Pet Food Label Confusion

In my experience, all pet people want to feed their beloved pets good food. But how do you know if a food is right for your pet or not? How do you separate the facts about the food from the advertising claims? As a veterinarian, I recommend studying the nutritional adequacy statement which is required by federal law. Here are the three questions it answers:

  • Is the food complete and balanced? If the label uses the term ‘complete and balanced’ it contains everything the pet needs in the proper amounts to meet all of its nutritional requirements and maintain health.
  • For what stage of life is the food designed? For example, is the food designed for puppies and kittens or adults?
  • What method was used to determine the protein, fat, fiber and moisture content of the food? ‘Guaranteed analysis’ and ‘as fed’ are the most common methods. The package will usually use the method that presents its product in the most favorable light. I always ask for this information in ‘metabolizable energy’ because it tells me how much of the foodstuff is actually converted by the pet into energy. For example, I had a client with a dog who needed a low fat diet. The owner bought what they thought was a low fat diet based on the guaranteed analysis value of 10%.  The diet was actually well over 30% fat in metabolizable energy and therefore, not appropriate for this patient.


VIN News Service staff writer, ‘Profusion of pet food choices cooks up confusion’. VIN News Service 6/2/14.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.