Pet food can be classified into three main categories: dog food, subdivided into five forms: dry, wet, treats, semi-moist, and frozen/refrigerated; cat food, like the dog food category, also subdivided into those five forms; and other pet food, consisting of food and treats for birds, small animals, fish and reptiles, collectively.
Pet foods are sometimes classified in overlapping ways not formally standardized within the industry.
Among the most commonly used classifications are:
- Activity Level: High activity formulations are nutrient-dense and provide fats and protein that can be easily metabolized by energetic pets. Low activity formulations feature reduced calories via lower carbohydrate delivery, and are commonly targeted to overweight pets.
- Functional/Nutraceutical: These products feature health-enhancing benefits that either promote general wellness or are condition-specific.
- Gourmet: Gourmet pet foods are distinguished by appetizing names and attractive packaging/label graphics designed to appeal to human sensibilities.
- Lifestage: Common lifestage classifications include growth (for puppies/kittens), adult (for pets age 1-6 years), and senior or mature (for pets over 6 years old).
- Natural/Organic/Holistic: Natural pet foods are formulated with minimal processing and minimal-to-no artificial ingredients. Most omit artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, along with other unnatural components. Organic pet foods generally follow the guidelines for organic human foods set forth by the USDA’s National Organic Program.
- Premium and Superpremium: The terms are used interchangeably in the trade to describe both top-of-the-line specialty foods and above-average mass-market foods in value-added formulations or presentations, such as gourmet, natural, high-nutrition, better tasting, and so on.
- Size/Breed-Specific: Targeted to either large-breed or small-breed dogs in general, or to a specific breed, these formulations are adjusted in protein/carbohydrate/fat content. In cat food, breed-specific usually means long- versus short-hair cats, with an emphasis on hairball control, or on indoor versus outdoor cats.
- Weight-Control/Diet: Emerging from the above-noted activity level and functional classifications, weight-control and diet products include lower-calorie, reduced-carbohydrate and lower-fat products directly positioned to owners of overweight or obese pets.