With hundreds of pet food products available, how do you decide what's best for your pet? It's smart to start with the label - but labels can be confusing if you don't know what to look for. Here's what you need to know.
Pet Food Names
According to the manual produced by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), if a pet food name says:
-Chicken, beef, seafood, lamb - it must contain 95 percent of that ingredient.
-A combination of ingredients (Chicken and Liver) - the two named ingredients together must make up 95 percent of the total weight. The first ingredient should be the predominant one. This only applies to animal-based ingredients.
-Dinner, entrÈe, platter, formula, etc. (Beef Dinner; Seafood Platter) - it must contain 25 percent of the listed ingredient. If more than one ingredient is included in the name, the combination of ingredients must total 25 percent of the product.
-With (Lamb with Rice) - it must contain 3 percent of the primary ingredient.
-Flavor (Chicken Flavored) - no minimum requirements, but the pet should be able to detect the taste.
The primary goal of pet food is to deliver key nutrients to your pet. Here's a closer look at ingredients, the primary nutrients they deliver and the health benefits they offer.
-Fresh meat, chicken, poultry by-product meal, meat by-products, soybean meal and egg - High quality protein for muscle tone and development and healthy skin.
-Animal fat, fish oil and vegetable oil - Fats and essential fatty acids for energy, improved taste and healthy skin and coat.
-Corn, rice, barley, sorghum - Carbohydrates for energy and other nutrients for healthy skin and coat.
-Cellulose, soybean mill run and beet pulp - Fiber sources that promote intestinal tract health; some are helpful in weight control.
Chemical names in the ingredient list are most often vitamins or minerals added for complete nutrition.
A by-product is a secondary food item that is made from a primary ingredient production stream. A by-product like "chicken by-product meal" can contain organ meat that has a high nutritional value. In fact, it's a more concentrated protein source than raw chicken alone and contains high quality, highly digestible protein.
However, bargain brands may use inferior ingredients that include feathers or other lower-nutritional parts of the animal.
By law, pet food packaging must show the minimum percentages of crude protein and fat, as well as the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture in the product. This is not an indication of the actual nutrient content or a guarantee of nutritional quality.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
The AAFCO sets the nutritional guidelines for pet foods sold in the United States. The nutritional adequacy is determined by one of two methods - formulation and feeding trials.
-Feeding trial method - This requires the manufacturer to utilize an AAFCO-protocol feeding trial using the food as the sole source of nutrition. The pets' performance is documented when fed the food.
-Formulation method - This requires the manufacturer to formulate the food to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for dogs and cats. Because it is a calculation of nutrient levels, and AAFCO feeding trials with pets are not required, this is a faster, less-expensive method.
More information about pet food labels can be found at www.fda.gov/animalveterinary under "Resources for You," and you can learn more about choosing the perfect food for your pet at www.feedingisbelieving.com.