Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

What's in a Name?

by Katie McKay | Feb 28, 2021

I can say with almost 100% certainty that we can never talk too much about dog food. You can chat at a party with a bunch of strangers or even your family members about food and it stands to be a pretty safe subject, but when it comes to dog food, people get pretty heated about their opinions. I happen to think that tacos are delicious and if you want to judge me on that, just wait until I have had a few margaritas. The fact is, I’m probably not going to tell you what kind of food to feed your dog. Sure, it would be easy if there was just one type of food that every dog on the planet could eat, but that’s about as likely as finding a unicorn in your backyard. The truth is, there is a lot of variety out there for a reason, but that comes with the difficult part of choosing and getting absolutely no feedback from your dog other than a blank stare at dinner time or a $350 trip to the vet. Rather than be a Debbie downer and discourage you even more, I’m here to help you read dog food labels! What?!? Yes it can be done!

The facts

  1. Pet food and pet food labeling is regulated. This includes the ingredients, manufacturing process and distribution.
  2. There are essentially three types of labeling, Required labeling, prohibited labeling and optional labeling.
  3. MOST of the labeling on the actual containers (especially the large ones) is “optional”, which means its promotional, color graphics and “additional”, otherwise known as confusing and useless, product information. No wonder I’m so overwhelmed!
  4. Labeling, as seen by regulatory agencies, covers the container, as well as any promotional information such as brochures, placards, commercials, websites, etc.
  5. If required information is missing or prohibited information appears on the label, this is considered misbranding and is against both state and federal laws.

Examples of misbranding are things like claiming the product will treat a disease when that product does not include an approved drug cleared to treat that disease, misrepresenting an ingredient by using an incorrect name or using an ingredient that is not approved to be used in a specific pet food, or not having a correct nutritional adequacy statement. The FDA has labeling requirements for all animal food, but the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has the gold standard of regulatory models that is much more extensive than the FDA, however the FDA covers some details that AAFCO does not. The bottom line here is that they both have our backs!

Ok so why is this so difficult? Pet food labels have many parts! The basics are required, like the product name (more on that later), species (cat vs. dog and not just a picture), how much product is in the container, ingredient list, and feeding directions. Here is, as brief as I can get, about what to look for on a pet food label when you get to the nitty gritty differences:

  1. Nutritional adequacy statement. This is perhaps the most important part of the label because you are using it to match the pet’s nutritional needs with the product you are buying.
    1. Complete and Balanced: the product contains all the nutrients required and the nutrients are all present in the correct ratios.
    2. Life Stage: Gestation/Lactation, Growth, Maintenance, or All Life Stages are the four categories. Different quantities and ratios are required for different life stages. Recently a young dog wandered into my house and apparently, she has decided to stay. Both my boys are adults and were eating a food that is complete and balanced for maintenance, but rather than buy an additional food to feed the new kid, we opted to switch everyone to a food that met the nutritional requirements for All Life Stages. Now, even though the new kid is less than a year old, she can still eat the same food as the boys. Welcome back, space in my laundry room!

 

Example 1: “_____________ is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for ____________.”

The first blank will be your product name and the second will indicate which life stage this product is appropriate for. This statement tells us that this is a food that meets AAFCO nutritional requirements to be complete and balanced for that specific life stage.

Example 2: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ________ provides complete and balanced nutrition for ___________”.

Again, blank one product name and blank two life stage. This statement tells us that this food meets AAFCO nutritional requirements to be complete and balanced for that specific life stage and has been tested using AAFCO approved procedures in feeding trials.

Treats and snacks are generally not complete and balanced and must be labeled as such. This also means that they are exempt from the nutritional adequacy statement as long as they say “snack” or “treat” on the packaging. For products that don’t claim to provide any nutrition, like chews, bones and toys, no nutrition statement is required either. BUT, if the manufacturer decides to put something like “high-protein” or “easily digestible” on the packaging, they no longer fall under the exemption and must provide their nutritional adequacy statement. The biggest example of these are jerky type products, particularly chicken-jerky strips.

Therapeutic diets and veterinary medical foods do require a nutritional adequacy statement, but because they are branded to alleviate disease, sometimes certain nutritional factors are lowered and become inadequate for normal animals. In this case, they are labeled, just like snacks and treats, with an “intermittent or supplemental” nutritional adequacy statement. Red flag warning, if a product that says “This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only” it does not meet any of the normal standards for complete and balanced nutrition. Shocking statement ahead: Feeding your dog nothing but Chicken Jerky and Beggin Strips is not enough to meet their nutritional requirements for a happy and healthy life. In the case of therapeutic diets and veterinary medical foods, you should always work closely with your vet to be sure that your dog’s nutritional needs are met.

What’s in a name? I glossed over the product name earlier but despite what seems to be the more simple part of pet food labeling, there is actually a lot of information about the ingredients in the food right in the name! Ahem, allow me to introduce, The Flavor Rule…..oh so original.

The 100% rule: All-Beef Jerky Dog Treats.

This product must be all beef meat (100%) with nothing else but water added.

The 95% rule: Ralph’s Beef Dog Food or Kathy’s Chicken and Rice Dinner

 These product names indicate the ingredients that make up most of the product. The Beef or Chicken and Rice must account for 70% of what’s in the product or 95% when you remove water.

The 25% rule: Beef Entrée for Puppies

You guessed it, the beef must be 25% of the product not including water or 10% with water. By sliding in words like entrée or platter, it equates to getting a tray at Cook-out. I’m not just getting a hamburger, I’m also getting fries, hushpuppies and coleslaw.

Yep, it gets worse. By using the word “with”, it allows the ingredient to just 3%! Fluffy’s Kibble Bites with Chicken” will contain at least 3% chicken while Fluffy’s Kibble bites with Chicken and Rice will contain at least 3% chicken and 3% rice.

 We’ve only nicked the tip of this iceberg, but its best not to bite off more than we can chew. Send me your ideas about other struggles that you face when choosing a food so we can discuss! I definitely see more food discussions heading our way, like how to sort out GMOs and Grain-Free and Holistic….what does that word mean anyway?

Hmm….I think its time for snack. Cheers friends!

Katie

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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