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When it comes to picking the perfect food for your pet, the choices can seem overwhelming — especially when so many brands claim to be the one and only food you should be feeding your pet. But not all pet foods are the same — and making sense of their labels is nearly impossible without some basic guidelines.

In Part 1 of our series on pet food label claims, we’ll talk about some of the common words you’ll see on pet food labels, and we’ll tell you what they really mean.

Believe it or not, there are rules governing the words that can be used to describe pet food — and those words are linked to the contents of the food.

We’ll look at several imaginary pet food label claims, focusing on meat content.
Pet Food A is “100% chicken”
Pet Food B is “Beef entree”
Pet Food C is “Veal formula”
Pet Food D is “Salmon recipe”
Pet Food E is “Vegetables with lamb”
Pet Food F is “Venison flavor”

So how much meat does each product actually contain?
A: Anything listed as “100%” or “Full” ¬†must be made of at least 95% of the listed ingredient. In this case, the food must be at least 95% chicken.

B/C/D: Anything described as “entree,” “formula,” “recipe,” “dinner,” or “platter” must comprise at least 25% of the listed ingredient. In our examples, beef, veal, and salmon make up at least 25% of the imaginary foods.

E: Anything following the word “with” comprises 3-24% of the food. In our example, lamb may be as little as 3% of that food.

F: Anything listed as “flavor” need only be detectable to a pet as a flavor. Our example does not need to contain a certain percentage of venison; it only needs to taste like venison.

What about words like “holistic,” “premium,” “high quality,” and “human grade”?
There are no legal or standard definitions for those words. Such descriptors are often used as marketing tools to set one company’s food apart from the others.¬†

However, certain claims, such as “organic” and “natural” are defined and standardized.
Look for the Organic seal on pet food, which indicates the food contains no hormones or pesticides.
Look for the word “natural” which means there have been no chemical alterations of ingredients. (Vitamins are the acceptable exception to this rule.)

Watch for Part II of our series, “How to make sense of pet food label claims.”

 

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