Pet food labels give basic information as to the ingredient content,
nutrient guaranteed analysis, feeding information, net weight, the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor and,
many times, other facts about the product. The guaranteed analysis, the list of ingredients and a statement of nutritional
adequacy and feeding directions are required on all pet food packages. Packaging information is based on Model Pet Food Regulations
established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) composed of feed officials from each state. These
regulations have been endorsed by the Pet Food Institute and the American Feed Industry Association. Most states have elected
to use the Model Pet Food Regulations or informally use them as guidelines. A pet food company that sells a product which
does not meet a label guarantee can be subject to a warning, a fine, removal of the product from the sales shelf, or cancellation
of product registration. This latter regulatory action can prohibit marketing the product in that particular state until the
violation has been corrected.
The nutrient guarantees
that are required on the labels
Crude protein (minimum percentage)
Crude fat (minimum percentage)
Crude fiber (maximum percentage)
Moisture (maximum percentage)
The reason for the word "crude" is that the minimum
and maximum amounts shown are determined by laboratory assay and not by feeding studies conducted with dogs and cats. Additional
nutrient guarantees can be listed if the manufacturer desires. All ingredients used in the manufacture of a pet food must
be listed in the ingredient list on the label in descending order of predominance by weight. The guaranteed analysis and the
list of ingredients become the manufacturer's assurance that the product has the nutrient assay and ingredient contents declared
on the label.While laboratory assay of the guaranteed analysis can verify that these nutritional values are in the diet, these
components may not be readily available to the pet. The nutritional performance of a pet food can accurately be determined
only by feeding studies with a large number of dogs or cats conducted by the manufacturer in accordance with recognized testing
procedures such as those established by AAFCO. To be certain that the pet food you feed has undergone actual feeding tests,
look for a statement on the label that the food has been tested according to AAFCO feeding standards.
Two types of additives are included in pet foods - those that
are nutritional and those that add other benefits to the food. Nutritional additives include vitamin supplements such as A,
D 3 , E and B-complex; essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, salt, iron, and other trace minerals; and amino acids
such as lysine. These are added to supplement and/or provide nutrients in addition to those provided by the primary ingredients
in order to help achieve the high degree of nutritional balance found in good quality pet foods.Ingredients such as BHA, BHT,
ethoxyquin or mixed tocopherols are added at extremely low levels as anti-oxidants to help prevent fat rancidity. Fat in the
process of going rancid can cause an unpleasant odor and may cause the pet to refuse to eat the food. Rancidity may also destroy
the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K. These anti-oxidants have been approved for use in pet foods by the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA). Preservatives such as sorbic acid, and potassium sorbate are added to semi-moist foods to prevent spoilage. Ingredients
of this type are approved for pet foods as well as human foods. Certain flavorings are added to help make foods more appetizing
to dogs and cats. Some may be listed as artificial flavor or natural flavor and others, such as garlic and onion, are also
used. Artificial color at very low levels is used in some pet foods to give the product a more desirable and consistent appearance
or to differentiate between flavors used in the same product. Colors used in pet foods are the same as those used in human
foods and have been approved by the FDA.
Sometimes pet food labels can cause confusion as the pet owner
questions the differences among products called beef flavor, beef dinner, beef or 100 percent beef (or fish, liver, etc.).
When a flavor designation is made, such as "beef flavor," the words "beef" and "flavor" must be in the same size, color and
type of lettering. The source of beef flavor must be shown on the ingredient listing. This could be "beef" or "beef and bone
meal" or other beef source ingredients. If the product name includes the words "beef dinner," "beef dish," or words of similar
meaning, at least 10 percent beef must be in the product and the source must be shown on the ingredient list. When the name
includes only the word "beef," such as X Brand Beef Dog Food, this means the product contains at least 70 percent beef and
the word "beef" would be first on the ingredient list. If the name is "X Brand Fish, Liver, and Chicken Cat Food," the product
must contain a total of at least 70 percent of all three of these ingredients with equally as much or more fish than liver
or chicken and equally as much or more liver than chicken. This product can also be formulated for complete and balanced nutrition.
"All" or "100 percent beef" means that the ingredient is the total content of the product. The "100 percent" or "all" does
not permit the addition of nutrients other than water for processing and trace amounts of preservatives and condiments. Such
products cannot be formulated to be a complete and balanced diet.
The label should indicate whether or not the product provides
complete and balanced nutrition and is adequate for all life stages or just for a particular life stage, such as maintenance
of the adult cat or dog. If the product does not contain complete and balanced nutrition, the label should have a statement
such as "not to be fed as a sole diet" or for "intermittent feeding only" or indicate if the product is only a snack.The label
will also indicate if a product is formulated to meet a specific nutritional need. For example, Purina® Kitten Chow® brand
kitten food and Purina® Puppy Chow® brand puppy food were developed to meet the special nutritional needs of kittens and puppies
respectively during their periods of rapid growth and development. The Purina® brand Hi Pro® dog meal label defines the purpose
of this diet: to provide higher levels of protein and energy for hardworking dogs as well as complete and balanced nutrition
for all life stages.
Instructions concerning the amount to feed the pet should be
included on the label. These instructions are a "rule of thumb" or a starting point, as the actual feeding amount will depend
upon the pet's age, activity, environment and body metabolism. Start with the feeding instructions on the package. After feeding
for a period of time, observe the pet's body condition and, if necessary, adjust the amount accordingly.
Do Not Tell The Entire Story
Pet food labels provide the pet owner with a great
deal of information. However, labels do not tell everything one might want to know about the various pet foods. It is necessary
to rely on the manufacturer's testing, research, and overall reputation to ensure that the pet food is of high quality and
provides complete and balanced nutrition. The reputation of the manufacturer is perhaps the best assurance that the research
behind the product proves its nutritional merit by actual feeding tests and that high quality assurance standards are maintained.
If pet owners have questions about the food, they should write to the manufacturer or distributor