Pet owners want their pets to lead healthy lives, but it's difficult to obtain information about the nutritional value of different pet foods or on the environmental and social reputations of different pet food brands. Transparency about ingredients, ingredient sources, and processing methods beyond the minimum of what is legally required is generally difficult to come by in the pet food industry. Many different brands use the same ingredient providers and manufacture products at the same processing facilities. Pet food ingredients are combined to achieve specific nutritional benchmarks, so consumers can assume that most products on the market meet a basic standard for nutritional adequacy. While pet goods attempt to differentiate themselves with various marketing claims about their ingredients, there is considerable scientific debate about the importance that should be assigned to specific ingredients compared to the overall nutritional profile of a pet food. We know a lot more about what contributes to a healthy diet and which ingredients to seek or avoid with human food compared to pet food.
Buying Guide: Avoid the Hype
Many marketing claims about pet food have little to do with nutritional quality. For example, there is no scientific basis to differentiate between “synthetic” vs. “natural” preservatives for health reasons. Similarly, while “organic” conveys something useful about how some ingredients in a product were grow grown, it is not a certification that was intended to apply to pet foods, and need not mean that all components of a product were produced according to organic standards.
Remember that pet food advertising is designed to attract human purchasers. Just because an ingredient seems less appetizing to a person doesn't mean that it doesn't provide valuable nutrients for a pet — in a way that can be both bioavailable and tasty. The pet food industry often relies on by-products and wastes generated from making human food.
The words “complete and balanced” or “100% nutritious” indicate only that the product can be used as the sole source of nutrition. Products that don't use this language should be used only as supplements, such as treats.
How GoodGuide Rates Pet Foods
GoodGuide's Health ratings for pet food products are based on four attributes:
the nutritional adequacy of the food, as demonstrated by feeding trials or formulation testing,
caloric content disclosure,
life stage specificity, and
an assessment of whether product ingredients are desirable in high quantities, desirable or less desirable.
Product-level data on environmental performance are generally unavailable for specific pet food products, so GoodGuide relies on company-level environmental scores to characterize the performance of a product on this dimension.
Product-level data on societal performance are generally unavailable for specific pet food products, so GoodGuide relies on company-level social scores to characterize the performance of a product on this dimension.