Understanding Dog Food Labels

Understanding Dog Food Labels

FDA-AAFCOUnderstanding Dog food labels is a very important, but confusing piece of information to most. It is highly regulated by both federal and state. Each state has a different set of laws and regulations which are set forth by their state regulatory officials. AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) helps states with their feed law requirements by providing labeling and regulation checklists, however, they have no regulation control.

Label Requirements

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There is a multitude of requirements on dog food labels that we as consumers are hardly aware of. According to the pet food page from the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) website, these are the label requirements:

  1. Product Name
  2. Net Quantity Statement (how much is in container)
  3. Manufacturers Name and Address
  4. Ingredient List
  5. Guaranteed Analysis (guarantee % crude protein/fat and max % crude fiber/moisture)
  6. Nutritional Adequacy Statement ( a claim that product is complete, balanced, 100% nutritional, etc. if it is not)
  7. Feeding Directions
  8. Calorie Statement
  9. Other Claims such as “Premium, Super Premium, Ultra Premium”

Understanding The Ingredients

Let’s take a look at the ingredient list on dog food labels since this is most likely what most of us truly care about. How DO we really know what our dogs are eating? First, the ingredients must be listed by their common name, and all in the same size font. Thank goodness! They are listed in order by weight, with the first ingredient having the highest total weight of the product, the second ingredient having the next highest total weight, and so on and so forth down the list.

Dr. Judy Morgan DVM www.drjudymorgan.com explains what we as dog and cat owners really need to know when reading labels:

  1. If only 1 ingredient listed such as “Beef for Dogs” Beef will be 95% of that food
  2. 2 ingredients listed……such as Beef, water. Beef will now only be 70% of that food
  3. If the label says “Dinner, Platter, Entree, Nuggets or Formula“, now the meat drops down to 25% – 95%
  4. Add water to the above meal labels, the meat drops to only 10%
  5. If the label says “with” beef, or “with” chicken, meat now drops to 3% of that product
  6. If the label says “Beef Flavor“, don’t be fooled. Yes, it may taste like beef, but it’s most likely NOT beef!

Most Common Ingredient Definitions

There are always those ingredients we hear label readers talking about. Ingredients we see in most dog foods. What are they? What do they mean? It’s very important to know what these ingredients are, especially if your dog is on a medically specific diet. The most common special diet would be the grain free. This is usually due to allergies and is basically no corn, wheat or soy. The below are just a few of the most common ingredients, and their definitions a dog owner should be aware of.

  • Meat – Clean flesh of slaughtered animals, nerves, blood vessels, muscle etc.
  • Meat By-Products – Clean parts of slaughtered animals, not including meat. Included will be lungs, kidneys, spleen, liver, brain, blood and bone. Empty stomach and intestines will also be used.
  • Poultry By-Products – Clean internal parts of slaughtered poultry, including head and feet, not including feathers.
  • Ground Corn – The entire kernel of corn
  • Corn Gluten Meal – A by-product of corn after the manufacture of corn starch and corn syrup.
  • Wheat – Whole Grain
  • Soybean Meal – A by-product after the extraction of oil from soybeans

Organic Food Labeling organic-label

Many of us have the misconception that if a dog food label says “Organic“, it means our dog is eating an organic food. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. What it really refers to is the handling and processing of the food, not the quality. In the processing of ingredients in these foods, they must comply with the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) standards and regulations (7 CFR 205) which cover:

  • Ingredient Sourcing
  • Ingredient Handling
  • Manufacturing
  • Companies wanting to use the word “organic” in their labeling or certification

What About Natural, Human Grade or Holistic Food Labeling??

When I see of one of these names on a dog food label at a feed store, I automatically think of a more quality dog food. Unfortunately, that’s what the companies who make them want you to think.

  • Natural Food – If a dog food label says “natural” on it,  it means the carefully selected, whole food ingredients have not gone through excessive processing or chemical alterations. These foods should be free of additives, preservatives, artificial colors or flavors. Interestingly, If the label states “natural”, these foods may contain grains, gluten, soy, and by-products. If the label states “all-natural”, the food cannot contain anything artificial, synthetic or have any animal by-products.
  • Human Grade – According to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), there have been “human-grade” claims on pet foods for a few years. This term has no definition in any animal feed regulations. Very few pet food products could be considered officially human edible or human-grade. A dog food that actually met these standards would be very expensive. pug-question-marks
  • Holistic – Just as in the term “human-grade”, “holistic” has no legal term or labeling regulations. In humans, holistic medicine involves treating the person as a whole, both mind and body. With that in mind, it would make sense that holistic pet food would include products that are designed to support your dog’s total-body health and well being from the inside out. These products go beyond just meeting your dog’s minimal nutritional requirements, and aim to support your dog as a whole. As one might expect, to provide these benefits, only superior quality ingredients are used, and there are many different formulas to choose from.


So now that I’ve touched on understanding dog food labels, I hope I didn’t make it too confusing. Just remember that you’re doing this for the health and longevity of your beloved dog(s). Learning how to read and understand these labels is THE best way to determine the quality of what you’re feeding your dog. We ARE what we eat…..RIGHT?!! Let’s do this together, and give our dogs the best we have to give! After all, they give us unconditional love and devotion! heart-paw

Please feel free to leave any comments you might have about my post below.  Maybe you have additional insight on label reading that can help readers?  Would love to hear from you!

Be sure to check out my website at http://www.healthyeatingdog101.com for more information on feeding your dog a healthy diet, including treats!!

Also, here’s a video from one of my favorite pet nutrition bloggers, Rodney Habib on reading labels I thought you might enjoy! https://www.facebook.com/RodneyHabibBlog/videos/838588122916734/

Marlaina B.






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