We want to give our pets the best possible nutrition, but with so many options, how do we separate the best from the remainder?
Do words like “premium” and “gourmet” actually mean anything? Are foods labeled “natural” and “organic” actually healthier? The fact remains, as it pertains to pet food, several terms haven’t any standard definition or regulatory meaning. There is nobody perfect source for comparing kibbles and chows. There is, however, some basic information that you need to use to evaluate everything you feed your four-legged family members.
Looking at the food label
Pet food labels have two basic parts: the principal display panel and the info panel. The initial takes up most of the packaging – it offers the brand and name of the food, and descriptive terms and images. But the most important area of the label is the info panel, that will be the parallel of an individual nutritional information label. It contains the guaranteed analysis, ingredient list, feeding guidelines and nutritional adequacy statement.
You won’t find the maximum amount of detail here as on human foods, but the nutritional information does give minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. “Crude” describes the technique of measuring that is used, not the caliber of the protein, fat or fiber. These percentages are on “as fed” basis, so foods that contain more water (canned foods) appear to have less protein than foods with less water (dry foods) – but that’s not usually the case.
Ingredients in a pet food should be listed on the label in descending order by weight. One detail to keep in mind, though, is that the weight includes the moisture in the ingredient, so certain ingredients may appear higher on the list even when lower – moisture ingredients contribute more actual nutrients pet foods. The order isn’t by nutritional value, but by weight.
For instance, the initial ingredient on a tag might be “chicken”, which weighs a lot more than other individual ingredients because it may contain 70% water. But wheat might be present in various forms which can be listed as individual ingredients, such as for example “wheat flour”, “ground wheat” and “wheat middling “.Thus, the diet may actually contain more wheat than chicken. Just because a protein source is listed first does not mean the diet is full of protein.
Feeding guidelines may also be on the info panel of the label. Like human food labels, pet food labels give broad feeding guidelines. Pet food guidelines are derived from average intake for several dogs or cats. But a pet’s nutritional requirements may differ according to his age, breed, body weight, genetics, activity level and even the climate he lives in. So, these guidelines are a starting point, but may require adjusting for the particular furry friend. If your dog or cat starts gaining weight, you may need to feed her less, and vice versa.
Let’s look at the nutritional adequacy statement, manufactured by an advisory organization that standardizes pet food nutrient contents called the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This statement assures pet parents that whenever your pet food is fed as the sole supply of nutrition, it meets or exceeds nutritional requirements for a dog or cat at more than one life stages. However, the AAFCO recognizes only “adult maintenance” and “reproduction” (which includes pregnancy, lactation and growth) as life stages; or, if the diet meets both, “all life stages “.
The nutritional adequacy statement also shows how manufacturers have met the AAFCO’s standards, either by calculations or by feeding trials. Calculations estimate the amount of nutrients in a pet food either on the foundation of the average nutrient content of its ingredients, or on results from laboratory testing. This type of food will carry a record like: “Brand A is formulated to generally meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Food Nutrient Profiles for (stated life stages) “.
Feeding trials signify that the maker has tested the product by feeding it to dogs or cats under specific guidelines. These products carry a record such as for example: ” Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A provides complete and balanced nutrition for “.
The ingredient panels on pet food labels contain plenty of information for pet parents to digest, but there’s still more to savor, including getting a taste for the terms on the principal display part of those labels. For example, a pet food can claim to be “light/lite” or “lean” only when it meets the AAFCO’s standard definitions for these terms, which differ for cat and dog food and rely on the dietary moisture content.
“Less calories” and “reduced calories” mean only that the product has fewer calories than another product, and exactly the same goes for “less fat” or “reduced fat.” Pet food labels aren’t usually required to provide calorie content.
Some pet parents try to consume an organic diet, and often they desire their pets to consume that way, too. Remember, though, that even when a pet food is “natural” or “organic” it usually contains added synthetically-produced vitamins and minerals. To date, you can find no studies showing that natural or organic foods provide any health benefits over conventionally manufactured processed dog or cat foods.
Recently, there is a trend for feeding “biologically appropriate raw food” (also known as BARF) and “grain free” pet food.
Barf diets have now been reported to have many health benefits over conventionally processed foods, such as for example being easier for pets to digest. While no scientific publications have documented the advantages of raw diets, they’ve not been demonstrated to be detrimental, either. When feeding any raw food, there’s always concern about the chance of bacterial infection, such as for example Salmonella, but obviously, conventional pet foods have already been recalled for contamination.
Proponents of “grain-free” diets claim they’ve many health benefits for pets, including increased digestibility and decreased allergens. However in fact, dogs and cats easily digest carbohydrates from grains or vegetable sources. Food allergies tend to be blamed on the grains in the diet, but this isn’t predicated on scientific data either, and most food allergies might be as a result of chemical reactions involving the protein and carbohydrate ingredients in a diet.