Eye catching claims on pet food labels

What's really best for your pet?

Published On: Nov 07 2012 08:35:49 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 07 2012 10:40:00 PM EST

Ilana Jacqueline tried ten different dog foods for her dog happy, researching ingredients and scouring labels to finally find one that didn't upset his stomach.

"It was very frustrating at times trying to figure out what the claims were actually trying to say." she said.

We found when it comes to pet food, while the FDA and USDA regulate certain terms on the bag or can, not all claims are regulated or even clearly defined.

"There are a lot of buzz words out there right now that pet food companies are putting on their labels because it's what's hot in the market," said Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian.

'Organic' is one of those buzz words.  The FDA says there are "no official rules governing the labeling of organic foods  for pets."  Same goes for the USDA, though the agency will certify a pet product if it meets current organic standards for humans. 

Don't go looking for the definition of 'holistic' either.   And as for claims like 'premium', 'super premium' and 'ultra premium',  these foods are "not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients."

“Those are defined really by the marketplace,” said Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute.

The Pet Food Institute says manufacturers comply with current laws and keep an eye on standards set by other agencies and organizations.

“As we learn more about the nutrition requirements of cats and dogs and as new ingredients evolve, the profiles are revised,” said Ekedahl.

But Nelson says a lot of the terms may be more about marketing, like the phrase 'natural.'  We found no FDA definition for the term, but there are industry guidelines set up for the pet food companies to follow.  There should be  no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. 

But Nelson warns, "You can still be using by-products. You can still be using all sorts of things that might not be the best quality, but they're still natural, so you can put natural on your pet food label.”

It's recommended you look for claims that say 'complete and balanced.'  That claim is actually defined by law and a company must prove its pet food contains all the nutrients necessary for a healthy dog or cat.

So why would pet food makers put all those other terms or claims on products?  The Pet Food Institute believes pet owners will know the difference.

“They know the coats. They know the energy level.  They know how much the cat or dog likes the food,” said Ekedahl.

Ilana Jacqueline says doing all the research she could to find the best pet food to make her pet happy was confusing at times, but worth it.

“My dog is very happy and healthy now that he's on the right food,” she said.

The USDA says it's working very hard to come up with rules and regulations to define criteria for organic pet food.  If you have a specific question about the pet food you are buying, you can call the company directly or ask your veterinarian.

For more information from the Food and Drug Administration on pet food labels, click here.