We want to give our pets perfect nutrition, but with so many selections, how can we separate the very best from the rest?
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 have no standard definition or regulatory meaning. There’s no body perfect source for comparing kibbles and chows. There’s, however, some basic information that you can use to judge what you feed your four-legged family members.
Looking into the foodstuff label
Pet food labels have two basic parts: the principal display panel and the information panel. The first uses up a lot of the packaging – it offers the brand and name of the foodstuff, and descriptive terms and images. But the most important part of the label is the information panel, which is the parallel of a human nutritional information label. It offers 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 method of measuring that’s used, not the quality of the protein, fat or fiber. These percentages are on “as fed” basis, so foods which contain more water (canned foods) appear to possess less protein than foods with less water (dry foods) – but that’s not usually the case.
Ingredients in a dog food must be listed on the label in descending order by weight. One detail to consider, though, is that the weight includes the moisture in the ingredient, pet toys so certain ingredients may appear higher on the list even though lower – moisture ingredients contribute more actual nutrients. The order isn’t by nutritional value, but by weight.
For instance, the initial ingredient on a label might be “chicken”, which weighs more than other individual ingredients because it may contain 70% water. But wheat might be present in various forms that are listed as individual ingredients, such as for example “wheat flour”, “ground wheat” and “wheat middling “.Thus, the diet might actually contain more wheat than chicken. Just because a protein source is listed first does not mean the diet is saturated in protein.
Feeding guidelines are also on the information panel of the label. Like human food labels, pet food labels give broad feeding guidelines. Pet food guidelines are based on average intake for all dogs or cats. But a pet’s nutritional requirements can vary in accordance with his age, breed, bodyweight, genetics, activity level and even the climate he lives in. So, these guidelines are a kick off 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, developed 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 after the pet food is fed as the only source of nutrition, it meets or exceeds nutritional requirements for a dog or cat at a number of 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 quantity of nutrients in a dog food either on the foundation of the typical nutrient content of its ingredients, or on results from laboratory testing. This kind of food will carry a record like: “Brand A is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Food Nutrient Profiles for (stated life stages) “.
Feeding trials signify that the manufacturer has tested the item by feeding it to dogs or cats under specific guidelines. The 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 lots 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 dog food can claim to be “light/lite” or “lean” as long as it meets the AAFCO’s standard definitions for these terms, which differ for cat and dog food and depend on the dietary moisture content.
“Less calories” and “reduced calories” mean only that the item has fewer calories than another product, and the exact same goes for “less fat” or “reduced fat.” Pet food labels are not usually required to supply calorie content.
Some pet parents try to consume a natural diet, and often they need their pets to consume that way, too. Remember, though, that even though a dog food is “natural” or “organic” it usually contains added synthetically-produced vitamins and minerals. To date, there are no studies showing that natural or organic foods provide any health advantages over conventionally manufactured processed dog or cat foods.
Now, there is a huge trend for feeding “biologically appropriate raw food” (also known as BARF) and “grain free” pet food.
Barf diets have already been reported to possess many health advantages over conventionally fully processed foods, such as for example being easier for pets to digest. While no scientific publications have documented the health benefits of raw diets, they’ve not been demonstrated to be detrimental, either. When feeding any raw food, there’s always concern about the danger 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 advantages for pets, including increased digestibility and decreased allergens. In fact, dogs and cats easily digest carbohydrates from grains or vegetable sources. Food allergies in many cases are blamed on the grains in the diet, but this is simply not centered 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.