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We are what we eat — and so are our furry friends.
The problem is that pet food labels can range from confusing to downright creative.
For example, did you know that:
- Ingredients are listed by weight — including moisture content.
- Just because protein’s listed first doesn’t mean it’s high in protein (or quality!).
- Fillers are broken down to de-emphasize their total weight (i.e. wheat flour, ground wheat and wheat middling).
- Portion guidelines ignore age, breed, weight, activity & more.
Feast Your Eyes
Labels typically have two parts: the display panel and the information panel. The display panel includes the brand, name and description of the food, and the information panel is the equivalent of the nutritional facts on people food. It’s not as detailed as the nutritional facts, but here you’ll find the guaranteed analysis, ingredient list, feeding guidelines and nutritional adequacy statement.
The “Crude” Truth
The guaranteed analysis lists the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture.
“Crude” refers to the method of measuring that’s used, not the quality of the protein, fat or fiber. These percentages are on an “as fed” basis, so foods that contain more water (like canned foods) appear to have less protein than food with less water (dry foods). That’s usually not the case.
A Weighty Matter
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight (not nutritional value). Weight includes the moisture in the ingredient, so some ingredients may appear higher in the list even if lower-moisture ingredients contribute more nutrients.
For example, the first ingredient may be chicken, which weighs more than other ingredients because it could be 70% water. But the food may contain wheat in various forms listed as individual ingredients, like wheat flour, ground wheat and wheat middling. So, the food may actually contain more wheat than chicken.
Bottom line: just because a protein source is listed first doesn’t mean the diet is high in protein.
Quantifying the Kibble
Feeding guidelines are based on the average intake for all cats or dogs. And while the guidelines are a starting point, a pet’s nutritional requirements vary based on age, breed, body weight, genetics, activity level and even the climate.
If your pet starts getting pudgy, you may need to feed her less, and vice versa. Your vet is your best resource in deciding the appropriate amount.
Mind Your Morsels
The nutritional adequacy statement was developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which standardizes pet food nutrient contents (in Canada, the Packaging and Labelling Act regulates the guidelines). This statement assures pet parents that when the pet food is fed as the sole source of nutrition, it meets or exceeds the nutritional requirements for a dog or cat at one or more life stages.
The AAFCO only recognizes “adult maintenance” and “growth and reproduction” as life stages. There is no diet that is suitable for all life stages. If you see a claim that the diet is suitable for all life stages, don't purchase that diet. Feeding trials tell you that the manufacturer tested the product by feeding it as the exclusive diet and monitored the animals. These foods carry a statement like "animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that the diet provides complete and balanced nutrition. "
When all is read and done, there is no one “best” dog or cat food. It’s up to the pet parent, with the help of a veterinarian, to find what works best for your family and your pet. Try choosing a diet that’s been evaluated using feeding trials, and see how it reacts with your pet.
On an appropriate diet, your pet should have formed stools – not too much, not too frequently. Your pet’s coat should be rich in color and not dry or brittle. He should have good energy, ideal weight and good muscle tone. Vomiting, loose stools and picky eating aren’t normal – consider re-evaluating your pet’s diet if any of these signs occur.
By Petplan Pet Insurance