
A great option all dog families should consider is EcoEats. It’s a dehydrated food, which means it’s one step away from and the closest we can get to giving our pups nothing but fresh, whole foods. And it’s all-natural, grain-free, gluten-free, allergen-free, preservative-free, and vet-approved, with no byproducts, and it serves all life stages. Phew! That’s a lot of goodness packed in a single bag. Plus, it’s formulated to taste delicious to dogs. Check it out.