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Pet food labels only tell part of the nutritional story

Pet food labels provide basic and limited information. The labels focus on ingredients, nutrient levels (known as "guaranteed analysis") and nutritional adequacy or a statement by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which verifies the testing method for nutrient guidelines.

At Hill's Pet Nutrition, we believe other considerations must be recognized when deciding on your pet's food to enrich his or her well-being.

Nutrient Needs

  • Your pet's nutrient needs can vary with:
    • Age
    • Activity, lifestyle or special needs
    • Reproductive status
    • Health
    • Environment
    • Breed
  • Nutritional deficiencies are harmful. As a pet owner, you should know that nutritional excesses can be as harmful and are more common than nutritional deficiencies.
  • It's important to know that excess fat can result in diabetes and heart, joint or respiratory disease. Excess protein can cause liver or kidney disease. Excess calcium can result in urinary bladder stones and skeletal disease.
  • Lifestage nutrition, which is designed to meet a pet's needs at a specific age and physical state, helps protect against nutritional excesses. Hill's adheres to the lifestage nutritional practice for both dogs and cats from the growth phase to the adult and mature phases of life.

Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis can be confusing and somewhat misleading. It provides minimum and maximum levels of some of the nutrients, four of which are required on every label. Those required nutrients are:

  • Protein (shown as a minimum %)
  • Fat (shown as a minimum %)
  • Fiber (shown as a maximum %)
  • Moisture (shown as a maximum %)

The minimum amount guarantee provides the lowest amount of the nutrient in the food, not the actual amount. For example, the minimum fat guarantee may be 8 percent, but legally the product can contain 15 percent fat or more. Similarly, a product with a maximum guarantee of 5 percent fiber may actually contain only 1 percent. Additionally, because moisture levels will vary from product to product, it makes it difficult for consumers to compare products.

To further evaluate the product, we advise you to obtain the actual nutritional content from the manufacturer through the product information toll-free number on the product packaging.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement or "AAFCO Statement"

Every pet food label must contain a statement and validation of nutritional adequacy. AAFCO regulations allow two basic methods for pet food manufacturers to substantiate claims.

  • Formulation Method — Requires the manufacturer to formulate the food to meet the AAFCO nutrient profiles for dogs and cats.
  • This method is less time consuming and less expensive because feeding trials with pets are not required, only a calculation of the nutrient levels.
  • An example of an AAFCO statement using the formulation method would be: "Brand ABC Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Cat Food Profiles for maintenance of adult cats."
  • Feeding Trial Method — Requires the manufacturer perform an AAFCO-protocol feeding trial using the food as the sole source of nutrition.
  • Gold Standard or preferred method.
  • Documents the pets' performance when fed the food.
  • An example of an AAFCO statement using the feeding trial method would be: "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand X Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs."

Understanding Terms: Natural, Organic, Holistic, Human Grade

  • "Natural" has been legally defined and requires a pet food to consist of only natural ingredients without chemical alterations, except for vitamins, minerals and other trace nutrients.
  • "Organic" has been legally defined for human foods by the USDA. Pet food companies can currently use the term "organic" if they follow the same rules as applied to human foods. Note that natural and organic are not interchangeable terms.
  • "Holistic" has no legal definition and is unregulated with regard to pet food. Any pet food could use the term "holistic" in marketing their product. The term currently has no meaning in pet food.
  • "Human grade" is not an allowed term on a pet food label, unless the food is made in a plant approved for manufacturing human food. Because of this, there are very few pet foods that are labeled "human grade." However, this regulation doesn't apply to advertising and websites, so some pet food companies will tout "human grade" ingredients in their products.

Read more about pet food ingredients facts and myths.

Clinically Proven

The term "clinically proven" on a package or pet food label means the claim must be supported by two clinical studies. All Science Diet dry pet foods contain clinically proven antioxidants, and Hill's™ Science Diet™ Nature's Best™ is the first and only natural pet food clinically proven to provide complete, balanced nutrition. Many Hill's™ Prescription Diet™ therapeutic pet foods are clinically proven to support pets with various health conditions.