Understanding Pet Food Labels

The agency that sets guidelines for pet foods is known as AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). The labels on your pet’s food provide basic information as to ingredients and nutrient levels found in the food. AAFCO verifies the testing method for these nutrient guidelines.

A product may meet these requirements by the formulation method or via feeding trials. The formulation method is less expensive/time-consuming for the manufacturer as the level of each nutrient needed in the food is calculated. The preferred method is food that has been manufactured using feeding trials, where that food is the single source of sustenance. Those pets are then monitored closely for ill effects or changes in performance.

Your pet’s nutritional requirements can change over time for many reasons such as age, activity level, health and reproductive status, environment. For example, puppies do not have the same nutritional requirements as senior dogs. The same can be true for diabetic animals having different nutritional requirements than animals with hyperthyroidism.

Making sure your pet’s diet is complete and balanced is very important. Although nutritional deficiencies can be harmful, nutritional excesses can be just as detrimental and are far more common. Low levels of the amino acid Taurine can cause severe health concerns such as blindness and heart problems. High levels of protein can cause kidney and liver problems in certain pets. Inappropriate ratios of calcium and phosphorus can lead to severe skeletal problems in large breed puppies.

Ingredients are listed on the package in descending order by weight. The high water content in proteins such as chicken, lamb and beef cause them to weigh more and are therefore often listed above dry ingredients such as grains.

For the average consumer comparing different food products can be very difficult. The section on the label where it says guaranteed analysis only indicates a maximum or minimum level of nutrients such as fibre, protein and moisture. Moisture levels vary greatly between products and make it nearly impossible to compare such analyses.

If you are concerned about the food you are feeding your pet, we encourage you to call the Manufacturer’s Toll-free Number. Feel free to call the clinic and make an appointment to assess your pet’s health and nutritional requirements.

Written by: Maureen Maher, RVT