Choosing the Right Pet Food

There is specific information that must be provided on a pet food label. Owners must be aware that labels are a promotional tool to attract their decisions. What does that mean? Much of the information provided – including the ingredient list and use of terms such as “holistic”; “premium” or “human-grade” is of little value when doing a nutritional assessment. This is where your veterinary team plays a significant role in helping pet owners make the right decisions based on two critical pieces of information:

The manufacturer’s name and contact information. This allows a member of the veterinary team or the pet owner to contact the manufacturer to ask the following questions:

1. Are your diets tested using AAFCO feeding trials or by formulation to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles? If not, do they meet AAFCO nutrient profiles by formulation or by analysis of the finished product?
2. Where are your foods produced and manufactured?
3. What is the caloric value per gram, can or a cup of your foods?
4. What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of your ingredients and the end product?
5. What kind of product research has been conducted? Are the results published in peer-reviewed journals?
6. Will you provide a complete nutrient analysis for the dog or cat food in question? This includes: providing average/typical analysis, (not just the guaranteed analysis; which is only min/max, not an exact number). You should be able to ask for any nutrient – and be given on an energy basis (i.e. g/100 kg or g/1,000 kg), rather than on an ‘as fed’ or ‘dry matter’ basis which doesn’t account for the energy density of different foods.
7. Do you employ a full time qualified nutritionist? Qualifications would include a Ph.D. in animal nutrition or board-certification by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) or the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN). What is this nutritionist’s name and qualifications?
8. Who formulates your foods and what are his/her credentials?

If the manufacturer cannot or will not provide any of this information, owners should be cautious about feeding that brand.

In some countries, the AAFCO adequacy statement is included on the label. This statement confirms 3 important facts:

1. Whether the diet is complete and balanced. All over-the-counter foods should be complete and balanced. If the statement reads ‘for intermittent or supplemental use only,’ it is not complete and balanced. That may be acceptable if it is a veterinary therapeutic diet and is being used for a specific purpose – but should be avoided in over-the-counter pet foods.
2. If the food is complete and balanced, what life stage is it intended? AAFCO provides nutrient profiles and feeding trial requirements for growth, reproduction, and adult maintenance, but not for senior/geriatric pets. Food that is formulated to meet the AAFCO profiles for all life stages must meet the minimum nutrient levels for both growth and adult maintenance. Definition meaning these diets would be a puppy or kitten food and not appropriate for an adult maintenance diet.
3. If the food is complete and balanced, how did the company determine this? Labels may include one or two statements regarding nutritional adequacy.

● “(Name) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for (life stage).” (Analysis of food).
● “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate (Name) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (life stage).” (Feeding trial evaluation of food).

Formulated foods are manufactured, so the ingredients meet specified levels, either based on the recipe or analytical testing of the finished product, without testing via feeding trials. While feeding trials help to test for the food’s nutritional adequacy, the use of feeding trials does not guarantee that the food provides adequate nutrition under all conditions. It is essential to ensure that the criteria in section A also help to ensure that the food is made by a reputable and knowledgeable company with strict quality control measures.

*Information provided above sourced from

Written by Alicia Aide, Pet Food Advocate