For those who missed it, this is part of a short series from Vet Organics, dedicated to helping pet guardians make nutritious decisions about what to put in our pet’s food bowls. There’s a lot going on in a food label and knowing how to read them is the first step to a happy, healthy pet.
For more on ingredients, nutrients, label types and regulations, click HERE.
For information on the top three terms on labels that cause confusion, click HERE
What’s in a name?
Many companies will name a product according to the top ingredient. For example, “Chicken & Rice Delight” or “Turkey & Sweet Potato Doggie Thanksgiving Dinner” name chicken and Turkey in the name.
To protect consumers from misleading claims, labels are regulated so that the ingredient named in the title will actually be the main ingredient. It need to make up at least 70% of the total product weight. And not counting added water, it needs to be at least 95% of the named ingredient. It’s called the 95% rule.
The name must also be accurate. For example, if beef is named in the title, it needs to be real beef. Companies can’t substitute a beef product like, beef flavoring, beef byproducts, of beef meal.
Plus, the order of named ingredients matter. So, if chicken is listed first and rice is listed second, there needs to be more chicken than rice. The special requirement is that rice cannot be 3% or less by weight. That’s helpful because when ingredients list “Rice and Chicken” we want to know that there is an amount of chicken included that the title is accurate and not just a miniscule amount that limits the nutritional value of the product.
The 5% left is also regulated. It needs to be used for nutritional additions, such as vitamins and minerals and ingredients needed for the formula structure and taste.
Labels on human foods can certainly be confusing when it comes to a lot of these terms. Pet food is no different.
Light, lite, and low-calorie. Regulations require that these be nutritionally significant and the reduction must also be significant compared to similar products that are not carrying these labels. And there need to be a clear directions that will result in fewer calories when ingested, meaning, they can’t just say there are three servings instead of two and treat it like it’s lower calorie because our cat is eating less of the product.
Less, reduced calorie. Both of these claims must stand true when compared to other, similar products, not just when compared to similar products in the same line of food products by the same company. So, if a line of ‘decadent cat food’ lists a reduced calorie version of their decadent line, it can’t just be lower calories than the their ‘decadent line.’ It must also be low calorie compared to other, similar foods on the market.
Lean, low-fat. The fat content in products with this label have a regulated level that needs to be met. They have to be below a certain level of fat, per regulations. And they still have to include a maximum crude fat percentage in the guaranteed analysis section so the product maintains its nutritional value.
Less, reduced-fat. Both of these terms mean, again, that the fat content must hold true when it’s compared to other products on the market. They can’t just be less than an ‘original’ recipe the company offers. And it still needs to meet the nutritional regulations by meeting the maximum crude fat percentage in the guaranteed analysis section.
We see additives and fillers in pet food all the time, but they aren’t the same. A filler is an ingredient choice that may lack nutritional value and be hard for many pets to digest. They are often selected because they are less expensive than using whole foods.
An additive, on the other hand, must be a harmless ingredient that has been tested for safety and has been proven to have some sort of use in the food. There must be a reason an additive is present, other than inexpensively filling space.
Examples of additives can be colors that are added to the food to make it look more appetising and appealing. Even these additives must be approved by the FDA. This is also an example of changes made to pet food for the sake of the human guardian, more than the dog or cat.
There’s so much to know about labels and regulations. It can feel overwhelming. But aren’t Fido and Miss Fluffyton worth it? Keeping healthy companions in our lives for a long and illustrious life is the best reward for managing their diet and learning to read pet food labels.
And, for those who want to put this label information to work, take a close look at 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.