What do all those claims on pet food really mean

(WXYZ) - When you shop for pet food you see all sorts of eye catching claims that make you want to pick one product over another, but what do the terms like natural or ultra premium really mean? And do you know what's really best for your best friend?

We found that when it comes to pet food, while the FDA and USDA regulate certain terms on the bag, not all claims are regulated or even clearly defines.

"There are a lot of buzz words out there right now that pet food companies are putting on their labels because it's what's hot on the market," says Veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson.

"Organic" is one of those buzz words. The FDA says there are "no officials rules governing the labeling of organic foods for pets."

Same goes for the USDA, though this agency will certify a pet product if it meets current organic standards for humans. Don't go looking for the definition of "holistic" either. What about claims like "premium," "super premium' and "ultra premium?" These foods are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients.

"Those are defined really by the marketplace," says Duane Ekedahl, the Pet Food Institute President.

The Pet Food Institute says manufacturers comply with current laws and keep an eye on standards set by other agencies and organizations.

"As we learn more about the nutrition requirements of cats and dogs and as new ingredients evolve, the profiles are revised."

But Veterinarian Katy Nelson says a lot of the terms may be more about marketing. Like the phrase "natural"? We found no FDA definition for the term, but there are industry guidelines set up for the pet food companies to follow. There should not be artifical flavors, colors or preservatives. However...

"You can still be using by-products. You can still be using all sorts of things that might not be the best quality, but they're still natural, so you can put natural on your pet food label.

What to look for

Look for claims that say "complete and balanced." That's actually defined by law and a company must prove its pet food contains all the nutrients necessary for a healthy dog or cat.

The USDA says it's working very hard to come up with rules and regulations to define criteria for organic pet food. If you have specific questions about a pet food, experts say call the pet food company and ask them... or ask your vet.

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