Pet Food Label

Ingredients

Nutrients and high quality ingredients are both important in a pet food. However, nutrients are vital because the body absorbs nutrients, not ingredients. A nutrient is any food constituent that helps support life. The energy-producing nutrients include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates; while the non-energy-producing nutrients are vitamins, minerals, and water. The optimum nutrient blend is the result of quality ingredients that should be formulated for a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to meet a pet’s nutritional needs.

You can’t assume a food is right for your pet simply by reading the ingredient list because nutrients are just as important as ingredients. Making a high-quality pet food requires a precise blend of ingredients to meet a specific nutrient profile based on a pet’s life-stage, lifestyle, or disease condition.

Call the 800 number that should be located on the food label for product information that is not listed on the label, such as the nutrient content of the food and its caloric content.

Nutrients

Nutrients and high quality ingredients are both important in a pet food. However, nutrients are vital because the body absorbs nutrients, not ingredients. A nutrient is any food constituent that helps support life. The energy-producing nutrients include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates; while the non-energy-producing nutrients are vitamins, minerals, and water. The optimum nutrient blend is the result of quality ingredients that should be formulated for a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to meet a pet’s nutritional needs.

You can’t assume a food is right for your pet simply by reading the ingredient list because nutrients are just as important as ingredients. Making a high-quality pet food requires a precise blend of ingredients to meet a specific nutrient profile based on a pet’s life-stage, lifestyle, or disease condition.

Call the 800 number that should be located on the food label for product information that is not listed on the label, such as the nutrient content of the food and its caloric content.

Nutritional Adequacy

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on a dog food label verifies that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for one of the following: Puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs, Adult dogs, or All life stages.

In the early stages of life, young pets need high levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to ensure proper growth. Therefore, a pet food that claims to be “complete and balanced for all life stages” must contain nutrient levels that are suitable for growth. A food that is appropriate for growth is essentially a puppy/kitten food because it contains levels of fat, sodium, protein, and other nutrients that are too high for an older dog.

It is important to know that excess fat can result in diabetes and heart, joint, or respiratory disease. Excess protein can cause liver or kidney disease. Excess calcium can result in urinary bladder stones and skeletal disease. Therefore life-stage nutrition, which is designed to meet a pet’s needs at a specific age and physical state, helps protect against nutritional excesses.

AAFCO Label

Every pet food label must contain a statement and validation of nutritional adequacy. AAFCO regulations allow two basic methods for pet food manufacturers to substantiate claims.

The formulation method requires the manufacturer to formulate the food to meet the AAFCO nutrient profiles for dogs and cats. This method is less time consuming and less expensive because feeding trials with pets are not required. This method requires only a calculation of the nutrient levels. An example of an AAFCO statement using the formulation method would be: “Brand Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Cat Food Profiles for maintenance of adult cats.”

The feeding trial method requires the manufacturer to perform an AAFCO protocol feeding trial using the food as the sole source of nutrition. This method documents the pets’ performance when fed the food. An example of an AAFCO statement using the feeding trial method would be: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.”

 

Ingredients & Myths

Corn is a poorly digested “filler” that causes allergies

You may hear that a plant-based ingredient such as corn is a “filler” that shouldn’t be included in a pet’s diet because it is poorly digested and can cause allergies.

The Facts

Corn is an excellent source of many nutrients.

  • “Fillers” may be defined as feed ingredients with little or no nutritional value. Based on this description, corn is certainly not a filler.
  • Corn provides a good source of carbohydrates, protein, and essential fatty acids in the diets of dogs and cats.
  • Corn can be found in many forms, all of which can contribute to nutritious diets. For example, corn gluten meal contains 60% to 70% protein and is an excellent source of essential amino acids. And whole corn or corn meal provides highly digestible carbohydrates as an energy source.
  • Corn is a good source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid required by both dogs and cats.
  • It also contains abundant amounts of antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene.

Corn gluten meal is highly digestible.

  • Corn gluten meal is easy to digest, making its nutrients readily available to your pet.
  • Corn gluten meal contains many essential amino acids, so when it is properly combined with other protein sources, it can contribute to highly digestible and nutritious diets.

Corn is not a common cause of allergies.

