|All About Function|
Making a complete and balanced pet food that provides all the nutrition needed by a cat or dog is a complex task. Veterinarians have identified between 42 and 48 essential nutrients for cats and dogs. Ensuring that a pet food product provides the required nutrition means that three to four dozen ingredients regularly are used. Adding to the complexity of ingredients is the formal process by which these materials are defined.
For 100 years, ingredients used in animal feed, which includes pet food, have been defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO has developed very specific ingredient definitions that pet food companies must use on their product labels. In addition to describing the source of an ingredient (e.g. beef), often these definitions describe how the ingredient was processed (e.g., boneless, ground or pasteurized).
Pet food makers must use the AAFCO ingredient name on product labels. The result is consistent ingredient labeling requirements across the country and in many cases, the world. It is because of the AAFCO ingredient definition process that the pet food ingredient list includes components names like wheat gluten, poultry by-product meal and sodium selenite.
Pet food ingredients – including those with funny sounding names – all serve at least one specific function in a product whether it be adding nutrients, providing texture, causing the food to hold its shape, preserving freshness, or performing in another capacity. Many ingredients serve multiple functions.
For example, wheat gluten is a relatively expensive ingredient that acts as a binder in pet food products, much like the bread crumbs in meatloaf. Without wheat gluten, canned products that contain slices, chunks or flakes would not hold their shape. Wheat gluten provides the added benefit of being a source of quality, highly-digestible protein.
Ingredients with funny, chemical-sounding names are sources of vitamins, minerals or essential amino acids. Many vitamins, minerals and amino acids are difficult for the body to process in their pure form, so they must be included in food as a compound. Some essential nutrients, like potassium are even deadly in their pure form.
The reason labels list sources of vitamins and minerals in this way goes back to the AAFCO ingredient definition process. AAFCO regulations require that true chemical names be listed on labels.