Learning Labels: Why You Should Pay More Attention To What’s In Your Pet Food
For many of us, pets are more than just furry or fluffy companions: they’re our family members, children, or best friends. They can cheer us up on a bad day and help us problem solve while we vent through the day’s stresses, and all they need in return is love, water, and food.
Those first two are easy to come by, but pet food is a vital and surprisingly overlooked aspect of pet ownership. Yes, you’re feeding your dog or cat, but is it the right kind of food for their needs? Finding something quick and simple — like a generic bag of dry food you saw in a commercial one time — without any forethought is comparable to buying frozen or canned meals for the big family dinner; if you wouldn’t want your young child or aging parent to eat something that doesn’t fill the gaps in their diet, then the same should go for your beloved furry friend.
There Is No Best
When searching for pet food, you may be inclined to buy the most expensive or most marketed brand. After all, your pet deserves the absolute best available, right? Just with people food, however, it isn’t quite that straightforward; your pet has individual needs that need to be met. Consider their age, activity level, lifestyle, reproductive status, general health, environment, and breed while examining pet food labels to ensure their nutritional needs are being met.
The True Meaning Of Buzzwords
Before you go comparing organic, holistic, and gourmet brands, know that pet food labeling and human food labeling are not considered equal: there are specific requirements that are strictly regulated by the FDA, but the advertising methods are usually a bit more lenient. Buzzwords like ‘human-grade’, ‘premium’, and ‘all-natural’ can be thrown around freely, yet they bear no real mark on the nutritional value of your pet’s food. For example, pet food companies that use the word ‘natural’ on their packaging are legally required to use natural ingredients without chemical alterations, but the vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients are not beholden to such rules.
A Trustworthy Solution
So, you’re standing in the pet food aisle with dozens of options staring you down — what should you be looking for? Look for the AAFCO Statement (British manufacturers will have other guidelines to follow so this is more for our friends in the American market). The Association of American Feed Control is a voluntary membership association that establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods based on the success of one of the following factors.
- Product Family Establishment: If the lead product member of the pet food passes a feeding trial under AAFCO protocols, it is deemed nutritionally balanced. The rest of the product’s line of food must be considered nutritionally similar to the lead product, and must meet calorie and nutritional criteria.
- Feeding Trial: AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Feeding Protocols include diagnostic testing that measures gestation, growth, and lactation, in addition to a number of other factors.
- Formulation: Though pet foods may say they’re formulated to meet all the nutrient requirements for your pet, the AAFCO Dog Food or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles can determine if those claims are true.
When it comes to your pet, the bare minimum is not enough. Go the extra mile to understand just what is in their food and why it matters — and be sure to look for the AAFCO Statement — to guarantee that your furry friend will live a long and healthy life by your side.
NB: For the British market please check this labelling guide from Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association : https://www.pfma.org.uk/