  • Dogs and cats can develop allergies to any protein, including meats and grains. However, it is estimated that only 10% of allergic skin conditions in dogs and cats are caused by food.
  • Corn does not appear on the list of most common food allergies in dogs or cats.
  • The most common food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy products, and wheat, followed by lamb, egg, chicken, and soy.
  • In cats, the most common food allergies are beef, dairy products, and fish.

Corn is a high-quality ingredient.

  • The quality of corn in pet foods can vary greatly.
  • There are five grades of corn quality according to the USDA; grades 1 and 2 are traditionally used in human food products.

REMEMBER

It’s the overall quality of the pet food that makes it a good choice for your pet.

Corn is available in many forms and is used to create digestible and nutritious diets that deliver all the essential nutrients dogs and cats need.

When it comes to pet food, “natural,” “organic” and “holistic” are the same

In grocery stores and pet stores, the terms “natural,” “organic” and “holistic” are frequently and freely used on packages to imply that foods with these labels are healthier than those without.

The Facts

“Natural” and “organic” do not mean the same thing.

Natural

  • The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines and regulates the term “natural” for pet food and animal feed.
  • The term “natural” means a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources that have not been produced by a chemically synthetic process.
  • In addition, natural feed and ingredients do not contain any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic.
  • However, chemically synthesized vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients are acceptable.

Organic

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program defines and regulates the term “organic” for pet food and human food. “Organic” refers to the way a crop or animal is grown or raised and handled.
  • Organic crops must be grown on land free from pesticides for three years.
  • Organic livestock is fed organic feed, is not given antibiotics or hormones, and has access to the outdoors.

Natural and organic foods are not necessarily healthier than conventional foods.

  • The USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.
  • Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.

Not all foods labeled organic contain only organic ingredients.

  • There are four levels of organic foods
    • 100% organic
    • Organic (95%)
    • Made with organic (70% to 95%)
    • Less than 70% organic
  • Look for the USDA organic seal as proof of a certified organic pet food. Pet foods with that seal must contain 95% to 100% organic ingredients.

“Holistic” is a vague term that can have many meanings.

  • “Holistic” as it refers to pet food is not defined or regulated by any regulatory body.

REMEMBER

Although pet foods labeled as natural, organic, and/or holistic are increasingly popular, the use of these terms can be misleading or confusing when trying to choose the best food for your pet. These terms do not guarantee better nutrition for your pet.

Wheat commonly causes allergies in dogs and cats

There is a widespread mis-perception that wheat commonly causes food allergies and pet foods containing it should be avoided.

The Facts

Food allergies are uncommon in dogs and cats.

  • Food allergies constitute only a small percentage of allergy problems in pets. While the exact incidence is unknown, it is estimated that only 10% of allergic skin conditions are caused by food.
  • Flea bites and environmental allergens, such as pollens, mold, and dust mites, are more common triggers of allergic symptoms than food.

Any ingredient can cause an allergy.

  • An allergy is an abnormal reaction by the body’s immune system to normal substances in the environment, including foods.
  • Allergies can form to almost any food or ingredient, but the more animals are exposed to a food or ingredient, including wheat, the more likely it is that allergies will develop.
  • Proteins, especially beef and dairy products, are the most common food allergens in dogs and cats.
  • Genetics is also a factor in the development of allergies. Certain individuals are predisposed to becoming allergic to something, but no single food is more likely to cause allergies than another.
  • The only way to diagnose a food allergy is with an elimination diet trial, which your veterinarian can prescribe.
  • Unless it’s been proven to be the culprit through appropriate testing, arbitrarily avoiding a single ingredient, such as wheat, won’t prevent allergies from developing.

Wheat is a valuable pet food ingredient.

  • Wheat is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as a source of protein.
  • Including wheat in a pet food as an energy source preserves the animal proteins in the diet for building and maintaining a pet’s muscle and tissue.

REMEMBER

Allergies to wheat are not common. And the only way to diagnose a food allergy is with a blood test or an elimination diet trial, which your veterinarian can prescribe.

Gluten-free diets are healthier

Although only 1% to 2% of people have celiac disease and require a gluten-free diet, many more people are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon in hopes it will help them lose weight or feel better. And many of them assume that a gluten-free diet is what’s best for their pets too.

The Facts

Gastrointestinal problems associated with gluten are rare in dogs.

