The key to choosing healthy food for your pet is understanding the labels on pet food. Many of claims on pet food packaging can be confusing. What does "All Natural" or "Real Chicken Flavor" actually mean? Protein in pet food can come from a variety of sources including scraps and by-products left over from meat processing. An expensive bag of "gourmet" dog food could actually contain chicken feet as it's protein source.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes a national standard for ingredients, definitions, and nutrient levels, but they have no enforcement authority. What this means is that the AAFCO doesn't regulate pet food, but it does provide the standards for what goes on pet food labels.
If you want to choose the healthiest food for your pet,
then you'll need to understand the pet food labels.
Pet Food Labels - What You Need to Know
Name = Content. Pet food can't be named "Beef for Dogs" unless it contains 95% beef. If a pet food clearly states a type of meat it is safe to assume that is what your pet will get.
Beware of "Platters" and "Dinners". The exception to the 95% rule is when a manufacturer combines the meat name with terms like "dinner", "platter", "entree", "nuggets", or "formula". When manufacturers combine the meat type with one of these terms the meat may make up as little as 25% of the pet food.
Avoid the terms "flavor" and "with". Pet food that is labeled as "Beef Flavor Dog Food", it means that it just needs to taste like beef meal or beef by-products. The words "with" as in "with real meat", means that manufacturers only need to include 3% beef by weight.
Ignore the hype. Ignore terms like "premium", "gourmet", and even "super ultra premium". These terms aren't regulated and therefore don't really mean anything.
Understand "Natural" vs "Organic". Natural is not an official definition and can be used indiscriminately. However, organic has a strict legal definition and cannot be used unless the pet food meets the USDA standards.
4 Tips For Choosing Healthy Pet Food
Read the ingredients list. The descriptive names of pet foods can be misleading, but the AAFCO also asks pet food manufacturers to list all the actual ingredients in descending order by weight on their product can or bag. The ingredients list is where you can find out how healthy the pet food actually is.
Buy dog and cat food that contains meat protein. They are carnivores, so they do best with real meat. The AAFCO says cows, pigs, goats, or sheep should be the meat sources for dog and cat food. Make sure that a whole meat source is listed as one of the top two ingredients.
Pick wet pet food over dry. Wet pet food is packaged in cans or pouches and tends to be fresher, have more protein, and be of higher quality. Dry pet food is often sprayed with fat to give it more taste. Mixing dry food with water or other liquids may allow bacteria on the surface of dry food to multiply, which is bad for your pet’s health.
Avoid animal by-products. Meat by-products are not handled as safely as whole meat and may include lungs, spleen, bone, blood, stomachs, and intestines. Poultry by-products include necks and feet.
Protect your pet by learning the right pet food terminology and reading the ingredients list carefully. The person most responsible for your pet's health is you.
Please contact our office if you would like specific pet food recommendations.
Dr. Barry Neichin
Chief of Staff
ABC Veterinary Hospital
San Marcos CA
When he's not busy with his duties at the hospital, Dr. Neichin can be found outside, either on the trails hiking and camping or in the water snorkeling and skin diving, as well as spending time with his two children. His family also includes Tonka, a Golden Retriever; Leo, a miniature Golden Doodle; Cosmo, a Siamese, and Ruffles, a rabbit. More about Dr. Neichin -->