What Information Do Cat Food Labels Contain?
Cat food labels provide limited information regarding the nutritional value of the package contents. It is important for customers to know what can and cannot be determined from the label, and what information is particularly important. Major components of a pet food label include:
- Guaranteed Analysis
- Company/Customer Service Information/Satisfaction
- Ingredient Panel
- Manufacturing Code, Expiration, or "Best Used By" Information
- Feeding Instructions
- AAFCO Statement of Nutritional Adequacy
Values in the guaranteed analysis are expressed as either minimum or maximum. A maximum guarantee (% max) means at most this specific amount of the nutrient is included in the formula. A minimum guarantee (% min) means at least this specific amount of the nutrient is included in the formula. The following four nutrients must be included on all pet food labels:
- Crude Protein (% min)
- Crude Fiber (% max)
- Ingredient Panel
- Crude Fat (% max)
- Moisture (% max)
For example, a cat food with a 25% minimum crude protein guarantee should contain at least 25% protein, but could contain much more. The only way to determine the actual amount is by laboratory analysis.
Other information may be guaranteed on cat food products, such as magnesium (% max), taurine (% min), ash (% max), and linoleic acid (% min).
- The guaranteed analysis is an important tool when beginning to compare cat food formulas, but it doesn't provide meaningful nutritional information. Using information on the energy content and nutrient density of a food is the only way to properly compare cat foods. This information is available from the manufacturer.
Ingredients must be listed in order of abundance (largest quantity listed first).
- Because ingredient definitions and designations are standardized, it is difficult to determine the quality of ingredients. Ingredient quality can only be determined from laboratory analysis and animal feeding tests.
AAFCO Statement of Nutritional Adequacy
AAFCO nutritional adequacy statements are required on all pet foods. Products may either be formulated or tested according to AAFCO procedures and recommendations.
- A "formulated" statement means the product has been manufactured according to AAFCO nutritional guidelines, but not actually fed to cats prior to sale.
- A "tested" statement indicates the product has been formulated, then fed to cats prior to sale to ensure it meets important criteria related to growth, maintenance, and/or reproduction.
Veterinary-exclusive products include statements such as, "This product is intended for intermittent feeding only" and "Use only as directed by your veterinarian."
Manufacturing and "Best Used By" Codes
Manufacturing codes allow the company to track products for quality and inventory issues. In order to quickly and efficiently handle a customer inquiry, the company's customer service department will usually ask the customer for this code.
Expiration or "Best Used By" dates are optional, but are helpful in determining product freshness and shelf life.
Company Information and Satisfaction Guarantee
The manufacturer's information should include the company name, address, and phone number so customers can quickly and easily obtain product information.
A toll-free telephone number should be provided as a convenience to the customer and to ensure that a charge is not incurred when calling for information.
- The satisfaction guarantee should be an "active" statement. This means that in addition to stating that the product is guaranteed, the company should indicate what action will be taken to meet customer expectations (replace product, money returned, etc.).
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Confused by the ingredient list on your kitten’s food? You’re not alone. Marketing pet foods that have “human-grade ingredients” is becoming commonplace. While appealing to many pet owners, it is important to be aware that the term “human grade” has no legal definition and is used primarily for marketing purposes.
Foods, typically meats, are labeled either as “edible” or “inedible, not for human consumption.” Once a food leaves the human food chain, even if it is of outstanding quality, it has to be labeled “inedible, not for human consumption.” Therefore, meats used in pet food must be labeled as “inedible,” regardless of the source or quality of the meat. The only way to make a pet food with ingredients deemed “edible” is to never let the meat leave the human food chain and actually manufacture the pet food in a human food facility and transport it using human food trucks. Therefore, advertising a product as containing “human-grade ingredients” is untrue if it is not manufactured in a human food facility. However, just because a pet food isn’t marketed as being “human grade” does not mean that the ingredients are poor quality.
Here are some tips to help understand ingredient labels:
- The ingredient list is not the only method you should use to select a pet food, because it doesn’t provide pet owners with enough information about the quality of the ingredients or the nutritional adequacy of the overall diet.
- Instead of concentrating on ingredients, pet owners and veterinarians should look at the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and the quality control protocols of the manufacturer. For more information, see the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s brochure “Selecting the Best Food for your Pet,” available at
Opens a new windowwww.wsava.org/nutrition-toolkit.
- The ingredient list may be arranged to make foods as appealing as possible to consumers by the order of the ingredients (e.g., having lamb first on the ingredient list) or inclusion of seemingly desirable ingredients in the diet, but often in such small amounts that they have little or no nutritional benefits (e.g., artichokes and raspberries listed after the vitamin and mineral supplements).
- Having more ingredients does not make a diet more nutritious.
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