Because pet food isn’t heavily regulated, those flashy labels and cute commercials can have nothing to do with the actual quality of the food. Of course, the goal of these companies is to make money and the goal of marketing is to get you to buy. Here are 5 common misleading tactics pet food brands will use to get you to spend money on their product!
1.Credibility: statements like breeder recommended, veterinarian approved, and celebrity backing are used to get you to trust the brand because someone else, usually an authoritative figure, says that the food is good. But these figures usually have no nutritional training and these claims have no merit: there are no standards or regulations and leave consumers asking which breeders? Which veterinarians?
In 2018, Rachel Ray’s Nutrish faced a $5 million lawsuit due to deceptive advertising and false claims, Nutrish was labeled “Natural” but contained a toxic weed killer, glyphosate which Rachel Ray defended.
2.Emotional Appeal: includes pictures or commercials of happy, energetic animals and owners. It can be visually appealing, humorous, and make you feel good to buy the food or feel guilty for not buying the food. But remember that these things don’t speak for the quality of the food.
3.Imagery Appeal: pictures or commercials of restaurant quality cuts of meat and fresh whole veggies you would see as if they were at the grocery store. Or wolves hunting for food then transforming into a dog eating kibble in a bowl. There is no regulation on the quality of an ingredient in the food. The human food industry takes priority over the pet food industry, so in many cases, especially with larger pet food companies, the pet food industry gets the scraps, not the beautifully well-marbled ribeye that you could buy in a grocery store. And many times, the amount of meat is exaggerated compared to the amount of other ingredients with inflated protein values, leaving it up to the consumer to find the real numbers through calculation.
Blue Buffalo also faced many lawsuits for deceptive marketing, false claims, contaminated products, and more! One of these cases was the largest in the pet food industry with a settlement of $32 million.
4.Labelling Claims: terms like “holistic, gourmet, human grade, organic, grain-free, high quality, ancestral, nature” have no regulated definition in the pet food industry. AAFCO has defined a few of these terms but AAFCO is not a regulating body, it cannot enforce or inspect anything. And although some of these terms are defined, they can be misleading. For example:
According to their definition almost every ingredient is natural except synthetic vitamins, minerals, preservatives, and artificial flavors or colors. But natural ingredients can undergo any manufacturing process, such as extruded at temperatures over 600 degrees (how kibble is made) and still be natural although it doesn’t speak for the quality, digestibility, or safety. By definition, chocolate, feces, and parasites are natural but I wouldn’t want that in my dog’s food!
5.Health Claims: if the food isn’t a prescription formula (use only as directed by your veterinarian) then any drug, nutrient, and health claims hold no weight. For example, phrases like “with added DHA for brain development”, “added antioxidants”, and “for healthy joints” do not require proof. You’ll find many pet foods will add these nutritional supplements, but in extremely small or non-therapeutic amounts.
Now that you’ve learned how to detect their persuasive schemes, how can you tell if a commercial pet food is good quality? If you plan to purchase a premade food, learning how to read ingredient labels can help clarify some things such as reading past the “Meat as 1st ingredient” claim and seeing 10 types of carbohydrates listed after. Or a “39% protein” claim and seeing pea and potato protein on the bag inflating the numbers! Unfortunately, there is still little regulation in the pet food industry and AAFCO doesn’t give pet owners a way to measure quality and amount of an ingredient. To determine these things, support pet food companies that are transparent in their sourcing, manufacturing, and are open to communicating such as Open Farm, a high quality kibble focused on animal welfare and responsible sourcing where you can trace every single ingredient in your bag of food. In the end, being able to make your dog’s food is a great way to overcome these challenges because you know exactly what is going in your dog’s bowl.