Natural and dry dog's foodSurveying the vast array of pet food can send even the most relaxed pet owner into a state of utter distress. You have to choose between brands all vying for your purchase with vibrant colors or descriptions, but even after you settle on one, there’s the nutritional information that seems to exist only to confuse consumers.

Don’t fret. The Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center have some tips on how to decipher pet food labels so your pet can benefit from a lifetime of appropriate nutrition.

Breaking it Down

Pet food labels usually include the ingredients list, the guaranteed analysis, and the AAFCO statement. AAFCO, or the Association of American Feed Control Officials, sets nutritional standards for pet food sold in the United States. The AAFCO statement will indicate that the food is formulated to meet nutritional levels for a specific breed, life stage (puppy or kitten food is very different than that intended for mature pets), and health requirements.

While an AAFCO statement is important to find on pet food labels, the organization does not test or certify the foods before sale. The responsibility falls to the manufacturer to conform to the standards set forth by AAFCO, and the ethical standards of some pet food companies may not always include extensive tests and trials. Because of this, Elmhurst Animal Care Center seeks to work closely with you to meet all of your pet’s nutritional needs.

The Guaranteed Analysis

Proteins, fiber, fat, and moisture (among others) are all required on the list of minimum and maximum levels of nutrients, also known as the “Guaranteed Analysis”. While helpful to a certain extent, this list doesn’t reflect the food’s quality or even offer exact percentages of included nutrients, making accurate comparisons to similar products difficult.

What are You Feeding Me?

You have a right to know what you’re offering your best friend, and pet food labels aim to align the food’s ingredients with your pet’s specific dietary needs. The following ingredients are commonly discussed regarding pet food labels:

  • Protein – Unless your pet has specific health issues that preclude a diet high in protein, your food label should show meat as a first ingredient (or at least in the top three). The dominant ingredients are listed first, so poultry, beef, fish, and/or lamb should be at the top, providing your pet with a satisfying meal.
  • Grains – Some grains are very nutritious, but because of public perception, grains on pet food labels appear further down the list. Grains are unfairly accused of causing certain food allergies, but this is not always the case.
  • By-products – The inclusion of by-products raises some speculation, but foods containing them do not have feathers, hair, hide, hooves, or intestinal contents. There might be some organ meats or chicken necks under the “by-product umbrella”, but they don’t necessarily pose health risks.

Pet Food Labels are for Educated Consumers

Knowledge is power, and we hope you feel better informed the next time you go pet food shopping. Before you buy, the Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center recommend checking on where the food was produced and if there is a customer service number to call with questions or concerns. Pet food labels without this information may be suspect.

As always, we hope you’ll contact us with any questions or concerns. Show your love with a thoughtful choice in pet food.