Pet Nutrition: Pet Food Label Tips from your Online Vet

Part 2: Ask a Vet

online vet, ask a vet, chat with a vetAs we reviewed last week in part one of pet nutrition, AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. This organization sets the nutritional standards for pet foods sold in the United States.

Easy things first–

online vet, ask a vetMOISTURE

There are four product forms for pet foods based on moisture level of the food:

1.  Dry = < 20% water content

2. Semi-moist = >20% and <65% content

3.  Wet = >65%  water content

4.  If the moisture level is above 78%, the product must be labeled as a stew, gravy, sauce, broth, milk replacer, expensive pet food in water, etc. The reason is that the maximum moisture declared on a wet pet food shall not exceed 78%

pet food nutrition, how to read a pet food labelThis probably seems pretty basic and logical to you.  Moving forward with how nutritional adequacy is actually determined.  There are two methods.

1. Formulation method

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

The pet food product must simply meet the nutrient requirements for the specific life stage established by an AAFCO recognized nutrient profile. This is accomplished by a laboratory analysis.

If a pet food company chooses the method to say their product is nutritionallly adequate, the label will read something similar to, “This brand of dog food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Maintenance.”

pet nutrition labels, pet food secrets

2. 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, yet the overwhelming majority of pet food companies do not carry them out.

If a pet food company chooses the feeding trial method to say their product is nutritionallly adequate, the label will read something similar to,“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand Y Adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.”

Lifestageschat with a vet, online vet

You may have noticed the word maintenance or adult dogs in those examples. Foods can be formulated or tested to meet one of three life stages:




Foods that are formulated for all life stages must ensure they meet the most nutritionally demanding life stage which is growth & reproduction. Therefore ‘all life stage’ diets are designed for puppies or pregnant bitches. What this doesn’t tell you is, a food formulated for “all” life stages is actually dangerous to pets with special nutritional needs, such as aging pets with decreased kidney functions. In this case, the protein content and electrolyte (im)balance is dangerously inappropriate for some pets. Just as a pregnant or nursing mom has increased nutritional needs, so does a pregnant dog or cat. The AAFCO fails us in not recognizing that these nutitional needs far exceed and can be dangerous to the average dog or cat. Could this be a cause in the pet obesity epidemic perhaps? It’s not a far stretch.

Any shockers yet?

Stay tuned for one final entry about secrets of the pet food from your online vets.

online vet

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