It’s important to be an informed pet owner and part of that means knowing what’s in your pet’s food. We understand that the pet food industry is very different from our food industry and can be scary to navigate your pet’s food, but reading the labels on pet food can help you make sure you are getting quality nutrition for your furry friend. Let’s break down the basics of how to understand your pet food labels and some industry marketing buzz words to understand.
The ingredients list is usually the first thing you will see on a pet food label. Ingredients are always listed in descending order by weight, meaning the ingredient that is highest in weight is listed first and so on down the list. It is important to note that “ingredient splitting” can take place; this means that two or more parts of one ingredient may be listed separately on the label but together they constitute one ingredient. For example, if brown rice and rice bran were both listed in a pet food, then together they would constitute one ingredient – rice – even though it appears as two separate items on the label. Additionally, any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives should also be noted at this time.
Industry Tip: According to AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) which is the governing body that regulates pet food; Salt can only make up 1% of any pet food. So, if you see your brand advertising any added ingredients that sound enticing (ie: fresh fruits, veggies, super-foods) and they are listed after Salt on the ingredients panel, that ingredient is only going to be available in trace amounts.
After the ingredients list comes the guaranteed analysis. This section provides information about minimum levels of crude protein and fat as well as maximum levels of fiber and moisture present in a product. The percentages are expressed as grams per kilogram or pounds per pound of product so it’s important to pay attention to how this information is expressed when comparing products. For example, a canned food will have more moisture than a dry kibble so a comparison between products with different consistencies could lead to some confusion if not read correctly.
Industry Tip: According to AAFCO, Carbohydrates (carbs) do not have to be listed on pet foods. If want to find out how many carbs are in your pet’s food, you will need to calculate them. To do this, subtract the crude protein, fat, moisture, mineral content (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, etc.) and fiber from 100%. Whatever is left is a rough representation of the carbs in the that food.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
The nutritional adequacy statement indicates whether or not a particular product has been tested by AAFCO for nutritional adequacy either through feeding trials or nutrient profiles . This statement helps confirm that a pet food contains enough nutrients for your pet in order for them to maintain good health over their lifetime without any additional supplementation required from other sources such as vitamins or minerals unless directed by a veterinarian.
Industry Tip: Key words such as “Toppers”, “Enhancer”, “Intermittent Feeding” and Mix-ins” can be great key words to understand if something you are feeding is nutritionally balanced. If you are unsure, always look for the AAFCO nutritionally complete statement.
AAFCO Rules and Regulations
AAFCO has specific rules on how pet food labels must read. They use a lot of industry marketing buzz words on pet food labels that mean nothing to the average consumer. To make sure you know what is actually in your pet’s food, it helps to understand the terminology used by AAFCO. Here are a few of the most common terms: “95 percent rule,” “25 percent rule,” “3 percent rule” and “Flavor rule.”
- 95 Percent Rule- This rule states that if the ingredient list contains two or more ingredients and the first named ingredient makes up 95% of the total weight, then the other ingredients may be listed in any order, even if they are higher than the first ingredient by weight.
- 25 Percent Rule aka the “Dinners, entrees, platters, nuggets and formulas” Rule- In this rule, the first ingredient must make up 25% of the total weight and all other ingredients must be in descending order by weight. fall under the 25 percent rule. The components (excluding animal-based ingredients) of the total mix must constitute a minimum of 25%, but not exceed 95% – unless water is added, in which case it should reach at least 10%.
- 3 Percent Rule aka the “With” Rule– According to the FDA, this rule was originally intended to apply only to ingredients highlighted on the principal display panel, but outside the product name, in order to allow manufacturers to point out the presence of minor ingredients. The 3 percent rule covers foods such as “Cat food with chicken” where chicken makes up less than 3 percent of the total ingredients. It also covers foods such as “Chicken and Rice with Cheese.” In this case, the “chicken and rice” would fall under the 25 percent rule and the “with cheese” would fall under the “3 percent/with” rule.
- The Flavor Rule- This rule mandates that sufficient amounts of a particular ingredient must be included in pet food to live up to the flavor declared on its label. For instance, “Chicken flavored cat food” should taste like chicken – even if it does not actually contain any poultry. Incredibly, “Chicken flavored cat food” could have absolutely no animal product and yet still honor the ‘chicken’ name as long as it tastes similar to chicken.
Wow that was a lot! Hopefully that wasn’t overwhelming! Knowing how to read your pet’s food labels will help ensure that you are providing your furry friend with proper nutrition they need while avoiding any unhealthy additives like artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Understanding what goes into making your pet’s food will give you peace of mind knowing that you are giving them quality nutrition every day! Once familiar with reading these labels, it becomes much easier to spot potential problems before they start and keep your pets happy and healthy!