How to Read Pet Food & Supplement Labels

If you’re a pet owner, you want to provide your dog or cat with food that’s going to keep the animal healthy and meet its nutritional needs. Doing so is easier said than done sometimes, though, due to how confusing pet food labels can seem in relation to the price. Two seemingly identical pet products might have significantly different price tags despite their only obvious difference being the brands.

Despite how similar these products might seem at a glance, a thorough examination of the label will likely shed light on just how different these two items are.

To discover how to read dog food and supplement labels and simplify the process of shopping for pet food, read through this short guide. We will cover the most common information included in pet food labels, what specific words mean, and how to determine whether your pet food is nutritionally adequate for your pet.

Label Categories

Pet food labels, namely the labels on cat and dog food products, will usually contain the same basic categories. These include:

  • The name and address of the manufacturer
  • Nutritional Adequacy Statement (which states that the food product provides a certain blend and level of nutrients, which needs to be verified through testing)
  • The brand name of the product
  • A guarantee listed for the laboratory analysis of the food blend
  • Feeding instructions
  • The quantity of food included, which may be listed as weight, volume, or count
  • The number of calories included in each serving

Label Wording

Because of the careful regulations that dog and cat food manufacturers have to follow, the wording used on pet food packaging is very specific. You may notice, for example, that some pet food products have simple titles like “chicken dog food” while others say things like “lamb-flavored dog food” or “cat food with salmon.” The words used in these titles are intentional.

Let’s go over how to read a pet food label based on the wording used.

  • 95% Rule: When a pet food product uses the name of an ingredient in the name without a qualifier, such as “Salmon Dog Food,”  that ingredient must cover at least 95% of the food’s ingredients. Additionally, according to the AAFCO (the entity that regulates pet food), the ingredient also has to make up 70% of the total food product with the inclusion of the water added. The remaining 5% of the ingredients should be nutritionally-valuable items, like vitamins.
  • 25% Rule: When the name of a pet food product uses an ingredient with a qualifier, like “Lamb Dinner” or “Chicken Entree,” that ingredient has to cover at least 25% of the product’s ingredients. If more than one ingredient is named in the food title, those ingredients combined need to equal at least 25% of the product. With the added water included, this ingredient has to make up at least 10% of the total product.



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