Friday, February 24, 2012

How to Read a Pet Food Label





How many of you look at your dog food labels? When you do, do you understand what it says? I recieved this handy dandy guide to helping you read your dog food labels from the great folks at Hills Pet Nutrition and thought I'd share it with you!


How to Read a Pet Food Label

As pet owners, what is the one thing we all have in common that we do every day which impacts the health of our pets? We feed them! It’s very important that we feed them a pet food that is going to help keep them healthy and live a long, happy life. Since dogs and cats have a condensed lifespan compared to humans, nutrient deficiencies and excesses in their food can have a greater impact on their health. Feeding them a food that has high quality, balanced nutrition may help the long term health of these pets.

Choosing the right food is based on what?

When it comes to determining which pet food is right for your pet, it’s as simple as 1-2-3.
1. Life stage – How old is your pet? Is he a puppy or a kitten? An adult? A mature adult?
2. Lifestyle – Does your pet live indoors, outdoors, both? Is he your running partner, or on your lap while you read a book?
3. Health status – Is your pet healthy, or needing special nutrition?

Life stage: Why choose a pet food for the age of my pet? Good question. Let’s answer that with a question: Is it healthy to feed a teenage boy (ravenous all the time!) the same foods you would feed your grandpa? No of course not. First of all, their metabolism is completely different, as are their nutritional needs. The same goes for pets. That’s why the philosophy of providing your pet with a food that is appropriate for his age is critical.

Here are Hill’s life stage guidelines:
Growth life stage – high nutritional demands for growth and development
o Puppies and kittens age 0 to 1 year Maintenance (Adult) life stage – nutrition that maintains good health
o 1 to 7 years for small & medium breed dogs
o 1 to 5 years for large breed dogs
o 1 to 6 years for cats Mature adult life stage – nutrition that supports healthy aging
o 7+ years for small & medium breed dogs
o 6+ years for large breed dogs
o 6 – 11 years for cats Senior
o 11+.years for cats

Lifestyle: Pets have different energy needs based on their environment and activity. Makes sense, huh? For active dogs, a food that provides calories to sustain their energy is needed. For doggies who curl up on the sofa (& help keep us warm!), their nutritional demands are not as high. We need to help our pets avoid unwanted pounds that they can gain if they’re not burning extra calories.

Health status: This one is a little tougher on us as pet owners, but realistically, our pet doesn’t mind as much. For pets who have a special need like a low calorie food for weight control, or for those pets who have a more serious situation such as kidney issues and need a therapeutic food, the third consideration is health status. Pets who are pregnant or nursing have special nutritional needs, too. Your veterinarian can help you answer the question about your pet’s health status.

Once you answer these questions, your choice is focused on meeting your pet’s nutritional needs. What is the key tool you should use to help you make this decision? The pet food label is the tool you should use. Now, the trick is deciphering the label to find the right information you need to make an educated decision.



How do I decipher information on the label?

While the label may seem a bit daunting to the naked eye, honing in on key pieces of information on the label will make the task of understanding what you’re choosing much less challenging, and you’ll feel much more confident in your choice.

Let’s take a closer look.

There are a lot of nice photos on the bag, marketing claims, bursts, and lots of small print. What does it all mean? This article is going to tell you about the most important information to you that you will find on the label. This information resides in the AAFCO Statement.

AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. A basic goal of AAFCO is to provide a mechanism for developing and implementing uniform laws, regulations, standards and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacture, distribution and sale of animal feeds; resulting in safe, effective, and useful feeds.

AAFCO Statement
The AAFCO Statement provides the two most critical key points of information on a pet food label.
1. What life stage is the food nutritionally balanced for?
2. Which method (formulation or feeding test) was used to determine the life stage for which the food is nutritionally appropriate?

Both of these key points are found in the AAFCO Statement located close to the ingredient panel. Some manufacturers place this on the side of the bag while others place it on the back. Consumers need to locate this information. It's typically like reading the “fine-print.” This information is aside from the marketing claims made on labels, yet it is the information that answers these two critical questions.

Let's break it down using these two examples:




Label A




Label B




Label A Brand X cat food was formulated based on a nutritional guideline; basically like following a recipe. The “Formulation Method”:

 Does not require feeding the product to an animal
 Actual feeding or digestibility trials are not required
 Results can be determined more quickly

Brand X Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages. Animal feeding tests using Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) procedures substantiate that Brand Y Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.

 There is no guarantee of pet acceptance or nutrient bioavailability when utilizing this method
 Is less expensive to develop the food

The food has been “formulated” in a computer based on AAFCO guidelines, and then it ultimately gets “test fed” on your pet.

Label B Brand Y dog food was test fed using the “Feeding Trial Method.” This method is the gold standard for determining nutritional adequacy for a specific life stage. It is the preferred method. The “Feeding Trial Method”:

 Requires the manufacturer to perform an AAFCO protocol feeding trial as the sole source of nutrition, including required veterinary exams & biological data collection
 Feeding trials are the BEST way to document how pets will perform when fed a specific food using AAFCO Standards

BEST OPTION: Pet food labels with the AAFCO Statement saying the food has been test fed is the optimal choice.

Let’s look at these two examples again.




Label A


Label B





Label A Brand X Cat Food provides nutrition to meet the needs for all life stages. What does that mean? Start your kitten eating this food and continue feeding this food to your cat forever. But, just as we discussed earlier, a human’s nutritional needs change as we go through life, so it does for cats and dogs. When a pet food is for all life stages it must provide nutrition for the most demanding: GROWTH (kittens & puppies). Do cats and dogs need all that extra nutrition as adults and seniors? No, they don’t.

Label B When a food states it provides complete and balanced nutrition for a specific life stage: growth, maintenance (adult), and reproduction (pregnant or nursing), the nutrients in the food are optimal for that life stage.
It can be hard to tell what the life stage a food is for by simply looking at the front of the bag. Some labels have images of adult pets that would lead consumers to believe it’s for the adult life stage. However, looking at the AAFCO Statement, the food very well could be for all life stages meaning it is a growth food. Consumers should always check the AAFCO Statement to assure they’re feeding their pet the best food for their special pet.

Pet food labels can be confusing, but understanding what information you need from the label demystifies the challenge. To choose the right food for your pet, choose the one that is nutritionally appropriate for his life stage, lifestyle, or health condition. Then be sure you look at the AAFCO Statement to assure the food had been test fed.
Brand X Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages.




*Disclaimer* I was not compensated in any way to post this information. I received this information through email dialogue and thought it was awesome enough to pass along to you, my readers!

1 comment:

Alejandro Newman said...

That’s an enlightening explanation, Nicole! It’s true that pet food labels can sometimes be confusing. Worse, some people don’t mind what the label says. Little do they know that the content of the food they give to their pets have a significant effect on the latter’s health. Remember: a minute of reading can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy pet.