Q: When pet foods are labeled "super-premium" or "natural," what does that mean? Are they better for my animal?

A: Many different terms are found on pet food labels. Others you might have seen are "premium" or "gourmet." While all of these terms sound great, they don't necessarily have any specific meaning. A food that's described as "gourmet," "premium" or "super-premium" isn't required to meet certain standards or contain high-quality ingredients. These terms are simply marketing talk.

What about "natural" and "organic"? A natural food is one that doesn't contain any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The word "organic" can be applied to any product that contains at least 95% organic ingredients, not counting salt and water. Labels that say, "Made with organic chicken and green beans," for instance, must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but cannot claim that the complete product is organic. It's important to remember that the terms "natural" and "organic" are not interchangeable.

In general, foods with a premium or super-premium label typically contain high-quality or specialty ingredients. Depending on the formulation, your pet may eat less of one of these foods but take in a higher percentage of nutrients.

Price differences are usually based on the types and amounts of ingredients, such as free-range chicken and wild-caught salmon vs. conventionally grown chicken and farmed salmon.

Those are things that may be important to you but aren't necessarily crucial to your pet's health. However, the makers of both premium foods and national brands sold in grocery stores all spend big bucks on nutrition studies and feeding trials, so whichever you choose, your pet is likely to do well on it.

Remember, the real test of a food's quality is your pet's health.

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