A trip down the pet food aisle these days will boggle the mind with all the wonderful claims made by manufacturers for their particular products. But what's the truth behind all this marvelous hype? You might be very surprised … let's take a look.
1. Niche claims. Today, if you have an indoor cat, a canine athlete, a Persian, a Bloodhound, a Yorkie, or a pet with a tender tummy or itchy feet, you can find a food "designed" just for your pet's personal needs. Niche marketing has arrived in a big way in the pet food industry. People like to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is bound to sell better than a general product like "puppy food." But the reality is that there are only two nutritional standards against which all pet foods are measured (adult and growth / gestation / lactation) -everything else is marketing. Your best bet is a food made with good quality ingredients that satisfies "All Life Stages."
2. "Natural" or "Organic" claims. The definition of "natural" adopted by AAFCO is very broad, and allows for artificially processed ingredients that most of us would consider very unnatural indeed. The term "organic," on the other hand, has a very strict legal definition that the USDA has ruled applies to pet food. However, some companies are adept at evading the intent of these rules. For instance, the name of the company or product may be intentionally misleading. For instance, some companies use terms like "Nature" or "Natural" in the brand name, whether or not their products fit the definition of natural.
3. Ingredient quality claims. A lot of pet foods claim they contain "human grade" ingredients. This is a completely meaningless term-which is why the pet food companies get away with using it. The same applies to "USDA inspected" or similar phrases. The implication is that the food is made using ingredients that are passed by the USDA for human consumption, but there are many ways around this. For instance, a facility might be USDA-inspected during the day, but the pet food is made at night after the inspector goes home. The use of such terms should be viewed as a "Hype Alert."
4. "Meat is the first ingredient" claim. A claim that a named meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) is the # 1 ingredient is generally seen for dry food. Ingredients are listed on the label by weight, and raw chicken weighs a lot, since contains a lot of water. If you look further down the list, you're likely to see ingredients such as chicken or poultry by-product meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or other dry protein. Meals have had the fat and water removed, and basically consist of a dry, lightweight, high-protein powder. It doesn't take much raw chicken to weigh more than a great big pile of this powder. Not only that, but the "chicken" used in dry food is actually a slurry of about 90% water; so in reality the food is based on the protein meal, with very little "chicken" to be found.
This has become a very popular marketing gimmick, even in premium and "health food" type brands. Since everybody is now using it, any meaning it may once have had is so watered-down that you may just as well ignore it.
5. Special ingredient claims. Many of the high-end pet foods today rely on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients such as fruits, herbs, vegetables, and a variety of supplements such as glucosamine or probiotics. However, the amounts of these items actually present in the food are small and not therapeutic. Fruits and vegetables are usually scraps and rejects from processors of human foods-certainly not the whole, fresh ingredients they want you to picture. Such ingredients don't provide a significant health benefit and are just a marketing gimmick.
It's a jungle out there … Pet food marketing and advertising has become extremely sophisticated over the last few years. It's important to know what is hype and what is real, so you can make informed decisions about what to feed your pets.