  • Gluten-induced enteropathy (celiac disease) is very rare in dogs and has been reported primarily in Irish Setters.
  • Pets with celiac disease react to the proteins (gluten) in wheat, rye, and barley.
  • The protein in corn gluten does not cause GI problems, even in individuals with celiac disease.

Gluten is an excellent source of high-quality protein.

  • Gluten is the concentrated protein from grain after all the starch has been removed.
  • Corn gluten meal contains approximately 60% to 70% protein.
  • It provides essential amino acids that form the building blocks for protein.
  • Gluten is highly digestible.

Protein Concentrations in Common Pet Food Ingredients (as fed)

  • Poultry By-Product Meal (70%)
  • Corn Gluten Meal (67%)
  • Meat & Bone Meal (55%)

Gluten provides structure to pet food.

  • Just as wheat gluten is added to breads to enhance the texture, a small amount in pet food helps canned formulas, kibbles, and treats hold their shape.

REMEMBER

Gluten from various grains is a nutritious ingredient that provides a concentrated source of protein in pet foods. GI problems associated with wheat gluten are rare in dogs and cats, and corn gluten does not cause problems, even in pets with celiac disease.

Pet foods should be grain-free

Many pet owners believe that grain-free pet foods are easier to digest and provide pets with better nutrition than pet foods containing grain.

The Facts

The carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients provided by grains add to both the nutritional value and structure of pet food.

Grains supply energy.

  • Most cells in the body use carbohydrates as a primary source of energy.
  • The nervous system (i.e./ brain and nerves) requires the carbohydrate glucose to support normal functions.

Grains spare protein.

  • If carbohydrates, such as those from grains, aren’t available, dietary protein is diverted away from its most important function – protein synthesis – to make glucose.
  • If carbohydrates are available, dietary protein is used to build and maintain muscle and tissue.
  • Reproducing females, growing puppies and kittens, and active dogs especially benefit from diets containing carbohydrates.
  • Grains provide fiber and other nutrients.
  • Grains provide fiber, which contributes to gastrointestinal health.
  • Grains also contain essential fatty acids and other nutrients that contribute to a healthy skin and coat.

REMEMBER

Properly processed grains provide needed nutrients as part of a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.

By-products are poor-quality ingredients

By-products are sometimes thought to be low-quality ingredients that shouldn’t be included in pet foods.

The Facts

By-products are an excellent source of protein and other nutrients.

By-products defined:

A by-product is any ingredient that is produced or left over when some other product or ingredient is made.

Broths and gelatin are examples of meat by-products in human foods.

By-products in pet foods that meet Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines come from clean animal parts other than meat, such as liver, kidneys, and other organs.

By-products: What are they?

  • What they can be:
    • Liver
    • Kidneys
    • Lungs
    • Spleen
  • What they can’t be:
    • Feathers
    • Hair
    • Hide
    • Hooves
    • Intestinal contents

By-products can be more nutritious than meat alone.

  • Muscle meat is deficient in many nutrients, including calcium, other minerals, and vitamins. Many of these missing nutrients are abundant in meat by-products or poultry by-products.
  • By-products are also an excellent source of protein and amino acids.
  • For example, poultry by-product meal contains 60% to 70% protein and can be highly digestible.

REMEMBER

By-products are high-quality ingredients that can boost the nutritional value of a pet food.

Animal digest is a low-quality ingredient

Animal digest is often considered a substandard pet food ingredient. In some cases, this is because the word “digest” is mistakenly thought to describe the contents of the digestive tract.

The Facts

The word “digest” in “animal digest” refers to the digestive process used in production, not the ingredients.

  • The process starts with animal protein such as muscle and soft tissue supplied by USDA-inspected facilities.
  • These ingredients are hydrolyzed or “digested” to break down the animal protein into peptides in a manner similar to digestion in the body.
  • The resulting digest is in a liquid, but can also be made into a paste or powder.

Animal digest provides protein and flavor.

  • Animal digest is extremely palatable and is an excellent source of high-quality protein.
  • It’s often used in small amounts to enhance the taste of dry pet foods.
  • Spraying animal digest on kibble or mixing it with the food significantly increases palatability.

REMEMBER

Animal digest is a high-quality ingredient that provides an excellent source of protein and enhances the palatability of pet foods.

