Eating healthy is a vital part of staying healthy, whether you’re an animal or a human. Although foods meant for human consumption are labeled clearly in terms of their contents (and put through the wringer of FDA standards), understanding the nuances of your pup’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be a lot more difficult. In order to better navigate the world of pet food labels, let’s dig into their details.
First Things First
No two pets are the same, from species to breed. Rather than focusing on finding the best food in general, you need to consider your pet’s individual needs; by focusing on factors such as their age, level of activity, lifestyle, reproductive status, overall health, environment, and unique breed, you’ll have a better grasp on what ingredients they need to thrive.
An Important List
If scanning the label on a jar of tomato sauce seems overwhelming to you, examining the back of a bag of dog food will be quite the adventure — but this is your fur baby we’re talking about! Many owners will stop at nothing to ensure their darling Rex is getting all the nutrients he needs to continue bounding through the house, so let’s take a look at the three most prevalent ingredients you’ll see on his daily chow.
- Meat: Ingredients are listed by weight, so many pet owners believe meat — whether it’s chicken, beef, or fish — should always appear first. However, the FDA has reported that meat is 75% water, which could push its ranking lower; comparatively, meat meal contains concentrated animal protein without most of the water and fat.
- Byproducts: Meat meal contains more than just the meat of an animal. Unlike humans, animals are quite comfortable eating animal byproducts such as stomach, blood, bone, brain, cleaned intestine, heart, tongue, liver, and udders. These are not at all harmful for your pet — in fact, they probably love them!
- Preservatives: This is the ingredient to be wary of. Although the FDA has stated that preservatives are largely safe, some pet owners and scientists don’t agree. These artificial additives could include high fructose corn syrup and benzoyl peroxide; if you wouldn’t put it in your own body, it’s probably best not to feed it to sweet Rex. That being said, preservatives do extend the shelf-life of your pet food.
It can be exceedingly hard to differentiate these ingredients from each other, especially if you’re unfamiliar with their names. Because words like “holistic,” “organic,” and “natural” don’t actually explain what’s in your pet’s food, your safest bet is to look for an AAFCO statement.
The Benefits Of AAFCO
Much like how the FDA is responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of the food humans consume, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is dedicated to guaranteeing the quality and safety of pet food. The following description is from the AAFCO website:
“The primary regulations for pet food focus on product labeling and the ingredients which may be used. There are certain items which must be included on product labels, and specific requirements for each of these items. There are also rules for non-required, or descriptive information included on labels. In particular, this information must not be false or misleading in any way.”
There are eight required label items on AAFCO-approved brands, from the Nutritional Adequacy Statement (which indicates the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage) to the Guaranteed Analysis (which lists the percentage of each of the nutrients in the food). Because the organization is so strict in their regulations and testing procedures, pet food with the AAFCO statement is assured to be a great and trustworthy choice.