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Posted on 10-10-2018

Today I am attempting to help the readers decipher the Pet Food Label. It can be complicated, and some of this information may seem boring or confusing, so I’ll try to use as few words as possible to get the point across.

          The Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) was founded in 1909. AAFCO was created to help the consumer know if a pet food is really any good. The AAFCO defines the ingredients and official nutritional terms, and sets up the protocols by which foods are tested.

          When a pet food is tested according to AAFCO guidelines, and is found to have optimal results, the label will reflect it with a statement such as “such and such food provides complete and balanced nutrition for the such and such animal”. Pet food tests is expensive, and smaller companies can’t always afford them. Companies can use an alternative to testing known as biochemical analysis. Basically, this is a comparison of the ingredients from the subject pet food with known optimal quantities. That way a food can be certified as complete without actually being tested on live animals. However, a chemical analysis of ingredients doesn’t really tell the nutritional story of a food. For example, some chemicals aren’t digestible. If the food doesn’t say “feeding trials” or “feeding tests” were used, it wasn’t tested on live animals. It is better to feed a diet that has been studied in actual animals.

          AAFCO is very strict about every term that is used on a pet food label. There is a difference between “chicken flavor” and “chicken dinner”. You, the pet owner, need to know the difference in order to make sure you are feeding your pet what you think you are feeding him.

          If the label says “Barb’s Beef for Dogs”, it must contain at least 70% beef. If it says “Barb’s Beef Dinner for Dogs”, it must have at least 25% beef in the total product. “Barb’s Dog Formula with Beef” only need to contain at least 3% beef, and “Barb’s Dog Formula Beef Flavor” can have less than 3% beef in the total product.

          All marketed feed must have the “guaranteed analysis” on the label. Have you ever noticed that these percentages do not add up to 100? That’s because they don’t contain the percentage of carbohydrate. Now here’s where it gets confusing. You can’t directly compare percentages from one label to another. A food that is labeled as 20% protein may actually have less protein that a food with 10% labeled protein. WHAT?!

          The food consists of water plus the nutrients. The numbers listed on the label are the “as fed” numbers. To accurately compare protein content of the food, you have to discount the water content, and compare them on what we call “dry matter basis”. Simply subtract the water percent from 100, and that’s the “dry” matter content. Then divide the listed protein (say 8%) by the “dry matter” figure (say 16%). In this example, the listed protein content is 8% before allowing for the water. When calculated after removing the water, the protein level is actually 50%!

          It can be confusing, but you see why you can’t just go by the black and white label. Foods cannot truly be compared by the “as fed” numbers on the labels.

          Now you are armed with the knowledge you need to choose wisely for your pet. Don’t just rely on the TV commercials or the food salesman; use your newly acquired nutrition expertise also. Until next time…Thanks for Caring!

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