A raw food diet is the most natural and, therefore, the best diet for cats and dogs

Many pet owners think feeding their dogs and cats food that mimics the raw diet of wild animals is the right thing to do.

The Facts

Raw diets may contain bacteria.

  • Raw meat and poultry may be contaminated with harmful microorganisms, such as salmonella
  • Feeding raw meat to pets can expose them to bacteria, parasites, and protozoa.

Preparing and feeding a raw diet can also expose your family to harmful organisms.

  • Members of the household will also be exposed to the same bacteria, protozoa, and parasites when you feed a diet containing raw meat to a cat or dog.
  • These microorganisms pose greater risk to the young, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

Salmonella Contamination

  • Raw Diets (80%)
  • Fecal Samples (30%)
  • Salmonella was found in raw diets and fecal samples from dogs fed raw diets. This poses a threat to members of the household.

Bones as part of a raw diet can be hazardous to pets’ health.

  • Raw (and cooked) bones can fracture teeth.
  • Jagged or sharp points can tear the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
  • Fragments of bone may become lodged in gastrointestinal tract.

Raw diets may not be nutritionally balanced or complete.

  • Diets made of mostly meat or poultry and bones may be lacking in important nutrients.
  • Calcium deficiency is a common problem with these diets, which can lead to impaired growth, spontaneous fractures, and loose teeth.
  • Vitamin A toxicity can occur if large amounts of raw liver are fed.

REMEMBER

A raw food diet may not be the best choice for your pet. This type of food can expose your pet and your family to harmful microorganisms, physically injure your pet and lead to nutritional imbalances.

 

Simple Truth About Nutrition

The right balance of nutrients brings out your pet’s best

Good nutrition isn’t just about the ingredients – it’s about the right balance of nutrients. Feeding a pet food that has an improper nutritional balance can lead to or worsen a wide range of health issues.

The right level of nutrients, including antioxidants, promotes good health, which impacts your pet’s life expectancy and quality of life.

The nutritional needs change with age, so transitioning to the right food when your dog or cat enters a new lifestage, typically at age 1, 5, or 7, can help meet your pet’s changing nutritional requirements.

Puppies and Kittens can benefit from added DHA for healthy brain and vision development.

Adult Pets need controlled fat and calories to promote optimal body condition.

Mature Adult Pets require controlled levels of sodium, calcium, and phosphorus for long-term organ health.

The Optimal Nutrient Range

Too Little Nutrient Too Much
Poor growth Protein Aggravation of existing kidney disease
Flaky skin Fat Obesity leading to diabetes
Inability to maintain water balance
Anorexia
Fatigue
Hair loss
Sodium Hypertension
Heart conditions
Constipation
Seizures
Spontaneous fractures Calcium Bladder stones
Poor growthDull coat Phosphorus Aggravation of existing kidney disease
Bone loss
Hardening of soft tissue
Soft stool Dietary Fiber Constipation
Anorexia
Poor growth
Rickets (Vitamin D)
Vitamins Hypercalcemia (Vitamin D)
Skeletal deformities (Vitamin A)
Anorexia
Retarded growth
Muscle weakness
Magnesium Struvite (Bladder Stones)
The right nutrients are the cornerstone to good health

The best nutrients come from high-quality ingredients.

Nutritional Benefits & Sources

Vitamins Minerals, & Other Nutrients Benefit Source
A Supports vision, skin, and a healthy immune system Fish oil, liver, vitamin A supplements
D Helps maintain bones and teeth Liver, vitamin D supplements
E+C Helps protect cells and support a healthy immune system Vegetable oils, vitamin E+C supplements
Calcium Supports strong bones, teeth, and muscle function Chicken meal, lamb meal, fish meal, and mineral supplements
Phosphorus Helps support bones, teeth, cell, and muscle function. Meats, eggs, and dairy products
Sodium Maintains hydration and muscle function Mineral supplements
Proteins Helps strengthen cells Chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, and whole grain wheat
Carbohydrates Source of quick energy Corn gluten meal, flaxseed, and whole grain corn
Fats Helps your pet store energy for later Dried egg product, fish oil, and soybean oil
Omega 3+6 Fatty Acids Promotes healthy skin and a shiny coat Eggs, fish oil, flaxseed