Nutrition Terms

Image of a couple reading the nutrition facts on pet food.

As pets have become more important to their owners, what the pets are fed has become more important as well. Most pet owners are concerned about the quality and nutrition level of the food they are feeding their furry family members. There are now hundreds of pet foods available to the consumer. How do you know what to believe regarding pet food claims?

Many pet foods line the shelves of groceries and pet food stores, each with their own marketing claims. Some of the terms used have a definite meaning to nutritionists, some are just marketing.

Terms that have a legal meaning are natural, organic, and by-products. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) defines these terms and publishes recommendations for pet foods.

Natural refers to a "feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process."

Organic has been defined as " a formula feed or a specific ingredient within a formula feed that has been produced or handled in compliance with the requirements of the USDA National Organic Program." Under this category are three levels:

  1. 100% organic - must have 100% organic ingredients and additives, including processing aids
  2. Organic - at least 95% of the content is organic by weight
  3. Made with Organic - at least 70% of the content is organic

By-products are defined as " non- rendered clean parts of carcasses such as heads and viscera (organs), free from fecal content and foreign material except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice."

The important thing to know is that any food labeled Natural or Organic is not necessarily a good food, and that a food with by-products can be an excellent food. Natural substances can still be very dangerous; cocaine, heroin, arsenic, and cyanide are all natural but, of course, they are not good for you. Organic foods may contain ingredients that are free of pesticides, but the food may not be balanced or nutritious.

Some pet food companies suggest that foods that contain by-products are of a lower quality, but the term doesn't deserve this reputation. In actuality, by-products are often a good source of vitamins and minerals.

In summary, some claims by pet food companies are just marketing, without real science to back up their advertisements. How do you know which food to use? The best general advise is to choose a food that has been formulated with AAFCO standards and had feeding trials. Your veterinarian can help you in this choice.

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