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Pet food labels could be misleading

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - What do pet food labels really mean? How do you know what's really best for your best friend?
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - When you shop for pet food you see all sorts of eye catching claims.

Terms like all natural or ultra premium.

What do they really mean? How do you know what's really best for your best friend?

ABC 4 News wanted to find out by investigating pet food labels.

One after the other Ilana Jacquelinie tried different brands for her dog by researching ingredients and scouring labels to finally find one that didn't upset his stomach.

“It was very frustrating at times trying to figure out what the claims were actually trying to say,” said Jacquelinie.

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

“There are a lot of buzz words out there right now that pet food companies are putting on their labels because its what hot in the market,” said Veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson.

"Organic" is one of those buzz words. The FDA says there are "no official rules governing the labeling of organic foods for pets". And the same goes for the USDA.

What about claims like, “holistic", "premium", "super premium", and "ultra premium”?

Dog foods are "not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients."

“Those are defined really by the marketplace,” said Pet Food Institute President Duane Ekedahl.

But the pet food institute says manufacturers do comply with current laws and keep an eye on standards.

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

Veterinarian Katy Nelson says terms like "natural” may be more about marketing.

We found no FDA definition for the term, but there are industry guidelines. There should not be artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

“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,” said Nelson.

Some phrases are defined by law. Look for claims that say "complete and balanced."

A company must prove its pet food contains all the nutrients necessary for a healthy dog or cat, but it's up to pet owners to know the difference in wording.

“They know the coats. They know the energy level. They know how much the cat or dog likes the food,” said Nelson.
Ilana says doing all the research to make her dog happy was confusing at times but well worth it.

“My dog is very happy and healthy now that he's on the right food,” said Jacquelinie.

The USDA says its working very hard to come up with rules and regulations to define organic pet food.

But, 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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