Independent pet retailers are seeing an increase in consumers shopping for “healthy” pet food, as they align their pets’ lifestyle with their own.

You may find yourself frequently answering questions about natural pet food, organic ingredients, ancient grains and more. Spending time explaining the nuances of the labeling terms on today’s pet foods will differentiate your business from the competition.  Your customers will value your expertise on product terminology and feel confident purchasing from your store.

Trending Pet Food Terms


Pet food labeled “natural” may simply be defined as not having artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) currently describes natural as a feed or feed ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mineral sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur in good manufacturing processes.

AAFCO recommends that products should not be labeled “All-Natural” or “100% Natural” if they have synthetic ingredients, such as preservatives, special purpose food additives and vitamin and mineral ingredients.


Organic references the conditions in which animals are raised or plants are grown. To be organic, pet food must have ingredients that are free of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides and preservatives. Ingredients may not be genetically engineered, grow in chemical fertilizer or irradiated. To be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certified USDA Organic, the pet food producer must undergo and pass regular inspections by the USDA and not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.


Food is considered complete and balanced if it has the proper amount of protein, fat, carbs, vitamins and minerals, based on AAFCO standards. Complete and balanced also means the food can be used as the single form of nutrition without any need for supplements for a healthy dog or cat.


Grain-free pet food is made without corn, wheat, soy, rice, oats and buckwheat, ingredients that may cause food sensitivities in some animals. It does not mean low carbohydrate or carbohydrate free. An increasing number of dog and cat foods do not contain grains.


These grains include sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, chickpea, buckwheat and chia, and they have little to no gluten.  With high fiber and a rich protein content, ancient grains may be good for diabetic pets to help maintain steady blood sugar levels.


After an animal’s muscle meat has been removed for consumption, what is left is considered by-products. They are dried after cooking and used in pet foods.


Fillers can be defined as less-expensive, usually bulky, starchy and carb-rich ingredients, including corn, soy, rice, wheat, oats, cereal by-products, potatoes, modified corn starch, etc.


Peas and potatoes are examples of vegetables with plant-based proteins. Some pet foods combine animal and plant proteins for a healthy balance. All-vegetarian diets that are labeled as nutritionally complete and balanced will supply enough amino acids for a healthy pet.


There is no universal standard for calling food clean. Clean or pure foods typically have easy to understand, simple ingredients without chemical-sounding names or other ingredient implications that are less then wholesome.


High-grade food usually has animal protein listed first and includes unrefined and minimally processed ingredients. It will have lesser amounts of carbohydrates from corn, wheat or rice.


The finished product is suitable as nourishment for humans, handled in a manner that complies with human food safety standards and made in a facility that is licensed for human food production. The AAFCO offers a more detailed explanation of the term human grade.


This term can mean different things. For example, it can mean only one source of protein is used instead of three or four. It can mean the pet food is made with a reduced number of ingredients compared to standard food. Consumers who seek out limited-ingredient diets may have a pet with food sensitivities or allergies and may have a recommendation from a veterinarian on what food ingredients to avoid.


This means the animals used for proteins were raised in an environment that allowed them to mature without the use of antibiotics to keep them healthy.


If hens are not confined to cages, they are cage-free, but it does not mean the hens have access to the outdoors.


When animals are allowed as natural a diet as possible by foraging for their own food, they are considered grass-fed.


Fish caught in dark, cold waters, they typically have higher levels of Omega-3s as compared to farmed fish.


Sustainable products in pet foods refers to ingredients that meet the present food need without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their need for the same product. Elements of sustainability may include environmental, economic and social factors.


Water is removed from the food by air drying, which minimizes damage and/or loss of the proteins, vitamins, sensitive nutrients and enzymes incorporated into the food.


The food’s moisture is gently removed at a low temperature in order to avoid breaking down naturally occurring nutrients and enzymes. Moisture is added to the food to serve.


Water is removed by placing the food in a pressurized chamber and freezing it. The food is not changed, preserving nutrients, enzymes and protein structures. Freeze-dried food is crumbled and water is added for feeding.


Raw food is processed to eliminate pathogens by using high hydrostatic pressure exerted by a liquid through a water bath that surrounds the product.


Meats, bones, fruit and vegetables that are not cooked are considered raw. The popularity of raw diets is trending upward.

Phillips Pet Food & Supplies