If you think reading food labels is a tough job for products meant for human consumption, wait until you begin trying to analyze dog foods.
Unfortunately, there are fewer regulations concerning labels on dog food products. Manufacturers do not have to meet the same labeling requirements for pet foods that are required for human food products.
Pet food labeling is regulated at two levels. Enforced by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal regulations establish standards such as proper identification of the product, net quantity information, the manufacturer’s name and address, and a listing of ingredients.
Many states have adopted pet food regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Offices (AAFCO). Usually, this information is more specific to the individual products and includes information such as the product name, a guaranteed analysis, feeding directions calorie statements and a nutritional adequacy statement.
Note that any of the rules that follow pertain only to the solid food components and do not cover the moisture found in the product.
The first order of business when looking at a dog food label is to pay attention to the name of the product. Don’t be fooled by fancy names that manufacturers give their products. The name is to attract your attention, not Fido’s. The words “dinner” or “formula” can really mean that there is less meat in the product.
The AAFCO has established four rules concerning the percentages of named ingredients found on a dog food label:
Rule One: A food named “chicken dog food” must not have less chicken than 95 percent of the total weight if the water used for processing is excluded. If the water is included in the calculation, the named ingredient can be no less than 70 percent. In a situation where the name may be “beef and liver dog food,” then the beef and liver combined must not be less than 95 percent or 70 percent, depending on whether water was included in the calculation. The beef and liver amounts must be listed in descending order of content by weight. This rule tends to be used for canned foods.
Rule Two: If you pick up a product that says “chicken formula” in the food name, the named ingredient (chicken in this case) cannot be less than 25 percent of the total weight. If the product is named “lamb and rice formula,” both the lamb and rice combined cannot be less than 25 percent. Again, they must be named in descending order of content by weight.
Rule Three: Dog foods that contain the words “with beef” (this could also be chicken, lamb, turkey, duck, etc.), the named ingredient cannot be less than three percent of the total weight.
Rule Four: Product names that include the words “flavor” or “flavored” do not have any required percentages of the amounts of ingredients used. However, there must be a sufficient enough amount that the flavored ingredient can at least be detected in the product.
Dog food labels require a net quantity statement, which tells you how much is in the container.
The manufacturer’s name must be included on the container of dog food. They do not have to include a street address or telephone number as long as the company is listed in a telephone directory.
All ingredients are supposed to be listed. The listing order is determined by the weight of each ingredient and the most used ingredient (by weight) will be listed first. The weight of an ingredient refers to its weight prior to processing.
Dog food labels have to state the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, as well as the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. “Crude” refers to the specific method of testing, not the quality of nutrients.
Pet food labels will usually include instructions for feeding. Use these as a guideline.
In the past, dog food labels did not include any information about calories. However, that is gradually changing and you can find this information on some products.
If you’re confused about what makes a quality dog food, talk to breeders and your dog’s vet. Their recommendations are often a good place to start when it comes to choosing the right food for your specific breed.