Saturday, July 23, 2011

Reading Pet Food Labels

Every owner wants to be good at understanding their pet food.  Labels can be misleading, and often they leave the owner wondering if it's truly good for their dog, despite it's claims that it's natural and healthy.  Bags can all start to look the same, and it can be challenging to really understand what it all means.

If your main ingredient reads merely "beef", "chicken" or "lamb", it means that portion of the ingredient is no less than 95% of the protein it specifies.  If it reads "dinner", "formula", "entree", "platter", or "stew", it will contain only 25% of the stated protein.  "With", ie. "chicken with rice" means it contains 3%.  "Flavor".. means, well, nothing.  There is no protein, just a flavor.  "Meat by-products" describes lungs, bones, and other organs.  There is no hair, hooves, teeth, or horns in by-product.

Ingredients must all be listed on dog food, and they must be listed in descending order by weight.  The AAFCO, "Association of American Feed Control Officials", "develops and implements laws, regulations, standards, and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of animal feeds."  It's often the common terminology we struggle to understand, with regards to what it really means and what, by law, it implies about the food content.

"Natural" means an ingredient solely derived from plant, animal, or mined sources.  It can be either processed or unprocessed, so long as it is not produced or subject to chemically synthetic processes.  It cannot contain additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic.  "Organic" means 90% or more is in compliance with the USDA National Organic Program.  "Holistic" can mean nothing; it's not defined by the AAFCO and can mean virtually anything they want it to mean.  Regarding "human grade/human quality", the AAFCO suggests those claims are false and misleading.  The term "proven" can only be used if the claim is substantiated by scientific or other evidence, requiring a minimum of 2 trials.

Formulas for puppies are the real deal.  Don't feed your puppy adult food until they are either 1 year old, or have reached no less than 80% of their ideal body weight.  Growing puppies need more protein than adults, and large breed puppies especially have different nutritional needs.  Avoid foods claiming "good for all ages".  There is no way a food could offer everything all ages would need.  Food allergies are real, and with cats they tend to be allergic to beef, dairy, or fish.  Dogs tend to be allergic to beef, dairy, or wheat.  Most people overfeed their dogs; a dog should get 1 cup of food for every 20 pounds of ideal weight.  Ask your vet what your dog's or cat's ideal weight is!  Every animal is different, so while guidelines are established, always ask your vet if it suits the needs of your animal and breed specifically!

Pet treats are not regulated by the AAFCO.  Buyer beware!  With snacks, it's up to you to really examine those ingredients to be sure they are appropriate and natural.  I always ask owners to read the ingredients and answer, "would I eat this?".  There are snacks which contain cocoa (chocolate) or garlic, both ingredients which are not healthy for dogs.

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