Thursday, January 24, 2013
Pet Smarts: Food labels are a good read for anyone who cares about pet’s nutrition, care
By Arnora Griffith
About a month ago, two of the doctors here at Sheabel and I, a veterinary technician, were invited by Hills Science Diet to visit their research facility in Kansas. They keep a large number of cats and dogs there, quite comfortably, and in return all the animals have to do is eat the new foods the company is developing. These feeding trials help determine if the foods are palatable enough while providing the necessary nutrients in a form the pet can use.
Those nutrient levels are dictated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO. For instance, a food for dogs determined by AAFCO to be “complete and balanced” must have at least 18 percent protein for adults and 22 percent for puppies and reproducing mothers.
A food can prove it meets these standards in one of two ways. The first is by meeting the nutrient profile established by AAFCO. This means that the guaranteed analysis, performed by a laboratory, has determined that the food does indeed contain18 percent protein. The second method of proof is done through feeding trials. In these the animals are actually fed the diet for at least six months and monitored to ensure that the food is providing them the proper nutrition. For this reason, feeding trial foods are better than formulated foods because they have been proven to do what they claim.
This information can all be found on the pet food label. The front of the bag is required to show what animal the food is for and must follow strict guidelines for labeling. For example “Beef Dog Food,” which has at least 95 percent beef, is different from “Dog Food with Beef,” which only has 3 percent beef.
In addition, the information panel on the side or back of the bag will show the guaranteed analysis, ingredient list and the AAFCO statement. The AAFCO statement usually reads in two different ways: “Beef Dog Food has been formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for all life stages” or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Beef Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages.”
AAFCO considers dogs and cats to have two separate life stages. The first is growth and reproduction (e.g. puppies, kittens, reproducing mothers). The second is adult maintenance. Foods will list one of those two stages or all life stages. Growth and reproduction formulas contain more calories than adult animals need, and so do foods for all life stages, so feeding these diets to adult animals may result in unintentional weight gain. AFFCO does not recognize seniors as having their own life stage, so foods formulated for seniors will still have an AAFCO statement saying adult maintenance.
This is only a small overview of pet food labels and pet food, both of which are regulated to provide the proper nutrition and care for your pets. Knowing how to read the label gives you a little more insight into cats’ and dogs’ nutritional requirements and assists their owners in feeding them a balanced diet specially formulated for their particular life stage. If you’d like to know more, contact your local veterinarian.
Arnora Griffith is from Chicago and has been living in Kentucky for the past four years. She has bachelor’s in chemistry from St. Norbert College and completed a bachelor’s in veterinary technology from Morehead State University in May 2012. She has been working at Sheabel Pet Care Center since January 2012.