goldenThese days, buying food for our animal companions is about as costly and as thought-provoking as buying food for another human being. The annual figure for pet-food spending exceeds US$ 11 Billion as reported by the Pet Food Institute.

But what really goes into the food that our animal companions feed on? The answer to that should be plastered on the face of your pet-food brand of choice.

What pet-food manufacturers should indicate on their product?

Manufacturers these days, try to sway consumers by putting reassuring terms such as "premium", "gourmet" or "senior". But these "terms" account for nothing as they have neither a standard definition, nor a regulatory meaning. However, pet owners can rest assured as these labels are controlled by the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). According to the CVM, there are three things that a consumer needs to analyze in their pet-food label: the life stage claim, list of ingredients and the contact details of the manufacturer.

Life stage claim – this means that the food was proven nutritionally adequate in animal feed tests.

List if ingredients – consumers need to see this to know if there is/are ingredient/s that his/her pet is allergic to or who have pets who require very specific food preferences.

Manufacturer contact details – consumers need to ne able ask questions about their products. Manufacturers, of course cannot tell a consumer specific amounts of a certain ingredient (because it is their proprietary formula),but should at least be able to answer how much of a nutrient is in their product.

Apart from these three necessary items, the CVM also says that there are other things that you, as a consumer, need to see in your pet-food brand: guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, ingredients, feeding guidelines.

Guaranteed Analysis – specifies the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat in the product. Guaranteed Analysis also specifies the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. Crude refers to a method of measuring a nutrient. It does not specify quality.

Nutritional Adequacy – states to consumers that the product meets the requirements of a pet’s nutritional needs. Regulatory boards such as The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the FDA-CVM (Food and Drug Administration – Center for Veterinary Medicine ) regulate and recommend standards for nutrient contents of pet foods.

State often adopt AAFCO model feed bills in their own laws. This should also state foe which life stage of a pet it is most suitable. For example, kittens/puppies, growth/lactation or "senior". Nutritional adequacy does not cover snacks/treats and chew toys (Snack and chew toys are also not required to show guaranteed analysis of feeding instructions, but they should also show list of ingredients and manufacturer contact details.)

List of Ingredients – like human food, pet foods should also show their list of ingredients. Pet foods should be truthfully labeled and should contain ingredients that contain no harmful ingredients. Pet foods, like human food, are regulated by the FDA. Though FDA approval is not required, these pet foods should made with ingredients that are ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS). If found containing harmful ingredients, CVM can prohibit or modify the product’s use as pet-food.

Feeding guidelines – basically entails the quantity of food to be served per meal and based on age a pet’s breed, age and activity level as well as environmental stresses. However, if your pet has weight issues, it is okay to deviate from the amount of stipulated in the product’s feeding guidelines. If your pet is too thin, it is okay to feed it more, and likewise, if your pet is too fat, it is okay to feed it a little less.

Labeling and Allergies

Pet foods basically contain the same ingredients. Try comparing different brands and you’ll come up with almost similar ingredients. If your pet develops an allergic reaction to your usual pet food brand, it would be wise to not give it a different pet food as a substitute. First, consult your veterinarian or a pet dietician. Next try doing some research on cases that are similar to your pet’s and find a cure or an alternative food for your pet.

Finally, home made foods can be an options. For instance, if you have a pet cat (a natural carnivore) try testing different meats and meat by products. Through this you can identify and eliminate what particular ingredient your pet is allergic to and avoid it.