Myth-Busting Dog Food Labels

Myth-Busting Dog Food Labels

Pancho here. I wrote another poem for you: (while in my hipster hat)

Dog food labels, Pancho in a hat

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
That dog food label
Has a secret or two

Don't worry if you don't understand my high-brow poetry, I'm happy to explain the themes and inspirations behind my art. You see, like most angst-ridden poets, I'm deeply troubled about the world in which we live, specifically a world that lets people think they know what they're reading on a simple pet food label.

Le sigh.

But seriously, humans, let's look at some common words you might encounter on a pet food label that could woo you into thinking they are something they are not:

Premium - This lovely word is as empty and meaningless as an hour spent on Tinder. Don't let it fool you into thinking it's something it's not, even when accompanied by other fluffy words like "super premium" or "extra premium." This is marketing, not true love.

Gourmet - Everybody's a foodie these days, and everyone demands gourmet. But the truth is, pet food companies can slap the word gourmet on a label without any credentials. Gourmet doesn't mean anything in this case, except maybe "costs more."

Holistic - Holistic? Holy nothingness, Batman! Add this to the long list of pretty names that don't necessarily mean anything at all.

Natural - Okay, FINALLY a term that carries some meaning. The word "natural" falls under the jurisdiction of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the regulators of pet food manufacturing, so "natural" foods must be made entirely of ingredients from plant, animal or mined sources, and cannot be highly processed or contain artificial flavors, preservatives, or coloring. But SPOILER ALERT: the word gets a little vague when we're talking about which parts of an animal is included. Mmm hmmm. Take it from a dog, there are parts of a chicken I don't want in my dog bowl.

Organic - An "organic" pet food is made without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, waste contamination, or food additives. Or hipsters. This word is policed by the USDA, but not all uses are created equal. For example, "100% organic" is self-explanatory, but the word "organic" alone means it contains at least 95% organic ingredients. The phrase "made with organic ingredients" means the product contains 70% certified organic ingredients. So before you get googly-eyed over organic, know what it means.

Flavor - As in "beef flavor dog food," this word doesn't require any actual percentage of meat to be in the food, but instead enough flavoring (usually from that animal's fat) to be detected. So "flavor" is a broad term, in the same way that my pal Dexter is "interesting."

Dinner - A word that conjures the image of a Thanksgiving spread means something different on a food label. A can of "Turkey Dinner Dog Food" must contain 25% turkey, but the remaining 75% can be made up of other fillers of all varieties, including other meats. (Not unlike Aunt Edna's Thanksgiving Jell-O mold, come to think of it.) The same goes for words like "platter," "grill," and "entree."

Meal - As in, "chicken meal" or "lamb meal," this is a catch-all term for all tissue (excluding blood, hair, hides, manure, stomach and rumen) that are cooked down then dried and added as "meal" to the pet food. Sounds like Unhappy Meal to me.

References 1, 2, 3

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Gabby Slome

Gabby Slome

NYC native. Certified canine nutritionist. Equestrian. World traveler. Columbia Business School grad. Healthy eater. Mom to the best mutt in the world, (well according to me), Pancho.


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