Bone up on the terms and trends you see touted on packages.
If you're watching what your pet eats more closely than ever, you're a typical pet parent. Natural pet products now top $8 billion in annual sales, according to the market research firm Packaged Facts, and account for nearly a quarter of the $33 billion pet food market. Here's the lowdown on labeling terms to help you shop smarter.
Natural vs. Organic
Much of the interest in natural and organic pet food is driven by the perception that it's safer. But the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates all pet food ingredients for safety, notes there's no official definition of "natural" as it applies to pet food.
Organic pet food, however, adheres to the same USDA National Organic Program standards as human food: For pet food to be certified organic with the USDA organic seal, it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
Here's how to check to make sure your pet is safe.
"Human-grade" is another marketing term meant to convey quality and safety. But that, too, has no legal definition. Human "edible," however, is regulated by the USDA as fit for human consumption, from how it's processed and manufactured to inspection, and few pet food companies met that strict definition. And as the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which sets minimum nutrition standards for pet food, notes, "human-grade" doesn't automatically mean the food is nutritionally sound for animals.
RELATED: How to Read a Pet Food Label
The push toward natural alternatives has led to pet food ingredients lists that often read like your own shopping list. Even if those ingredients aren't technically "human-grade," many foods that are good for people also benefit pets—in the right proportions. "You should be able to recognize the sources of meat, carbohydrates, and fat," says Leasa Greer, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs for Solid Gold Pet. For example, when it comes to protein, is it a recognizable sources of muscle meat?