‘Complete and Balanced’ is the claim to fame for commercial pet food. But it turns out, the balanced nutrition claim to fame isn’t quite so balanced after all (all thanks to pet food regulations).
We’ve all seen the claim on pet food labels or in advertising…’XYZ Pet Food provides complete and balanced nutrition’. As example: Science Diet claims “precisely balanced” – some Purina pet foods contain the words Complete and Balanced in the actual product name. Before you learn what pet food regulations define complete and balanced as – and before you learn the truth about a ‘balanced’ pet food…what does the claim of ‘Complete and Balanced’ on a pet food label mean to you?
“The body is a very complex organic place where biochemical reactions are going on,” explains Dr. Kerri Marshall, chief veterinary officer at Trupanion. In fact, dogs and cats require more than 50 key nutrients — and each must be carefully balanced in your pet’s food.”
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) – those responsible for state laws defining complete and balanced pet food nutrition – provides the following definitions…
“Complete Feed: A nutritionally adequate feed for animals other than man; by specific formula is compounded to be fed as the sole ration and is capable of maintaining life and/or promoting production without any additional substance being consumed except water.”
(Note: AAFCO considers what all animals eat a ‘feed’. Even though pet ‘food’ is named food – many pet foods do not abide by ‘food’ regulations. Slippery slope – further explanation Click Here and Here)
“Balanced: A term that may be applied to a diet, ration, or feed having all known required nutrients in proper amount and proportion based upon recommendations of recognized authorities in the field of animal nutrition, such as the National Research Council, for a given set of physiological animal requirements.”
For the term ‘complete’ – “nutritionally adequate” is a bit concerning in the definition (most pet lovers are not looking for ‘adequate’ nutrition), however the term is easily understood that a ‘complete’ pet food provides all the nutrients the cat or dog requires.
And then we have the term ‘balanced’. A diet having all known required nutrients in the “proper amount”. There’s the claim to fame…pet food having all known required nutrients in the proper amount. Sounds comforting doesn’t it? And especially that authorities in the field of animal nutrition (“such as the National Research Council”) recommended these specifically proportioned nutrients, certainly pet food consumers can feel comfortable their choice of balanced pet food is proper nutrition. Right?
A food for adult dogs is required by regulations to contain a minimum of 18% protein (quality of protein aside). But there is no regulation that establishes a maximum level of protein allowed in the dog food. Any level of protein between 18% and ?% would be the “proper amount and proportion” of protein – or ‘balanced’ nutrition for an adult dog according to pet food regulations.
A food for adult cats is required by regulations to contain a minimum of 9% fat. Again, there is no regulation that establishes a maximum level of fat allowed in the cat food. Any level of fat between 9% and ?% would be the “proper amount and proportion” of fat – or ‘balanced’ nutrition for an adult cat according to pet food regulations.
With just two nutrients – protein and fat – it turns out that there is no “proper amount and proportion”. As it turns out – with protein and fat – anywhere between the minimum and ? is the “proper amount and proportion” to feed our pets.
And there’s more…
How can a cat food or dog food with the minimum amounts of nutrients or the maximum amount of nutrients or anywhere in between all be the “proper amount” to feed our pets?
The ‘balance’ – the proper amount of nutrients – this is a significant claim of commercial pet food. The ‘proper amount’ of nutrients is what frightens many consumers away from home prepared pet food or even providing their pets some table food. What if I give too much of a nutrient? Or what if I give too little of another?
One more twist. The nutrient amounts are even allowed to be anywhere between minimum and maximum (if there is one) with each batch of pet food. One bag or can of pet food batch might contain the minimum requirement of nutrients…
And in the very next batch, that same variety of pet food might contain the maximum…
Regulations provide manufacturers the opportunity to provide nutrients in drastically different amounts, even in the same variety of food (different batches) – and all are considered ‘Balanced’.
And by the way – the “proper amount and proportion” of each nutrient “based upon recommendations of recognized authorities in the field of animal nutrition, such as the National Research Council” – the NRC does NOT recommend such a broad variety of levels of pet food nutrients as AAFCO based pet food regulations do. The decision to allow such a broad variety was a decision made by AAFCO (certainly influenced by Big Pet Food however).
Pet food labels should provide nutrient information in the exact manner human food labels do – with actual nutrient content (not minimum or maximum or somewhere in between). Pet food regulations should have required maximums for many (if not most) of the required nutrients. Claims of ‘Complete and Balanced’ have little meaning if regulations allow an almost unlimited amount of nutrients in each bag or can of pet food.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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Susan’s List of trusted pet foods. Click Here
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