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How to Read a Pet Food Label

• Ingredient listing: Ingredients are the delivery vehicles for nutrients and are listed on a pet food label in descending order by weight

• Ingredients such as chicken, beef or lamb contain more than 50% water. The high water content makes them weigh more than dry ingredients such as grains, meat/poultry meals, minerals and vitamins, so they are listed first

• The guaranteed analysis: The guaranteed analysis is designed to provide consumers with nutrient information about the pet foods they purchase. It indicates minimum or maximum levels of nutrients such as protein, fat and fibre in the product to guide consumers. It is important to remember, however, that the guaranteed analysis is not an indication of the actual nutrient content of the food

• The minimum guarantee gives the lowest amount of the nutrient in the food, not the actual amount. For example, the minimum fat guarantee may be 8% but the product can legally contain 15% fat or more. Likewise, a product with a maximum guarantee of 5% fibre may only contain 1%

• Obtaining the actual nutrient content from the manufacturer is a better way to evaluate products

• The nutritional adequacy statement: This portion of the label verifies that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for growing animals, pregnant and nursing mothers, or adults – or it might say the  product is nutritionally adequate for all of these groups (“all lifestages”)

• Caution should be exercised when considering foods intended for “all lifestages.” They may contain excessive levels of some nutrients – making them inappropriate for adult and senior pets

• The manufacturer’s name and toll-free phone number: Consumers are encouraged to call the 800 number for product information not on the label such as the actual nutrient content of the food and its caloric content

There is no way to determine the true quality of a pet food by reading the ingredient listing or the guaranteed analysis. In fact, two products that may appear to have the same guaranteed analysis might have actual nutrient levels that vary significantly. Determining quality Individual ingredients do NOT determine the quality of a pet food. It’s the nutritional value of each ingredient blended together that delivers a product specific for a pet’s age or condition. The guaranteed analysis is not a guarantee of nutritional quality – nor is the ingredient list or the presence or absence of certain ingredients.

AAFCO Standards

AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. This organization sets the nutritional standards for pet foods sold in the United States. These standards are also recognized in Canada. The nutritional adequacy of pet foods is generally determined by one of two methods based on nutritional levels and procedures defined by AAFCO:

Formulation method
• This method is less expensive and results are determined more quickly as actual feeding or digestibility trials are not required
• There is no guarantee of pet acceptance or nutrient bioavailability when utilizing this method

"Brand X Cat Formula is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for Maintenance."

Feeding trial method
• This method is also known as the “Gold Standard” for determining nutritional adequacy. The manufacturer must perform an AAFCO protocol feeding trial using the food being tested as the sole source of nutrition
• Feeding trials are the best way to document how a pet will perform when fed a specific food

"Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand Y Adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs."

Nutrients vs Ingredients: What's the difference?

What's the difference between nutrients and ingredients anyway?

A lot of pet food packaging can be confusing to read, and it may be difficult to decipher what percentage each ingredient is present in the diet. By law, food manufacturers are required to list ingredients by precooked weight in descending order. Often times, fresh meat or other water-rich ingredients are at the top of the list. However, this is usually not the main source of nutrients in the diet.  For example, lamb is a meat with high water content. So even if lamb is the first ingredient listed (because its precooked weight represents 25% of the recipe), it actually only nets out to 4% or 5% lamb protein after all the water is cooked away. If the same food also contains 20% corn, 20% rice, 15% dried fish, 10% poultry fat and 10% vegetable oil, the manufacturer is still allowed to write "Lamb" as the first ingredient even though other ingredients will be the main contributors of nutrients in the end product.

We recommend diets with an emphasis on nutrients rather than ingredients. We concentrate first on the right balance of protein, minerals, vitamins, lipids and carbohydrates, and then select the best ingredient sources to provide those nutrients in the most digestible way.

Many different combinations of high quality raw materials (or ingredients) can work synergistically together in a diet to provide the ideal combination of a cat or dog's required nutrients. Understanding what nutrients are, and how they are different from ingredients, is the first step in selecting the best diet for your cat or dog.

What are nutrients exactly?

Your pet's diet like a jigsaw puzzle, where each of the pieces represents a different group of nutrients. It is important that the proportion, quantity, quality and variety of nutrients in a diet are balanced so that each piece of the puzzle fits in place. Each nutrient plays a unique role in helping your cat or dog's body function properly.

