How to Read Pet Food Labels — Part 1

So what exactly do all those numbers on your pet food label mean? How do you know how much chicken, beef, etc is in your pet’s food? We will help you to understand all of this.

According to the FDA, “pet food labeling is regulated at two levels. The Federal regulations, enforced by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), establish standards applicable for all animal feeds: proper identification of product, net quantity statement, manufacturer’s address, and proper listing of ingredients. Some States also enforce their own labeling regulations. Many of these have adopted the model pet food regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These regulations are more specific in nature, covering aspects of labeling such as the product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements.”

The product name is the first part of the label that most people see when shopping for pet food. This is usually what gets people to purchase the food, so it is enhanced with frilly words such as dinner, chicken dinner, etc. The ingredients that get people to choose one food over another are usually highlighted here.

In order for pet food to use a meat in the name of the food, such as Tuna Cat Food or Beef for Dogs, the food must contain 95% of this meat. This 95% does not include the water for processing or other added ingredients. Since this ingredient must be 95% of the food, this should be the first ingredient listed on the ingredients list. This rule only applies to meat ingredients as the food cannot be composed of 95% vegetables, etc.

The 25% rule applies to “dinners.” If the food contains 25%, but less than 95% of the named ingredient, then there must be the description “dinner” added to the name, such as Beef Dinner for Dogs. Many descriptors other than “dinner” are used, however. “Platter,” “entree,” “nuggets” and “formula” are just a few examples. Because, in this example, only one-quarter of the product must be beef, it would most likely be found third or fourth on the ingredient list. Since the primary ingredient is not always the named ingredient, and may in fact be an ingredient that is not desired, the ingredient list should always be checked before purchase.

If more than one ingredient is included in a “dinner” name, they must total 25% and be listed in the same order as found on the ingredient list. Each named ingredient must be at least 3% of the total, too. Therefore, “Chicken n’ Fish Dinner Cat Food” must have 25% chicken and fish combined, and at least 3% fish. Also, unlike the “95%” rule, this rule applies to all ingredients, whether of animal origin or not. For example, a “Lamb and Rice Formula for Cats” would be an acceptable name as long as the amounts of lamb and rice combined totaled 25%.

Stay tuned until next time when we discuss the Net Quantity Statement…