One of the most important items to look for on the information panel is the “Nutritional Adequacy Statement.” This statement provides the guarantee that the pet food is complete and balanced for the animal for which it is intended. All commercial pet foods are required to be nutritionally complete and balanced. By being complete, it means all the nutrients that are required by the animal to meet its daily needs are included in adequate amounts; balanced means that the nutrients are provided in proper proportion to each other. The Nutritional Adequacy Statement is often found near the guaranteed analysis of the diet.
Nutrients required by all animals include protein (composed of individual amino acids), fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and water. An additional nutrient included in pet foods is carbohydrates. While cats and dogs do not have a defined nutrient requirement for carbohydrates, they are included in the diet as an energy source for the animal and to assist with proper pet food processing. Animals of different ages, life stages, etc. require different nutrient amounts per day.
For dogs and cats, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets forth guidelines for what concentrations of each nutrient should be present in dog or cat food to ensure the animal’s nutritional needs are met – similar to recommended daily allowances for people. However, some pet foods are often formulated with a specific life stage in mind. The AAFCO guidelines provide two sets of requirements: one for the adult animal and one for growth, gestation, and lactation. Not all foods are adequate for all animals. For example, some dog foods are intended only for an adult dog at maintenance (meaning it is not intended for dogs that are growing, pregnant, or engaging in vigorous exercise), while others meet the needs of all life stages from puppies to senior dogs. Pet owners should check the nutritional adequacy statement to make sure the pet food they have chosen meets the needs of their pet.
The nutritional adequacy statement also indicates what methods were used to determine the adequacy of the diet. The statement can look like this “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for (specific life stage)” or like this “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (specific life stage).” The first statement indicates that the diet was deemed nutritionally adequate by chemically analyzing the nutrient content of the ingredients and/or the final product in a laboratory and that the nutrient concentrations met or exceeded what is set forth in the AAFCO nutrient profiles. The second indicates that the diets were fed to animals of the life stage the diet is intended for, following specific AAFCO protocols including the minimum number of animals and length of time fed. Use of animal feeding tests provides a critical evaluation of the product, will help to ensure that the diet will be adequate for the intended animal, and is the preferred method for evaluating the food.
Checking the nutritional adequacy statement will help to ensure that the diet chosen is for the intended animal. Diets for animals at maintenance should not be fed to growing, gestating, or lactating animals. Currently, no nutrient profile is established specifically for senior animals. These animals should be fed a diet for animals at maintenance.
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Pet Food Labels: Information Panel