Jan. 29, 2010 -- Confusing information on pet food labels may make it hard
for pet owners to find the right diet food for their overweight dogs and cats.
A new study shows the calorie counts of 44 commercial diet dog foods varied
from 217 to 440 calories per cup; the recommended serving size varied from
three-fourths to nearly one-and-a-half times as much as the average dog needs
to meet daily energy requirements. Similar results were found in 49 diet cat
Researchers say most pets would not lose weight and may actually gain
weight based on following the feeding instructions on most diet dog or cat
"There is so much information -- and misinformation -- about pet foods, it's
understandable that people are confused about what to feed their dogs and
cats," says researcher Lisa Freeman, DVM, professor of nutrition at Tufts
University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in a news release. "To
counteract these myths, people are accustomed to turning to the labels on food
-- but, as this study shows, packaging might not always be a reliable source of
Researchers say obesity is one of the most common health problems among dogs
and cats, contributing to a variety of diseases, such as pancreatitis, osteoarthritis, diabetes,
respiratory disease, and a potentially shorter life span. An estimated 22%-44%
of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight and obese.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical
Association, evaluated nearly 100 commercially available pet foods that
claimed to help dogs and cats with weight management.
The results showed that diet pet foods varied widely in nutritional value
and in price -- from 4 cents to more than $1.10 per calorie.
Researchers also found a twofold variation in the calorie content and
recommended serving size among diet dog and cat foods.
Among their findings:
Calorie density among the 44 diet dog foods tested ranged from 217 to 440
calories per cup for dry foods and 189 to 398 per can for canned dog
Calorie content for diet cat foods varied from 235 to 480 calories per cup
for dry foods and 78 to 172 calories per can for canned cat foods.
Recommended serving size for weight loss in dogs and cats ranged from
two-thirds to more than one-and-a-half times the animal's resting energy needs.
Eating less than daily resting energy needs is necessary for weight loss for
both humans and pets.
According to federal guidelines, pet foods labeled "lite," "light," "low
calorie," "less calorie," or "low calorie" must provide the calorie content
information on the label.
These pet foods also must adhere to a maximum calorie amount for weight
restriction. But the researchers found more than half of the foods evaluated in
the study exceeded this maximum.
Researchers say pet foods that do not make weight management claims are not
required to put calorie content information on the label, but efforts are under
way to make this information required on all pet foods.
In the meantime, researchers recommend consulting the pet food manufacturer
for nutritional information if it does not appear on the label and adjusting
the labels' feeding instructions according to the individual pet's calorie
requirements. Pet owners can consult with their veterinarian for help in
calculating their pet's caloric needs.