By Sarah Grace McCandless, Animal Planet
Here’s something to chew on: According to research conducted by Euromonitor and the American Pet Products Association, worldwide sales of dog and cat food have climbed to $52 billion dollars, with nearly $18 billion attributed to the U.S. market alone. It’s a staggering number, but one that makes sense when you consider the fact that, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), there are approximately 77.5 million pups and 93.6 million cats owned as pets in American households.
Those numbers make for a lot of mouths to feed. There are many types of food available — including wet and dry types, as well as newer trends like raw food diets — and also a growing number of manufacturers to choose from — including companies owned by celebrities such as talk show hosts Rachael Ray and Ellen DeGeneres and actor Dick Van Patten. The options can seem endless — and even overwhelming. So how can you tell which kinds are best for your pet?
What’s in a name?
Whether you opt for kibble or canned, one of the first steps to take in assessing the contents of your pet’s diet is to simply review the name of the product you’re purchasing and the terms used to describe it. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides special labeling requirements for pet food produced by U.S. manufacturers. While they do not actually regulate the actual production of pet food, their guidelines are updated annually and at the very least provide a good place to start. Here are some of the most common rules about terminology in labeling:
- “100 percent” or “all”— Neither of these can be used if the pet food contains more than one ingredient, outside of the water needed for processing or trace amounts of condiments and preservatives.
- “Dinner”— Food labeled as such must include an ingredient that constitutes at least 25 percent of the overall weight of the product.
- “With”— This term can be used as long as there’s at least 3 percent of the ingredient it’s referring to included in the overall mix.
- “Flavor”— As long as the food includes an ingredient that gives the overall product a distinct characteristic, this word is fair play. However, something labeled as “chicken flavor,” for example, might just include extract from poultry parts or artificial flavor, and not necessarily any actual chicken meat at all.