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.”

ScienceDietBalanced

 

And they all brag about it…

NaturallBalanceBalanced

 

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.

myplate_greenFor 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% proteinAnd 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…

Cat Food

  • 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.

Dog Food

  • 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…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 27% to 38%

SeniorCatFoodProtein

[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 9% to 21%

SeniorCatFoodFat

[/col]
[col col=4]And calories per cup varied from 317 to 510

SeniorCatCalories1

[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]27% protein is balanced nutrition for senior cats; but 38% protein is balanced nutrition too.[/col]
[col col=4]9% fat is balanced nutrition for senior cats; but 21% fat is balanced nutrition too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 317 calories for senior cats; but 510 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

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…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 18% to 38%.

DogFoodSeniorProtein[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 7% to 15%.

SeniorDogFat1[/col]
[col col=4]And calories per cup varied from 230 to 445.

SeniorDogCalories1[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]18% protein is complete and balanced nutrition for senior dogs; but 38 % protein is complete and balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]7% fat is complete and balanced nutrition for senior dogs; but 15% fat is complete and balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Complete and balanced nutrition is provided by 230 calories for senior dogs; but 445 calories also provides complete and balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

Which food really does have precisely balanced nutrition for a senior dog?

 

Kitten Foods…

Click Here to View list of Kitten Foods compared.

26 Complete and Balanced Kitten Foods were compared – we find…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 34% to 41%

KittenProtein1[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 16% to 25%

KittenFat[/col]
[col col=4]And calories per cup varied from 370 to 553

KittenCalories1[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]34% protein is balanced nutrition for kittens; but 41 % protein is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]16% fat is balanced nutrition for kittens; but 25% fat is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 370 calories for kittens; but 553 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

Puppy Foods…

Click Here to view list of Puppy Foods compared.

41 Complete and Balanced Puppy Foods were compared – we find…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 25% to 38%.

PuppyProtein[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 11% to 21%.

PuppyFat[/col]
[col col=4]And calories per cup varied from 305 to 570.

PuppyCalories[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]25% protein is balanced nutrition for puppies; but 38 % protein is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]11% fat is balanced nutrition for puppies; but 21% fat is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 305 calories for puppies; but 570 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

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…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 27% to 50%.

CatLiteProtein[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 9% to 15%.

CatLiteFat1[/col]
[col col=4]And Calories per Cup varied from 302 to 481.

CatLiteCalories1[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]27% protein is balanced nutrition for lite/weight management cat food; but 50% protein is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]9% fat is balanced nutrition for lite/weight management cat food; but 15% fat is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 302 calories for lite/weight management cat food; but 445 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

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…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 18% to 52%.

DogLiteProtein[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 6% to 15%.

DogLiteFat[/col]
[col col=4]Calories per cup varied from 245 to 450.

DogLiteCalories[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]18% protein is balanced nutrition for lite/weight management dog food; but 52% protein is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]6% fat is balanced nutrition for lite/weight management dog food; but 15% fat is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 245 calories for lite/weight management dog food; but 440 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

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…

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 27% to 50%.

CatProtein[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 11% to 24%.

CatFat[/col]
[col col=4]Calories per cup varied from 333 to 602.

CatCalories[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]27% protein is balanced nutrition for adult cat food; but 50% protein is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]11% fat is balanced nutrition for adult cat food; but 24% fat is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 333 calories for lite/weight management cat food; but 602 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

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…

 

[row]
[col col=4]Protein percentage varied from 19% to 42%.

DogProtein[/col]
[col col=4]Fat percentage varied from 7% to 22%.

DogFat1[/col]
[col col=4]And calories per cup varied from 334 to 599.

DogCalories[/col]
[/row]

[row]
[col col=4]19% protein is balanced nutrition for adult dog food; but 42% protein is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]7% fat is balanced nutrition for adult dog food; but 22% fat is balanced too.[/col]
[col col=4]Balanced nutrition is provided by 334 calories for adult dog food; but 599 calories also provides balanced nutrition.[/col]
[/row]

 

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?

 

[row]
[col col=6]How can this be balanced nutrition for an adult cat?

CatPlatelow[/col]
[col col=6]And this can be balanced nutrition for the same adult cat too?

CatPlatehigh[/col]
[/row]

 

[row]
[col col=6]How can this be balanced nutrition for an adult dog?

DogPlatelow[/col]
[col col=6]And this provide balanced nutrition for that same adult dog?

DogPlatehigh[/col]
[/row]

 

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.

 

It’s inexcusable.

 

 

Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
TruthaboutPetFood.com
Association for Truth in Pet Food

What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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