Welcome back to part 2 of how to read a pet label without feeling like you have to get a degree in veterinary sciences. You really don't, we promise. But if you want to, by all means get a degree in veterinary sciences because there's always cute furry creatures that need help from humans. Anyways, let's get back to business. If you missed Part 1 of how to read a pet food label, click the link!
Understanding Ingredients & Marketing
Ingredients cannot have grades or classifications. Anything beyond the actual ingredient is a marketing strategy devised to gain your trust. We may sound cynical here, but we prefer the term "educated." Some examples:
- Real chicken breast meat → chicken
- Chicken meal from muscle meat → chicken meal
- USDA Grade A Chicken → Chicken (This does not include "USDA organic")
So what words actually have meaning? USDA Organic, Human Grade, and Non-GMO all have a legal connotation. "Natural," "organics," "premium," "gourmet," "holistic," "fresh," "real," "healthy," "crafted," and "handmade" all mean... basically nothing. It's like saying they were made with love. Which is great and we approve...but basically nothing.
The name of a product can also automatically tell you some things about it's quality and make up:
- Chicken Food (one ingredient + no descriptor) → 95% chicken, 70% counting water
- Chicken and Liver Food → 95% combined chicken and liver, more chicken than liver and at least 25% of each
- Chicken Dinner/Platter/Entree/Nuggets/Formula → at least 25% chicken, 10% with water
- Chicken and Liver Dinner etc → at least 3% of chicken and liver, totaling at least 25%. More chicken than liver
- Chicken with Lobster → 3% lobster
- Chicken flavor food → no percentage requirement, a “detectable” amount of some kind of product somehow related to chicken
A picture is worth a thousand words: The FDA is supposed to regulate false or misleading advertisement, but as some may have observed many pet foods show pictures of fresh, human-grade foods ready for their own dinner table. Many even show meat that has been grilled to perfection! Unfortunately this is NOT what is guaranteed or even likely to actually be in the food, as that 'chicken' can either be USDA grade A passed for human consumption, or condemned meat not allowed in human food. Most of this is, in fact, advertising.
So, to keep it simple, you can really boil down most foods to what the primary protein is. Be wary of advertising attempts to sell you something the food is not, and be an informed consumer.