Using food labels to decide which type of food to purchase is commonplace today, but the question remains – Do you truly understand what that label is telling you?  Here are some tidbits of information to help you understand what you are reading:

1.)    If you add up all of the components listed on the label (crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, etc.), you may notice that they do not add up to 100%.  If you add up the listed components, and subtract them from 100, the remaining percentage is the % carbohydrate.

2.)    What is the meat that is present in the food?  Some food labels state they have, for example, Beef, while others have Beef dinner, or ‘with Beef’.  The breakdown is as follows: Beef indicates that there is >70% beef present.  Beef dinner only requires >25% beef, while ‘with beef’ needs only >3% beef.  Finally, beef flavor can have less than 3% beef, but must actually have discernable beef taste.

3.)    What are all of those fancy, scientific ingredients listed on the label?

  1. Ferrous sulfate – this is an iron supplement
  2. Thiamine – Vitamin B1
  3. Niacin – Vitamin B3
  4. Alpha Tocopherol – Vitamin E
  5. Pyridoxine Hydrochloride – Vitamin B6
  6. Riboflavin – Vitamin B2
  7. Ethoxyquin – A chemical preservative for pet food

Finally, look over your bag or can of pet food and look for an AAFCO statement or symbol.  AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is responsible for outlining guidelines for pet food labels.  If the bag has a statement, ‘’ Animal-feeding tests using AAFCO’s procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition for…’’, then that particular food has been tested on a population of animals to ensure that it is capable of providing complete nutrition.  A label claiming ‘…is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for…’ means that it has the recommended amounts of fat, protein, etc. (tested in a lab), but those components may or may not be available for the animal to use after they eat it.  This second type of label claim is cheaper to obtain, but is an inferior claim to the first statement.  A food that has been tested on animals should be used if possible to guarantee that your pet is receiving complete nutrition.  That being said, just because a food passes the test for feeding doesn’t mean that it is the best choice for your pet.  These diets can still contain excessive amounts of fat, salt, or other nutrients. 

A final note concerning cat food; it is recommended to find a diet that has Iodine supplementation (in the form of potassium iodide, calcium iodide, iodized salt or even sea salt).  Cats eating diets deficient in Iodine are at a greater risk for hyperthyroidism, a common hormonal disease of cats 6 years and older.

In the end, your veterinarian is best suited for suggesting an appropriate diet for your pet’s individual needs.  Hopefully, the information provided above will help you understand what you are feeding your pet, and that you can use this knowledge for your pet’s benefit.