I get a lot of questions about pet foods. Here’s my response to a question about pet food labels from a reader.
Q: What do the terms “super-premium” and “natural” mean on pet food labels? Are they better for my pet?
A: You might be surprised to learn that those terms, along with “premium,” “ultra-premium” and “gourmet,” don’t mean much at all. They have no official legal definition, and pet foods that tout these descriptions are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients than any other complete and balanced pet food. That’s according to the United States Food & Drug Administration, which oversees pet food labeling.
That said, foods labeled as premium may well be made with higher quality ingredients, giving them greater density per volume. That means the nutrients they contain may be more easily absorbed. Premium foods cost more, but you may end up feeding less than you would of another food, while giving your pet a higher percentage of ingredients.
The term “natural” doesn’t have an official definition, at least not when it comes to pet food. It’s usually used to describe foods that don’t contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, but it’s not a synonym for “organic,” which means that plants or animals were raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones or that animals were fed organic feed. There are no official rules regarding the labeling of organic foods for pets.
What about pet foods labeled “human-grade”? It doesn’t mean you can sit down at the table with Phluphy or Phydeaux and share their meal with them. According to the FDA, “human-grade” means a food is edible for people, but unless that particular pet food is produced in USDA-inspected plants for human foods, it doesn’t qualify as human-grade.
Pet food labels must have contact information for the manufacturer. Don’t hesitate to call if you have questions about ingredients or what terms on labels mean.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.