Watch Out for These Pet Food Marketing Terms

Pet Food Marketing Terms
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To shield customers from false advertising claims, there are “truth in advertising” regulations. But when it comes to marketing, there are frequently ambiguities. Cleverly written assertions can frequently be unclear or deceptive.

Pet food marketing terms are no different. So many pet food marketing claims on the packaging are false unless a dog food box has a verified certification on its label. Additionally, they frequently have no legal significance in terms of pet food regulation.

Here are a few examples of words used in pet food marketing to imply higher quality ingredients or foods.

Pet Food Marketing Terms Vs Ingredients

Would it surprise you to learn that food manufacturers spend more money on packaging and marketing than on actual food ingredients? To coin phrases like “gently handled,” “ethical sourcing,” “accents of fruits and vegetables,” or “farm-raised beef,” marketers are paid handsomely.

pet food marketing terms
Understanding Marketing Terms

Other terminology misrepresents the degree of processing in pet food. Other foods make claims that their products are what your dog would eat in the wild if it lived there. The phrase “unique nutritional and antioxidant bundle” is another one they may utilize. The diet may contain fruits and vegetables if that is the case, or it may just be a synthetic vitamin and mineral premix.

Here are some additional words used in the marketing of pet foods. that, in terms of pet food nutrition requirements, has no legal significance.

Unsubstantiated Pet Food Marketing Terms

Here’s a rundown of the terms and what they really mean. 

Holistic And Natural

The phrase “natural” often overused in the production of pet food. “Holistic” is next, closely followed.

As long as an ingredient hasn’t undergone a “chemically synthetic process,” AAFCO permits the use of the term “natural” to describe it. This includes ingredients that may have been “subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, or fermentation.” AAFCO further states that chemically synthesized additives and processing aids shouldn’t be included in natural foods “unless in proportions that arise inevitably in proper production processes.”

This could indicate that the product doesn’t contain artificial colors, preservatives like BHA or BHT, or chemicals like propylene glycol. However, artificial vitamins and minerals are permitted, even in purportedly natural meals. These foods are marketed by their manufacturers as “natural with additional vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients.”

Thus, the definition of “natural” is rather flexible. When it comes to the quality of the ingredients, it usually doesn’t imply what you think (or hope) it does.

Furthermore, the AAFCO lacks a definition of “holistic” for pet foods. Therefore, manufacturers are free to use the word however they see fit. Therefore, a “holistic” food can be made with any ingredients and refer to any kind of food, from minimally processed raw to highly processed kibble.

Cage-free and Free-range 

Manufacturers use these terms because they are aware that pet owners want to see happy, healthy animals that have been raised outdoors. But the reality is far different. They are listed to give you a sense of quality, which is probably not the case.

feeding raw dog food
Look for Cage-Free Chickens

These assertions are unsupportable. They are nothing to be excited about, even so. No fowl that is grown for meat is caged. Cage-free, however, does not equate to cruelty-free, nor does it imply being outside. There are no restrictions on flock size, so there may be 1,000, 100,000, or 500,000 inside. Cage-free does not imply that they have access to nature. Due to the close quarters, there is poorer air quality and increased hen-on-hen fighting. To reduce harm, their beaks are removed.

Chickens raised on a “free-range” farm do indeed have “constant, unrestricted access to the outdoors for a major portion of their life.”

Grass-Fed and Pasture-Raised

When an animal is grown in a pasture, it is out in the open while the sun is shining. But pasture-raised is not a practice that is governed. As with “natural,” being “pasture-raised” can be appropriated and exploited by anyone. Additionally, all ruminants, including lamb, venison, bison, and cattle, spend the majority of their lives on pasture.

Grass-fed refers to the diet of an animal (grass). Unless the meat is recognized by the American Grassfed Association, not all grass-fed cows are pasture-raised and graze outside. If the beef isn’t AMA certified, it’s merely marketing speak with no real legal significance.

Given that the designation “pasture-raised chicken” is unregulated, marketers will stamp it everywhere. Chickens that are “pastured” are kept indoors but have access to a yard. Yet there is no way to back it up.


A Certified Humane seal verifies that the animal ingredients in dog food were raised in an ethical manner. This certification covers a variety of topics, including the type of feed, outdoor access, shelter, herd size, individual animal space, sleep, transportation time, and slaughter. For every type of animal, including cattle, chickens, goats, pigs, and others, there is a certification process.

There are many levels of “humane” treatment, or not, depending on the certification.

