9 nutrition facts for you and your client

Does your client recognize the importance of nutrition in maintaining their pet’s wellness? Do you know enough about pet food labels to be able to tell them what to look for in order to maximize the health of a pet?

According to research from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, nutrition is the number one environmental influence on health. By using nutrigenomics, the study of how food effects gene expression, veterinarians can use nutrition to have a positive impact on conditions such as kidney disease, osteoarthritis and feline hyperthyroidism.

But what do you know about what is in your patient’s food? Learn more about pet food label requirements from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
1. Does your client’s pet food boast the label "holistic"? Don’t believe it. There is no legal definition of the term under pet food laws, so anyone can claim that their food is "holistic".

2. OK, we hear the word "natural" all the time, but what does it actually mean when a client asks you whether their pet food is considered natural? Natural, according to AAFCO’s Official Publication, means the food contains no chemically synthesized (synthetic) ingredients except for vitamins, trace nutrients and minerals. It has no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
3. So what is organic? Foods that are labeled "organic" are grown with only animal or vegetable fertilizers and are produced through methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. In order for a product to carry the USDA Organic Seal, at least 95 percent of its content must be organic by weight.

4. Are by-products bad? Not really! They may actually be the best thing to feed pets because of the nutrition they contain and because they use parts of animals that would otherwise be thrown away when producing human food. By-products include vegetable oils, chicken fat, and pork, chicken and beef liver – the internal organs of animals used for human consumption that would otherwise be trashed. Feeding by-products = green living.

5. Formulation method v. feeding trial method: If your patient’s food says something to the effect of "This food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the Association Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)…." rather than "Animal feeling test using AAFCO procedures substantiate that this food provides complete and balanced nutrition….", it means that the food did not undergo actual feeding or digestibility trials. The formulation method is quicker and cheaper, but does not document the effect on animals.

6. Ingredients are listed in descending order by their predominance by weight. However, weight values are not included in the ingredient statement, meaning that the listed ingredients could vary by weight only .1 percent, or by 20 percent.

7. Pet foods that are labeled "dinner", "platter", "entrée", "formula", etc. are required to include only 25 percent of the main ingredient (chicken dinner, beef entrée, etc.). If you purchase a can of cat food labeled as "seafood entrée", the manufacturer is required to include only 25 percent seafood in the product.

8. If a label includes the phrase "with ingredient X", the pet food is required to contain only 3 percent of ingredient X (chicken, beef, seafood, etc.)

9. The only requirement for including the word "flavor" on a pet food package? It must be "recognized by the pet".


For more on nutrition, view the American Animal Hospital Association Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for dogs and cats.