During the digestion process, ingredients are broken down and the cat or dog's body uses each nutrient it derives from those ingredients for a different purpose. Sometimes, nutrients will be extracted and purified from ingredients before being incorporated into a formula.

Here is a closer look at what role each of these nutrient categories plays in your pet's diet:

Proteins are built up from strings of amino acids and are found in ingredients such as poultry, corn gluten meal, fish meal, soy protein isolate and eggs. Proteins play many vital roles in your cat or dog's body such as building and renewing their organs and muscles, supporting the immune system which fight illness, building the substances used by the body for communication such as brain chemicals and supplying energy.

Carbohydrates are typically found in vegetable sources such as corn, barley, wheat and rice. Starches provide energy and kibble structure, while fibres help maintain the health of your pet's digestive tract and the optimal functioning of the immune system.

Fats, supplied by ingredients such as chicken fat provide energy and are essential to every cell in your pet's body.  Fats (like borage and soy oil) also provide essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid which are necessary for a lustrous coat and healthy skin.  Fat from fish provides omega-3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA) which are potent anti-inflammatory agents.  EPA and DHA can positively impact joint, intestinal and skin health as well as support cognitive development which helps make kittens and puppies better learners.

Vitamins and minerals can be contributed by various raw materials in the formula or are also commonly added in their purified, supplemental forms. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for many vital metabolic processes.

Water is provided by the moisture content of the formula and supports all processes in your cat or dog's body. Water helps absorb nutrients and eliminate waste, it regulates body temperature and lubricates body parts like joints, eyes and ears.  Fresh, clean water must always be made available to your dog or cat.

This complex puzzle of nutrients enables us to guarantee a constant nutritional formula precisely formulated for the specific needs of your cat or dog. The ingredients we use in our formulas are selected for the quality of the digestible nutrients they provide and for their nutritional benefits, not for how appealing they look on the package. So next time you look at a pet food package ask yourself: "What nutrients are these ingredients providing and how are they contributing to the overall health and wellbeing of my pet?"

Busting the Corn Myth:

Why corn is an excellent nutrient source for your pet

Corn in pet foods has been a very hot point of debate.  Its cynics claim that it is contrary to a pet's natural eating habits, is a cheap filler material, and is not very digestible.  However, some of these misconceptions are due to lack of understanding of the different nutritional aspects of corn.

The use of corn in diets is extremely important and is far from cheap filler material.  Corn is highly digestible and allows us to incorporate essential starch, protein, fiber, fatty acids and antioxidants into our diets, all from one source.

Excellent Source of Energy

Corn is an excellent source of digestible energy. The nutrient and energy needs of dogs and cats must be completely met by the amount of food they are given daily. However, it is important that the energy they receive from their diet is balanced, so that they get an optimal amount of nutrients in their daily ration. Corn contributes a wide range of nutrients while offering a balance of energy. Additionally, the protein portion of corn is highly digestible (over 90% digestible) with a moderate amount of fat.

Great Source of Protein

Corn gluten is the protein portion of corn. Corn gluten meal (the dried form) provides a source of protein that is complimentary to many meat meal sources of protein. Its digestibility is as high as many meat and fish meals. Corn gluten meal's amino acid profile is quite different from meat-based protein sources and is particularly high in the amino acids cystine and methionine.  These amino acids are particularly important in skin and coat health.

Provides Essential and Functional Nutrients

In addition to providing energy and protein, corn also provides other essential nutrients such as: Vitamins (B complex, E and A); minerals; insoluble fibres which are important to digestive and immune health; fat such as linoleic acid (an omega-6 essential fatty acid); and antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin which provide whole body protection from oxidative cellular damage and are also important in supporting eye health.

It is important to note that there is no single protein or carbohydrate source that is ideal for dogs and cats. Each ingredient has its advantages, and so combinations of ingredients allow us to construct formulas with very specific features. Some opponents to corn claim that using certain ingredients such as corn is an attempt to cut costs, and that using those ingredients is a way of choosing profit over quality. Not only is this incorrect, it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the physiology and nutritional requirements of dogs and cats.

Definitely not a "filler"

Corn has superior nutritional value, whereas fillers have no nutritional value. It is remarkable that from just a single source we have been able to produce fat, fiber, protein, and carbohydrates - all essential to the health and wellbeing of your cat or dog.