Understanding Pet Food Ingredients

The ingredients in pet food can be so confusing. AAFCO, which stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials establishes guidelines for production, package labeling and sale of pet foods. AAFCO has two standards and the pet food labels state which of the two standards they’ve met. One standard states that a particular pet food is formulated to meet nutritional levels established by the AAFCO profiles. This basically means the food was tested in laboratory conditions to ensure it has the appropriate amounts of protein and nutrients. The other standard is based on animal feeding trials using procedures established by AAFO.

AAFCO’s purpose as described on their website:

“The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. Purpose and Function of AAFCO: Although AAFCO has no regulatory authority, the Association provides a forum for the membership and industry representation to achieve three main goals:

  • Ensure consumer protection
  • Safeguarding the health of animals and humans
  • Providing a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry.

These goals are achieved by developing and implementing uniform and equitable laws, regulations, standards, definitions and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacture, distribution and sale of animal feeds – resulting in safe, effective and useful feeds by promoting uniformity amongst member agencies.”


If you’re confused about the ingredients listed on the label of your pet’s food, here’s a list of some of the common ones with their definitions. Some of the definitions below are from AAFCO:

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Meat: Cleaned flesh of animals slaughtered for the purpose of animal food production, such as cattle, chicken, lamb, turkey, etc. The flesh can include muscle, heart, tongue, esophagus, nerves, blood vessels, fat.

Meat By-Products: The clean parts of animals that don’t include flesh. These parts include liver, bone, kidneys, lungs, spleen, stomach and intestines (cleaned of contents), brain, blood, heart. Parts that aren’t allowed to be included are hair, teeth, hooves and horns.

Fish Meal: Clean, ground undecomposed whole fish or pieces of fish. Fish oil may or may not be included.

Photo: Fotolia

Poultry By-Products: Parts can include heart, kidneys, intestines (cleaned of contents), heads, feet. Feathers can’t be included.

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