Pet Food Guide - Avoid The Hype

Premium, gourmet or natural… are these words you can trust on a dog food label? Or are they simply exaggerated claims designed to influence your purchase decision?

Each and every day, agricultural waste declared unfit for human consumption finds its way into commercial pet food.

Take a look at these dreadful yet perfectly legal ingredients:
  • Spoiled supermarket meats 
  • Contaminated grain middlings
  • Slaughterhouse waste (organs, heads, hooves, beaks, feet) 
  • Bread and cereal rejects (hulls, stalks, mill sweepings) 
  • Dying, diseased and disabled farm animals 
  • Road kill (deer, skunks, and raccoons) 
  • Distiller fermentation waste 
  • Euthanized cats and dogs
  • Restaurant grease
  • Dead zoo animals 
Obviously, pet food companies know that raw materials like these couldn’t possibly help sell their products. Can you imagine buying a product called…

“Slaughterhouse Waste Pet Food” 

Wouldn’t sell very well, would it? Yet that’s precisely why some pet food companies invest millions of dollars each year creating misleading packaging… packaging intentionally designed to deceive you. To distract you from what’s really in their products.

That’s why it’s crucial to not allow yourself to be tricked by pet food packaging. Or by the extravagant words used to inflate the apparent value of a product. 

Be Wary of the Seductive Words "Premium" or "Gourmet"

For most of us, when shopping for any food product, it’s difficult to resist one labeled “premium” or “gourmet”.

Well, pet food companies know this. So, they intentionally use words like these to dupe us into believing their product is superior to other competing brands.

“Products labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other complete and balanced products.”

You’ll be shocked to discover the FDA has NO regulations or guidelines to protect consumers from misleading claims of  superiority like these.

But What About "Natural" Pet Food?

OK, so you think the word “natural” might be an exception? Right? Well, think again.

The word “natural” actually has no official meaning. “The term ‘natural’ is often used on pet food labels, although that term does not have an official definition either.” 

Many marketing claims about pet food have little to do with nutritional quality. There is no scientific basis to differentiate between “synthetic” vs. “natural” preservatives for health reasons.

However, the FDA does recognize the decisive AAFCO definition of ‘natural’ by elaborating… “For the most part, ‘natural’ can be construed as equivalent to a lack of artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives in the product.” 

And What About "Organic" Foods on the Label?

Similarly, while “organic” conveys something useful about how some ingredients in a product were grow grown, it is not a certification that was intended to apply to pet foods, and need not mean that all components of a product were produced according to organic standards.

At the moment, “organic” means something for human food - it does not mean much for pet food. 

We worry that the USDA doesn’t think pet foods are important enough to care what is said on their labels. 

This may be a good situation for unscrupulous marketers, but we do not think it is good for pet food companies, buyers of pet foods or the organic industry itself.
There are companies calling themselves organic when their foods do not contain a single organic ingredient. They get away with this because the USDA, unlike the FDA, doesn’t regulate company names.

If products are labeled organic, they should follow the rules for organic certification...ALL of them. If they do not, the organic standards won’t mean much.

Categories of  USDA-Certified Organic Foods for HUMANS

Label statement and USDA requirements for organic certification of human foods*
  • 100% Organic
Can be labeled “100% organic” and display a Certified Organic seal on the front of the package.
  • Organic
Must be 95% to 99% organic ingredients; can display the Certified Organic seal on the front of the package.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients
Must be 70% to 94% organic, can say “made with organic ingredients” and can list up to three such ingredients on the front, but cannot display the organic seal anywhere on the package.
  • Less than 70% Organic
Can list organic ingredients on the information panel, but cannot use the word “organic” on the front of the package or display the organic seal.

Source: USDA National Organic Program

What's Holistic Pet Food?

Is the word ‘Holistic’ a marketing hype when it comes to pet food?

The short answer is that it can be. There is no legal definition for the term ‘Holistic’ so companies can use it as they wish. 

What you need to do is read into the label and past the title to find out what holistic means for that particular product.

What people want in a Holistic pet food is:

  • Only natural ingredients are used. No chemicals or artificial anything. No antibiotics, hormones, pesticides or dyes.
  • The pet food uses whole grains, fruits and vegetables. No processed parts or by-products of ingredients.
  • The ingredients chosen for the recipe are selected to benefit the animal. They are not there to make the food more appealing to the pet owner or to entice your pet to eat something they normally would not.
  • The food contains enhanced vitamins and chelated/proteinated minerals.
Make sure to read the label and not just go for the best sounding name or prettiest bag!

Where to Find the Only Information You Can Reliably Trust

On a pet food package, the legal truth can be found in one place. And one place only. The government regulated portion of the label. And nowhere else.

For this reason, never blindly trust the pictures on the bag… or the words premium, gourmet, organic or natural.

Remember that pet food advertising is designed to attract human purchasers.

Just because an ingredient seems less appetizing to a person doesn't mean that it doesn't provide valuable nutrients for a pet — in a way that can be both available and tasty.

The pet food industry often relies on by-products and wastes generated from making human food.

The words “complete and balanced” or “100% nutritious” indicate only that the product can be used as the sole source of nutrition. Products that don't use this language should be used only as supplements, such as treats.

Buying Guide: The Issues

Pet owners want their pets to lead healthy lives, but it's difficult to obtain information about the nutritional value of different pet foods or on the environmental and social reputations of different pet food brands.

Transparency about ingredients, ingredient sources, and processing methods beyond the minimum of what is legally required is generally difficult to come by in the pet food industry.

Many different brands use the same ingredient providers and manufacture products at the same processing facilities.

Pet food ingredients are combined to achieve specific nutritional benchmarks, so consumers can assume that most products on the market meet a basic standard for nutritional adequacy.

While pet goods attempt to differentiate themselves with various marketing claims about their ingredients, there is considerable scientific debate about the importance that should be assigned to specific ingredients compared to the overall nutritional profile of a pet food.

We now know a lot more about what contributes to a healthy diet for our pets, and which ingredients to seek or avoid with human food compared to pet food.

Read the labels...don't fall for pet food's a hype.

Give your pet the "quality of life" he deserves. Most kids enjoy junk food and so does our pet, which has been proven to be a host for many illnesses. Our pets are our's give them the best food available for a long and healthy life.