Pet Product Consumer Research Tips

Choosing a pet product based on ingredients and quality, rather than packaging, can be a difficult task. The best way to go about this process is to look at the details rather than the marketing images and words.

Food and Treats

Standards set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) restrict the language pet food companies can use on packaging. Those include:

  • "Complete and balanced" rule: Food must meet a minimum nutrient profile (there are two separate nutrient profiles, one for growth and reproduction and one for adult maintenance).
  • 95% rule: Food named a specific ingredient (“beef for dogs”) must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, prior to adding water for processing.
  • "Dinner" rule: Food using the terms dinner, formula, platter, nuggets or entrée (“chicken formula”, “fish platter”) must contain at least 25% of the named ingredient.
  • "With" rule: Food stating something like “kibble with beef” must contain at least 3% of the named ingredient. Do not confuse this with the 95% rule—“cat food with turkey” and “turkey for cats" do not mean the same thing.
  • "Flavor" rule: This phrasing requires no specific amount of the named ingredient to be included in food. For instance, beef-flavored dog food might not contain any beef, but rather something that imparts that flavor in testing.

AAFCO also requires ingredients to be listed in order of predominance by weight—the first three or four ingredients make up most of the food. When comparing different foods, one that recommends 2 cups per day for a 40 lb dog is of higher quality than one that recommends 3 cups of day for a 40 lb dog (less food needed means fewer fillers).

There are a number of fillers, additives, preservatives, and other non-food items added to pet food. If you do not recognize many of the ingredients on a package, look for a different food. The Dog Food Project provides a list of and definitions for some ingredients to avoid.

Brands are important. Many of the big-name or store brands are owned by the same parent company, Menu Foods. Find out who really owns the brand you’re buying when making your choice. The Pet Food List is a good starting point.

Toys and Other Pet Products

 Basic things to consider when choosing toys are:

  • Size: Will your pet be able to swallow the toy? If so, it’s too small. When picking a bed, think about how your pet treats his sleeping spot. Does he nest and burrow, or simply curl up somewhere?
  • Material: Does your pet chew through things or treat toys gently? Feel the material—tug on it and bend it. Avoid toys with small pieces that could break off and be swallowed; for cat toys, avoid strings in particular.
  • Brand: As with food, brand integrity is of value. Do research on the companies you’re considering buying from.

Good sources of information on products are and The first website collects information from major retailers to present an unbiased overview of different products. On Amazon, you will find profuse reviews and forums where you can ask questions about a particular product and get information from other consumers.