Pet Food Facts and Fiction
People have been paying more and more attention to what they are feeding their pets. In 2007, a large
recall involving many different brands brought the issue of pet food safety and nutrition to the forfront.
While this increased scrutiny has been beneficial in highlighting the importance of good nutrition for our
pets, it has also spawned much misinformation. There are so many things written that are either untrue
or half true that it is no wonder pet owners don't know what to believe. We hope that we can clarify some
information so that clients can make an informed decision the next time they are buying and evaluating pet
Who regulates Pet Foods?
The most important agencies regulating pet foods in the US are:
The FDA who regulates certain food labelling requirements, specify certain drugs or ingredients that may be
added, enforce regulations regarding chemical and microbial contamination, and describe acceptable
The USDA who inspects animal ingredients used in pet foods.
AAFCO regulates pet food labelling, ingredient definitions, official terms and standard feed testing
methodology to determine nutritional adequacy.
What Can The Pet Food Label Tell You? Lots!
Nutritional adequacy - In order for a pet food to be noted as 100% nutritionally complete or balanced,
meaning that the food is acceptable as the sole food component in the diet, manufacturers must
substantiate this information with one of 2 methods.
The Nutrient Profile Method allows determination of minimum nutrient requirements by calculating the
nutrient content of each ingredient used in the diet. Adequacy is determined for growth and reproduction or
adult maintenance or both.
The Feeding Trial Method requires that the diet be used as the sole source of nutrition in an AAFCO
Certified feeding trial. Although this method is more expensive and time consuming, it allows for ingredient
acceptability and nutrient availability when determining value. Adequacy is determined for gestation and
lactation, growth and maintenance, or for all life stages.
How can I tell which method has been used to evaluate a pet food?
If the formulation method has been used, the label will contain a statement such as " XX diet is formulated to
meed the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile for XX life stage"
If the feeding trial method has been used, the statement will read "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO
precedures substantiate that XX provided complete and balanced nutrition for XX lifestage"
Does that mean that all foods that pass each testing protocol are nutritionally equal?
No, it means that the foods have at least met the minimum standards in each protocol.
Other pet food label info - did you know?
Ingredients must be listed in order of quantity based on weight.
If the name on the food indicates the meat source such as "Beef for Dogs" or "Tuna Cat Food" the food
must be 95% that named meat, not including water and condiments for processing. (70% less water and
If the name lists 2 proteins such as Beef n' Chicken Dog Food, then both proteins combined follow the
rule above, with the predominant protein being listed first in the ingredient list. The combo list applies to
proteins only, a food listed Chicken and Rice Dog food would have to be 95% chicken to have a valid label.
If the name of the food has a descriptor such as Dinner , Platter, Entree, Formula or Nuggets such
Chicken Dinner, Beef Entree etc- the Protein portion must be at least 25% ( 10% excluding water). Check
the ingredient list for the more predominant ingredients.
If the name has a descriptor and a combination such as Chicken and Beef Dinner, the 2 combined must be
at least 25% with the first name being named in the ingredient list before the second, and the second
ingredient comprising at least 3% of the product. This applies to non protein sources too, so Lamb and
Rice Formula would be 25% Lamb and Rice combined, with more Lamb and at least 3% rice.
A listing of "with" such as Beef Dinner with Cheese implies that the Cheese portion is at least 3% of the
This can make for big differences :
Tuna and Chicken Cat food would contain 95% Tuna and Chicken, with Tuna being the predominant
Tuna Dinner with Chicken would contain at least 25% Tuna and at least 3% Chicken .
"Flavor" as in "Chicken Flavor" implies no amount - only enough to be detected by test animals, and not
necessarily made of chicken - chicken broth could be used.
Marketing or Meaning?
These other terms are often found on pet foods - what do they really mean?
Natural - This term is not regulated but suggests that ingredients other than vitamins and minerals are not
chemically synthesized or altered. Salmonella, poison ivy and sand would all classify as natural, so this
term is more marketing than meaning.
Premium, Super Premium, Ultra Premium - No regulatory definition exists - these foods are held to no
higher standards than other foods.
Organic - while people food must meet certain standards documented and regulated by the USDA, pet
foods do not fall under these regulations. A task force has been developed to address this situation , but
until then, no regulations exist to determine what these labels mean on pet foods.
Holistic - Holistic refers to treating the pet as a whole rather than separate components - there is no
regulatory definition of Holistic as it refers to pet foods so claims may be without cause.
Human Grade Ingredients - No official legal or regulatory definition exist regarding the use of this term.