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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Tricky Fine Print On Pet Food

Continuing with our theme of how to read and analyze pet foods....

There is a lot of wording and fine print that most pet owners don't pay attention to, and even if they did it probably wouldn't make much sense.  For example, some foods are essentially puppy or kitten foods, even if the packaging says its for adults.  How can that be?!?  Look near the ingredient list and content analysis and you will see an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials....obviously only in the US) statement along the lines of the following:  "[dog food] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient profiles for maintenance."  Pay close attention to those last words.  If you see "maintenance", "maintenance of adult cats", or similar words, this has been designed as an adult or senior food.  Statements like "growth" or "growing puppies and gestating or lactating females" means that the food is for kittens or puppies, or the mothers until the babies are weaned.  That makes sense so far, right?  On some foods you will see "all life stages".  That means that the food must meet the most stringent nutritional requirements of the different stages of life.  And the toughest stage is puppy/kittenhood.  So essentially a food "for all life stages" is a puppy/kitten food!  In an adult or senior pet the increased calories and nutrients are unnecessary and can lead to the pet becoming overweight.

Let's look at another part of the AAFCO statement.  Besides the life stage you will see either "formulated" or "animal feeding tests".  This part of the statement indicates how the food was analyzed.  A formulated diet is calculated by an ingredient formula before feeding, and the food is analyzed based on this formula meeting certain standards.  While not necessarily a bad way to analyze food, it isn't the most accurate.  Just because an ingredient is included in the formula doesn't mean that it is easily digested and absorbed.  Analysis through animal feeding tests indicate that the food was analyzed prior to feeding, then the feces analyzed afterward, with a comparison of the two determining how much of the food was actually utilized by the pet.  While feeding tests are the most accurate way of determining food absorption, most pet foods use the formulated method, even the good brands.  Still, it's one more thing to consider in the analysis.

Most of the information a pet owner needs in order to tell what's in a food is there on the label.  But it's not easy to understand what all of it means.


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