If Our Pets Could Talk – April 2023

Trying to figure out exactly what is in your pet’s food, you almost have to be both a scientist and a lawyer to read and understand the labeling. The pet food industry is large, competitive, profit driven,   often work around regulations which are vague at best, and they rely on smart marketing ploys to entice you to buy their products. My goal is to try to help provide some information about pet food labeling, including definitions /terms used.  Most of these terms apply to cat and dog food. I have done a lot of reading-researching and “compressed” the most important pieces of information from various non-bias websites. As a FYI: The AAFCO=The Association of American Feed Control Officials, is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies, who oversee governing  laws to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feed and animal drug remedies. A quick look at the label, lists the four basics:  protein, fat, fiber, and water. Many regulations require labeling of the minimum and maximum % amount of nutrients a pet food must contain, in each of each of these 4 categories.

 INGREDIENTS: must follow standard definitions (per AAFCO) and be listed in order of weight. Moisture is included in the weight, so high moisture foods (like meats and fresh vegetables) will be heavier than drier foods (grains, meat meals). Exact amounts are not included and cannot accurately be estimated from the ingredient listIngredients lists are often subject to marketing whims and do not necessarily reflect the quality, not the source of the ‘meat’, or nutritional adequacy of a diet.

TERMS: By-product, Meat meal, Meat and bone meal, Meat by-product meal and a named source of the ‘meat’ – Animal by-product meal are two different things. The second group has an identifiable named meat source, and the first group has an ‘unknown’–generic source. The named species source i.e. chicken by-product, can be: chicken, meal, turkey, beef, lamb, salmon, etc.. The un-named /generic source, i.e. meat by-product, meat meal, etc…can come from a variety of places, including: road kill, dead zoo animals, dead on arrival poultry, diseased and dying livestock, an euthanized  animal, and  etc.. Because you can never know the source of this “anonymous” un-named meats used to make generic by-product meals pet food, is best to avoid this product.

MARKETING TERMS: Information per AAFCO guidelines: Labeling terms commonly used, such as:  “premium,” “super premium,” “ultra premium,” “gourmet,” “natural”, “Holistic,” and “Organic” have  no official definition or legal rules governing their use and can be used by any manufacturer without any burden of proof. Products with these labels are not required to contain any different or higher-quality ingredients, nor are they held to any higher nutritional standards than any other “complete and balanced” product. Advertised foods formulated that are supposedly breed specific or for seniors pets,  generally benefit from the same high quality foods, including protein amounts for adults so long as calories are monitored.

Another advertising ploy is pharmaceutical claims such as “hypoallergenic”, “prevents itchy skin”, “contains vitamin C to prevent infection” and “promotes joint health.” Again, according to the AAFCO, currently there are no laws that specifically cover the many nutrient and health advertising claims that are found on pet food labels. Your pet’s medical conditions and needs are better addressed by your Vet.

Bottom line: pet food is a big for-profit business with marketing using a good portion of the company’s  budget that is aimed at the owner-buyer and not the pet. The main take-a-ways: read the labels, look at the ingredients, learn the terms meanings, identify the protein, and try to avoid the “hype” and buy the best food to meet the dietary needs of your pet(s) that you can afford.

Some websites if you would like to read more about this topic:  Navigating-Commerical-Pet-Foods.pdf (feedthydog.com)  and   Pet Food 101: Understanding Pet Food Labels and Regulation – VetFolio


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: chapala.com


Jackie Kellum

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