Reading a pet food label isn't rocket science, but it can include a unique mix of science and marketing.
"The pet food industry can get away with a lot of stuff," said Megan Gill, territory manager for Hill's Pet Nutrition. "We're not very well regulated at this point."
And there's more at stake than one might think in reading those labels properly. The health of the animal is impacted by the food they eat, but pet food is also big business.
In 2008, Americans spent more than $17 billion on food and treats for their dogs and cats, according to Euromonitor International, a market research company.
Gill showed some of the ins and outs of properly reading a pet food label to 15 guests in the mezzanine on Thursday evening, Feb. 12, at Creekside Books and Coffee in Skaneateles. The program was sponsored by Clear Lakes Animal Wellness of Skaneateles.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials currently provides labeling guidelines for pet food. Pet food companies don't always make reading the labels easy.
One method they use to make their product look better than it might actually be is called splitting the ingredients, Gill said. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Pet food manufacturers know that consumers like to see meat as the first ingredient so they may split a heavier ingredient into smaller components.
For instance, one product Gill showed listed four types of rice after what then became the heaviest ingredient, lamb.
"They split it up into different forms so they can push that meat first," she said. "So that's something to just be aware of and look closely for."
Gill also noted that ingredients are weighed when they are wet. That doesn't necessarily indicate it is the largest amount of ingredient in the product. It is just heavier when measured.