Outdoor access or other needs are not prerequisites for all of the certifications for humanely raised animals. As a result, the definition of “humanely raised” is open to debate. Since certification requires a lengthy process, as demonstrated by the list above, the majority of dog food manufacturers will refer to their animals as having been “humanely raised.” Thus, it is frequently more marketing hype than actual reality.


Being reared ethically is just more marketing b.s. This phrase has no official definition in the law. There is no such certification process for animals that are raised ethically, in contrast to “humanely-raised” animals that are.

Marketers take advantage of your desire to stop animal cruelty. Unfortunately, factory farm animals that are conventionally raised will be designated as “ethically raised.” They continue to be raised in small spaces where tail docking and beak clipping are common practices. Because there is no certifying organization for the phrase, there are no regulations to follow.


It’s equivalent to declaring blueberries gluten-free or identifying meat or pork as hormone-free. or broccoli, is devoid of cholesterol. According to the FDA, hormone use is forbidden in pigs and poultry.

Therefore, it wasn’t there to begin with. This phrase must be included on the label if it indicates “no hormones added”: “US federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” However, both lambs and beef cattle are permitted to have hormones. When meat is sent for processing, hormones are removed from it. The USDA has a mandate for this. “No additional hormones or antibiotics” is the correct phrase to use when referring to an animal that has never received either of these medications.

Human-Grade And Claims Of Ingredient Quality

Many pet foods claim “human-grade” ingredients. But this term has no legal definition, and that’s why pet food manufacturers can use it. They have nothing to prove! There is only one pet food company that the FDA has approved using this term. This company maintains its ingredients in a human-edible condition from beginning to end. Others may claim human-grade ingredients because they came from a USDA meat packing plant, but that quickly degrades… usually once they leave the slaughterhouse in an unsterilized, unrefrigerated truck.

Meat Certifications

Third-party certifications that state that a meat ingredient is organic, sustainably raised, regionally raised on pasture-based farms, humanely raised, free-range, or Certified Humane are required. The label isn’t legitimate if there isn’t a certifying organization you can consult about it with. and it’s merely deceptive marketing.


Everyone’s mind is on sustainability. However, a lot of businesses only talk the talk. It means nothing until dog food producers can demonstrate that they are sourcing from companies that have gone to the trouble of acquiring sustainability certification. For businesses, this procedure is challenging.

The two industries with the greatest environmental impact are energy and agriculture, whose use and production have an impact on every link in the food chain. This means that there are many factors that affect sustainability, ranging from growth and harvest to manufacturing and processing, making it nearly impossible to verify that every aspect is sustainable.

Avoid purchasing things with a large carbon footprint if you want to maintain sustainability. Naturally, agriculture, fisheries, and livestock are at the top of the list. You can see how this makes it impossible for businesses to advertise sustainable goods.

Other Marketing Terms

Meat Is The First Ingredient

Meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) may be included as the first ingredient in a food product’s dry goods. The weight of each ingredient is indicated, therefore raw chicken weighs much more than dry grains. The chicken is then diluted to make a slurry that contains 90% water and 10% chicken.

feeding raw food
Focus on Real Ingredients

Chicken food, meal made from poultry byproducts, and meal made from meat and bones are listed last. Animal products are made into meals by removing the water and fat, leaving a dry, light protein powder.

Therefore, a large pile of this powder can be outweighed by a small amount of chicken with water. In actuality, the protein meal—rather than the chicken at the top of the list—is the foundation of the meal. This tactic is used by premium and “holistic” businesses as well as affordable foods.

Ingredient Splitting

Beef may be included as the first ingredient on a label. Then come meals with meat, different kinds of peas, maize, and oats. Ingredient splitting has recently been made available to you. This occurs when producers separate a subpar ingredient into two or more parts. Meat is kept artificially higher on the ingredient list.

Oatmeal, whole oats, and ground oats are all possible. All of them are oats! Likewise with peas, pea protein, and pea fiber. They move up the list and pass the meat when the totals are added together.

The Salt Divider

The majority of pet foods have a similar recipe, with less than 1% of the food being salt. Since only small amounts are required for things like vitamins and minerals, this is acceptable. Less than 1% of the food is represented by everything listed after salt. As a result, producers can include minuscule amounts of fruits and vegetables. To a vat of food, they can add a handful, or even less (! ), of blueberries, kale, or broccoli. This enables marketers to depict them in vibrant photography on the packaging, giving consumers the impression that the food contains a lot of healthy ingredients.

Additionally, you’ll want to be familiar with the various names for salt if you’re adept at spotting it on food labels. iodized salt or sodium chloride should be present, or it might be listed under “vitamins and minerals.” Sea salt, brine, sodium propionate, choline chloride, sodium nitrite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium erythorbate, sodium benzoate, or disodium EDTA are examples of names you may come across. 

