Commercial pet food’s claim to fame is/was ‘Complete and Balanced’. From the very beginning of commercial pet food pet owners were warned – ‘Don’t Feed Table Scraps or People Food – it’s not complete and balanced’. Just how ‘Complete and Balanced’ is pet food?
It’s supposedly an important thing…”100% Precisely Balanced Nutrition.”
And they all brag about it…
But how complete is complete? And how balanced is balanced?
Complete is defined as: having all the necessary or appropriate parts. Balanced is defined as: arranged in good proportions.
For humans, a balanced diet means eating a variety of foods in proper portions as described by the MyPlate.gov image (right). Though we humans are capable of properly filling our own plate, we somehow are not capable of properly filling our pets plate. We are told commercial pet food is the only way to make certain a pet consumes the proper amount of nutrition.
Further, pet food is advertized to provide the specialized nutrition our pets need. They – pet food manufacturers – offer us kitten/puppy foods, weight loss foods, and senior pet foods as well as regular adult pet foods. We are ‘sold’ through advertising that general pet foods and specialty pet foods (kitten/puppy, senior, weight loss) are all – as stated in the Science Diet claim above – 100% precisely balanced nutrition specific to the need of our pet.
Consumers are told by most authorities to only purchase a pet food that provides Complete and Balanced nutrition. You’ve probably seen the statement on your pet food label “This product meets the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles”.
To meet that ‘Complete and Balanced’ claim, AAFCO has established nutrient requirements for cat foods and dog foods. With most of the nutritional requirements established by AAFCO, there are only minimums – no maximum nutrient levels are established as law. Example – an adult cat food must contain a minimum of 26% protein — there is no legally established maximum level for protein in the cat food. Thus an adult cat food could contain 26% protein or it could contain 50% protein. And both of these foods would be provided the same claim – ‘Complete and Balanced’ – even though the nutritional content of these pet foods varies dramatically.
There are only a small handful of pet food nutrients that have a legal maximum – thus with most having no maximum you can just imagine how varied all of our ‘Complete and Balanced’ pet foods actually are. Let’s look at how varied our ‘Complete and Balanced’ pet foods are.
First, the AAFCO established regulations. Regulation requirements for protein and fat in pet foods are…
- Adult Maintenance Cat Food must contain a minimum of 26% protein, 9% fat. There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
- Kitten Food must contain a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat. There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
- Senior Cat Food has the same requirements as Adult Maintenance. There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
- Adult Maintenance Dog Food must contain a minimum of 18% protein, 5% fat. There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
- Puppy Food must contain a minimum of 22% protein, 8% fat. There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
- Senior Dog Food has the same requirements as Adult Maintenance. There is NO maximum for protein or fat.
Knowing what the regulations are, now let’s compare various pet food ingredients, protein percentage, fat percentage and calorie content. For comparison purposes – no consideration will be given to quality of ingredients. We are only going to compare the ingredients in the pet food (first five ingredients) and the protein percentage, fat percentage and calories per cup. Again for comparison purposes, most foods chosen were chicken variety. All pet foods compared are kibble.
Let’s start by looking at some Senior Cat Foods…
Senior Cat Food
|Brand/Variety||First Five Ingredients||
Protein – Fat – Calories
|Artemis Senior||Chicken, chicken meal, barley, fish meal, rice||
28 – 14 – 317
|Blue Buffalo Wilderness Mature||Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal potato starch, peas||
38 – 14 – 373
|Fromm Mature Gold||
Duck, chicken meal, pearled barley, rice, potato
30 – 10 – 422
|Innova Senior||Turkey, chicken, chicken meal, whole grain barley, whole grain brown rice||
38 – 12 – 446
|Merrick Healthy Bistro Senior||Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, dried potato, peas||
38 – 12 – 353
|Nutram Senior||Chicken meal, ground rice, whole ground corn, corn gluten meal, chicken fat||
28 – 16 – 450
|NutriSource Senior/Wt Mgt||Chicken meal, brown rice, barley, oatmeal, pea flour||
27 – 9 – 359
|Nutro Natural Choice Senior||Chicken, chicken meal, pea protein, whole brown rice, chicken fat||
36 – 17 – 392
|Petcurean Now GF Senior||Deboned turkey, potato flour, peas, pea fibre, whole dried egg||
30 – 14 – 393
|Precise Senior||Chicken meal, ground brown rice, oat groats, chicken fat, beet pulp||
28 – 10 – 406
|Purina One Smartblend Maturity||Chicken, brewers rice, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal||
36 – 13 – ?
|Science Diet Senior||Chicken, whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, brewers rice, pork fat||
33 – 21 – 510
On the surface, they all look fairly similar. All have a chicken or chicken meal ingredient, most have a grain. But…in these twelve Senior Cat Foods – all providing senior cats ‘Complete and Balanced’ nutrition we find…
How can specialized nutrition specific to senior cats have so much variation? Is 28% protein, 14% fat and 317 calories per cup precisely balanced nutrition or is 38% protein, 12% fat and 446 calories per cup precisely balanced nutrition for senior cats?
