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My Pet World: How to select quality pet food that your pet likes and fits your budget

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

I have two cats that are four years old. I recently had them in for what I thought was going to be a simple (teeth) cleaning, but both had several extractions, the result of genetic issues. As I am on disability that was a heavy bill to pay. When I tried the food additives and kibble changes they recommended to help their teeth, my cats would not eat them. I am feeding Iams right now. An infomercial made me question if I should give them something else if I can afford it. Can you offer me any guidance? If I cannot help their teeth, I would like to try something to help their overall health for kidney and diabetes issues, which past cats have had.

— Jenn, Batavia, Illinois

Dear Jenn,

The first thing to look for on the pet food product is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement and label that indicates the food has “complete and balanced nutrition” and is appropriate for the stages of life for which the food is intended, whether that be gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance, senior, or for all stages of life. Iams is a good quality pet food that falls under these guidelines.

On the label, all ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. Meat may not be the first ingredient, but should be in the top four. Ingredients with chemical-sounding names may be vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, so look up any words you don’t know.


AAFCO has standards for how pet food companies can claim the meat in their products. AAFCO’s 95% percent rule applies to the total weight of the meat ingredients when compared to the other ingredients. For example, the meat in a “Chicken and Lamb” diet must total 95% of the total weight. The ingredients also must be listed in order of predominance. So, the product can’t be listed as “Lamb and Chicken,” if there is more chicken than lamb in the product.

Pet food manufacturers can also add descriptive words like “platter,” “dinner,” "entrée,” “nuggets,” and “formula” to the name. Foods with these names must follow AAFCO’s 3% rule, which says “Beef and Liver Dinner” must be at least 25% of those ingredients with the second ingredient being at least 3% of the combined total. So, there might be 22% beef and 3% liver in a “Beef and Liver Dinner.”

AAFCO regulations also define the use of the term “with” when part of the product’s name. Any food that says “with real chicken” has only 3% chicken in its product. When you see the word “flavor” added to any meat, such as “Chicken Flavor,” no specific percentage of the meat is required to be in the food. In most cases, it is a meat by-product that lends only flavor to the product.

Your best bet is to find a quality pet food with the AAFCO label and with proteins that fall under the 95% or 3% rule. While there are pet foods for different health concerns, please talk to your vet before feeding these diets. Of course, the best cat food is the one that your cats love and you can afford, so don’t sweat this too much.


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