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Our tour of AAFCO-inspired pet food packaging is about to end. Once I’ve guided you through the remaining label elements, you’ll be in a position to see how much critical information has been omitted from that bag or can.
A guaranteed analysis is printed on the side panel of your food; it lists moisture, protein, fat, and fiber with corresponding percentages. Unfortunately, differing moisture levels will skew all the rest of the numbers, preventing direct comparison between dry and canned food.
Furthermore, each figure in the table is only a maximum or minimum and need not reflect the actual contents of the diet. This disclosure is required by AAFCO, but the information it actually conveys is woefully inadequate.
Feeding instructions are expressed in cups or cans per day for a given size of pet. These amounts can be used as a starting point, but they are almost always too much for an adult dog or cat with an indoor lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to scale back if you see your pet expanding.
Now may be an opportune time to point out that “restricted calorie” and “weight maintenance” or “weight control” have no AAFCO definition. In other words, any food company can print these slogans on any bag of food regardless of its calorie or fat content.
Incidentally, the same goes for “premium” and “super premium”, as well as “holistic” and even “senior diet”. You see, the optimum nutrient profile for aging pets has yet to be determined, so there are no guidelines: any company can apply that label to absolutely any recipe they produce.
The ingredient list is a tightly regulated document; quite a bit of information is here if you can decipher it. Ingredients must appear in descending order according to their weight. As in human food labeling, some sleight of hand may be employed to win the affection of consumers who are savvy enough to peruse the list.
First of all, ingredients are weighed prior to any processing. Meat contains a high proportion of water, about 75%, but in the manufacture of dry pet foods, nearly all of that liquid is removed and discarded. Once its water content is down the drain, “meat” invariably descends to a lower position on the list.
A “meal” (such as chicken meal) actually contributes more chicken to the finished product since it is dehydrated before being weighed and assigned a position in the list.
Beware of split ingredients: if you find several different preparations of rice listed separately, it’s quite possible that rice is the major component of your diet regardless of the first ingredient.
Because our cat and dog companions descended from wild carnivores, meat components are generally preferable to carbohydrates, but the first ingredient doesn’t tell the whole story.
In fact, there are many untold stories woven into the ingredient list. I’ll address a number of them in part three of our series, and it will be scary.
Dr M.S. Regan