Pet Food: Are you getting what you paid for?

Marketing labels like Natural, Organic may not mean what you think

By Allison McGinley - News Director, Matt Austin - Anchor

MAITLAND, Fla. - All natural. Organic. Holistic.  The words sound good, but do you really know what you're feeding your furry friends?

When you shop for pet food you see all sorts of eye catching claims that make you want to pick one product over another, but you may be spending more and getting less quality than you're expecting.

The Food and Drug Administration and the USDA regulate certain terms on the bag or can of pet food, but not all claims are regulated or even clearly defined.
Ilana Jacqueline knows first-hand just how confusing it can be to find the right food for your pet.

Jacqueline tried ten different dog foods for her dog, Happy.

She researched ingredients and scoured labels before she finally found one that didn't upset his stomach.

"It was very frustrating at times trying to figure out what the claims were actually trying to say," said Jacqueline.

"Organic" is one of those popular buzz words right now.

And while the USDA will certify a pet product if it meets current organic standards for humans, the FDA says there are "no official rules governing the labeling of organic foods for pets".

Dr. Kristin Haynes of Affiliated Veterinary Specialists says pet owners really need to look past words like "organic" and "holistic."

"There are a lot of marketing techniques developed to catch a consumers eye. With the term, ‘holistic' there is not a consensus as far as what that means," said Haynes.

Even more common terms like "premium" "super premium" and "ultra" are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients.

And don't be fooled by a bag labeled "all natural."

"Natural just means that there's been no chemicals added to the diet to make the diet what it is, that doesn't mean that it hasn't been mashed up or processed in some physical manner," said Haynes.

So what's a pet owner to do?

Industry guidelines maintain there should be no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Other key words to look for on a label "complete and balanced."

Perhaps the best advice is to ask your vet for help in choosing a proper diet.

Your vet is probably the person who has the most knowledge about your pet and about their individual medical need," said Haynes.

Jacqueline says the research was confusing, but in the end she finding the best food for Happy has made her happy.

"My dog is very happy and healthy now that he's on the right food," said Jacqueline.

The USDA says it's working very hard to come up with rules and regulations to define criteria for organic pet food.

If you have specific questions about a pet food, experts say call the pet food company and ask them or ask your vet.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.