Comparing 16 Senior Dog Foods…
|Senior Dog Foods|
|Brand/Variety||First Five Ingredients||
Protein – Fat – Calories
|Biljac Senior||Chicken by-products, corn meal, chicken, oatmeal, dried beet pulp||
20 – 12 – ?
|Blue Buffalo Senior||Deboned turkey, whole ground brown rice, turkey meal, potatoes, peas||
20 – 10 – 342
|California Natural Chicken Senior||Chicken meal, brown rice, rice, chicken fat, herring oil||
24 – 8 – 354
|Drs Foster Smith Senior||Chicken, chicken meal, whole brown rice, barley, brewers rice||
21 – 10 – 360
|Eagle Pack Senior||Chicken meal, ground brown rice, ground yellow corn, oatmeal, chicken fat||
26 – 12 – 362
|Evolve Senior/Lite||Chicken, rice, rice flour, chicken meal, dried beet pulp||
18 – 7 – ?
|Flint River Senior||Wheat flour, ground whole brown rice, ground whole white rice, chicken meal, oatmeal||
18 – 8 – 421
|Fromm Mature Adult||Chicken, chicken meal, pearled barley, brown rice, white rice||
21 – 11 – 388
|Kumpi Senior||Corn meal, chicken meal, dried beet pulp, chicken fat, rice flour||
20 – 8 – 382
|Lassie Senior||Ground rice, chicken meal, rice flour, rice bran, dried beet pulp||
20 – 10 – ?
|Loyall Senior||Chicken by-product meal, oat groats, brewers rice, ground whole barley, ground whole corn||
25 – 10 – 230
|Merrick Senior Chicken||Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, brown rice, peas||
30 – 11 – 340
|Nutram Senior||Chicken meal, ground rice, oatmeal, whole ground corn, fresh chicken||
24 – 12 – 400
|Orijen Senior||Boneless chicken, chicken meal, chicken liver, whole herring, turkey meal||
38 – 15 – 445
|Petcurean Go Senior||Chicken meal, turkey meal, salmon meal, de-boned chicken, de-boned turkey||
32 – 14 – 394
|Purina One Smartblend Maturity||Chicken, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, soybean meal||
28 – 12 – 363
Again, on the surface most of these senior dog foods look similar. Most of them contain chicken or chicken meal as the first ingredient, most have grains. But…in these Senior Dog Foods – all providing senior dogs ‘Complete and Balanced’ nutrition we find…
Which food really does have precisely balanced nutrition for a senior dog?
Click Here to View list of Kitten Foods compared.
26 Complete and Balanced Kitten Foods were compared – we find…
Click Here to view list of Puppy Foods compared.
41 Complete and Balanced Puppy Foods were compared – we find…
Now let’s compare Lite, Light, Weight Management Cat Foods…
Click Here to view full list of cat foods compared.
16 Complete and Balanced Lite, Light, Weight Management or Weight Loss Cat foods were compared. We found…
Lite, Light, Weight Management Dog Foods…
Click Here to view full list of dog foods compared.
28 Complete and Balanced Lite, Light, Weight Management or Weight Loss Dog Foods were compared. We found…
Adult Cat Foods…
Click Here to view full list of cat foods reviewed.
71 Complete and Balanced Adult Maintenance Cat Foods were compared, we find…
Look at these two Complete and Balanced Adult Cat Food options…
|Loyall||Chicken by-product meal, brewers rice, ground whole corn, wheat flour, corn gluten meal||
30 – 15 – 363
|Evo||Turkey, chicken meal, chicken, herring, chicken fat||
50 – 22 – 602
Could two cat foods be more different? The Loyall Adult Cat Food contains a by-product and four grain ingredients within the first five ingredients. The Evo Adult Cat Food contains four animal protein ingredients of the first five. Protein, Fat and Calories in the Evo Cat Food are almost double that of the Loyall.
But…both foods provide adult cats the same “Complete and Balanced Nutrition”.
Lastly Adult Maintenance Dog Foods…
Click Here to view the full list of dog foods compared.
71 Complete and Balanced Adult Dog Foods were compared, we find that…
Compare these two Adult Maintenance Complete and Balanced Dog Foods…
|Pedigree||Ground whole corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat, soybean meal||
21 – 10 – 335
|Orijen||Boneless chicken, chicken meal, chicken liver, whole herring, boneless turkey||
38 – 18 – 478
Again…it has to be asked…could two kibble dog foods be more different? How can both of these foods tout the very same claim? 100% Complete and Balanced Nutrition?
And one more thing…all of the stated protein and fat percentages listed above (and on all labels)…pet food is only required to tell us minimums. Which means each of the above dramatic differences in nutritional content could be even more dramatic if we were told the actual protein and fat content of the pet food we are buying.
The New York Times defines ‘a balanced diet’ as: “A balanced diet means getting the right types and amounts of foods and drinks to supply nutrition and energy for maintaining body cells, tissues, and organs, and for supporting normal growth and development.”
For our pets, regulations define a balanced diet as…
- only possible from a commercial pet food;
- in nutritional amounts anywhere from here to eternity.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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