Ever get a little overwhelmed when shopping for pet food? Pet food stores are stocked full of so many different brands and varieties that making a decision can be very difficult. Not to mention that each company says their food is better than all the rest! Dr. Noemi Plantz and certified technician Michelle Malsack recently attended an all-day conference about what goes into a pet food label and how to compare different types of pet food.

Below are some of the high points from what they learned. Please feel free to call Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo and speak with a doctor or technician about any questions you have regarding the foods you feed your pet.

What is AAFCO?

AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. This organization sets the nutritional standards for pet foods sold in the United States. These standards are also recognized in Canada. The nutritional adequacy of pet foods is generally determined by one of two methods based on nutritional levels and procedures defined by AAFCO:

1) Formulation method. This method is less expensive and results are determined more quickly because actual feeding or digestibility trials are not required. There is no guarantee of pet acceptance or nutrient bioavailability when utilizing this method.

2) Feeding trial method. This method is known as the “gold standard” for determining nutritional adequacy. The manufacturer must perform an AAFCO protocol feeding trial using the food being tested as the sole source of nutrition. Feeding trials are the best way to document how a pet will perform when fed a specific food.

It is possible for any consumer to contact AAFCO to report a pet food label as misleading or incorrect.

Helpful Definitions

Many pet food companies use words like “natural,” “organic,” and “holistic” to describe their pet foods. What do those terms actually mean?


According to AAFCO, the term “natural” can be used to label a pet food that consists of only natural ingredients without chemical alterations/synthesis.


According to the USDA and AAFCO rules, the term “organic” may only be applied to pet food that meet certain regulations. When the term “organic” is used, the following categories and regulations apply:

“100% organic”: may carry the USDA organic seal

“Organic”: at least 95% of content is organic by weight; may carry the USDA organic seal.

“Made with organic ingredients”: at least 70% of content is organic, and the front product label may display the phrase “made with organic” followed by up to three specific ingredients. Is not permitted to display the USDA organic seal.

“Less than 70% organic”: ingredient list on product may include items that are organic, but no mention of organic may be made on the main product label. Is not permitted to display the USDA organic seal.

For more information, consult


There is no legal definition of the term under laws devoted to pet foods. Any manufacturer can make claims of “holistic” in literature and brochures regardless of ingredients chosen.

Raw Pet Foods

There is a lot of hype on the internet about raw or uncooked pet food diets. Currently there are no scientific papers that support a raw/uncooked pet food diet as any better for your pet than a commercially prepared diet.

Concerns with raw food diets:

There is no scientific data to support some beliefs commonly held by raw food supporters.

Some published recipes contain deficient and excessive levels of key nutritional factors such as protein, calcium and phosphorous for an adult dog or cat.

Food poisoning and bacterial contamination are obvious safety hazards not only for pets, but also for humans handling raw foods.

Pets eating a raw food diet are at an increased risk for intestinal obstruction and gastrointestinal problems.


Proper diet is as important for your pet’s health as it is for your own. We’re always happy to consult with you about the best food for your companion animal.

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