USDA Inspected

This suggests that the product was produced using nutrients deemed safe for human consumption by the USDA. If a USDA facility uses shared equipment to make pet food, the facility is required to also employ human edible goods. They have undergone USDA inspection. If using uninspected goods, a different piece of equipment must be used to process the pet food. This is from a facility that has undergone USDA inspection, but the meat has not.

Premium And Super-Premium

There are no legal definitions for these phrases or others that imply a grade or level. “Goods labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher-quality ingredients, nor are they subject to any higher nutritional criteria than are any other complete and balanced products,” the FDA states. They are therefore meaningless marketing jargon that may only indicate that you are paying more for the dish.

Life Stages And Lifestyles

Comparing the ingredients of different “lifestyle” foods side by side will not reveal many differences. The lifespan of your cat has been classified into 3 to 7 stages by different manufacturers. And for each of them, there is a certain food! But in nature, once an animal is weaned, he continues to consume the same diet throughout his entire life in the form of prey.

Only two life stages are considered in the nutritional guidelines for pet foods: adult and gestation (pregnancy), lactation (nursing), and growth (puppies). With the potential addition of a few additional ingredients, all those other designations are adjustments to ingredient proportions. However, a meal that is designated as “all life phases” must adhere to stricter growth standards. Everything else is simply marketing nonsense.

Niche Marketing

Does your dog have sensitive stomach or itchy feet? Is he an athlete? Also, what breed—big or small—is he? Then you can locate cuisine catered to his unique requirements. In the marketing of pet food, focusing on niches is crucial. Just take a peek at some of the parent brands that house dozens of different items. They are created with a particular appeal that will boost sales more than a generic item like “puppy food.”

Be aware that only veterinarian prescription diets are permitted to make specific health claims about how their products may lower the risk of conditions like allergies, kidney disease, or arthritis.

Pet Food Certifications To Look For

These are some certifications that have some meat behind their meaning. 


The credibility of this label must be confirmed by an independent nonprofit organization, The Non-GMO Project. Participants willingly submit their goods for strict criteria compliance and non-GMO certification. This certification’s holders must undergo frequent audits. 

USDA Certified Organic

One of the few labels with actual meaning is this one. The only USDA certification that is subject to rules is USDA Organic. Producers are subject to yearly inspections and are required to maintain strict compliance. Animals must consume organic feed that wasn’t made using conventional fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic feed is produced in accordance with USDA guidelines for planting, growing, raising, and handling. Additionally, the USDA Organic label attests to the absence of genetic engineering and GMOs in products or in animal feed. The USDA makes no claims that food produced organically is better for you, safer, or more nourishing than food produced conventionally.


If a business uses sustainable practices, it ought to be clear what those are. They ought to make sure that both their packaging and website prominently display them. They wish to inform you all about this difficult activity, without a doubt! It’s likely they are not using sustainable methods if you have to search hard for it.

  • Plastic Neutral Label. This is one program that companies can become involved in to reduce the use of plastic and promote it on a wider scale. 
  • If your dog’s food contains fish, you can determine whether it came from sustainable fisheries that have been approved by a body like the Marine Stewardship Council, RFM, or ASC. Another excellent site for information on sustainable seafood is

If you care about sustainability, look for these and other sustainability certifications on the manufacturer’s website or packaging.

Global Animal Partnership

Antibiotics, additional hormones, or animal byproducts are not used in the raising of these animals. The more closely the animal’s environment resembles its natural environment, the higher the number. There are six levels, which stand for an enriched environment, access to the outdoors, pasture-raised animals, and the entirety of farm life. A basic label should not be taken as an indication that only the bare minimum is being done. Therefore, there are no crates, cages, or overcrowding, but animals can still be raised indoors with thousands of other animals for the entirety of their lives.

As you can see, reading ingredient labels is just the first step in the process. Then, in order to determine whether the pet food marketing jargon on the actual packaging actually refers to higher-quality or safer ingredients, you must understand how to interpret all of the terms.

Published by Amber Drake

Dr. Drake is an award-winning author and well-known cancer specialist in her field. She is best known for her extensive research on canine cancer prevention and nutrition, her dedication to help dogs live a long, happy life, and for teaching veterinary medicine. As the CEO of Canine Companions Co., the Founder of Drake Dog Cancer Foundation and Academy, and the Co-Founder of Preferable Pups, in addition to being a respected figure in the dog world, she has earned the respect of thousands of dog lovers worldwide.

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