The In’s and Out’s of Pet Food Labels

Ingredients MUST be labelled individually. They are listed in descending order from the heaviest weight to the lightest. The bulk of the ingredients are an animal and plant products, then fibre, followed by lesser in quantity ingredients such as fats, vitamins, minerals, stabilizers, and preservatives. After these, there may be accessory ingredients such as flavouring, and colouring agents.

Companies are able to list their products by weight prior to processing, therefore a protein ingredient like chicken, still intact with skin, bone, water and fat will far outweigh rice, corn or wheat in their dry, ground form. The truth is, in order for the chicken to be used in the pet food, it must be rendered, dried, and ground – therefor becoming chicken meal by definition. There is no way to know how much actual chicken is in the product when listed as such, so products listing chicken “meal” as one of their first ingredients is, in fact, higher in chicken, even when it appears after the starches in an ingredient list.

Grains such as ground corn are in fact high in energy and protein. Corn is an excellent source of nutrition and not a filler despite common myth and trend in the pet food industry. We all know that whole kernel corn leaves the body often in their whole kernel form – but we don’t poop out our whole corn flakes, do we? Grinding grains make them highly digestible and nutritious. Vitamins and minerals are required to be listed in their common name form – eg: ferrous (iron) magnesium, zinc, and potassium.

Beet pulp and inulin are common sources of fibre Amino acids come in the form of L-Tyrosine, Taurine, L-Lysine etc. They sound like chemicals, but they are crucial building blocks for the body. Preservatives are best if they come from natural sources such as Rosemary (mixed tocopherols) and citric acid (vit C) BHT and BHA are deemed safe in small amounts by the FDA but not enough long term studies have been done and many companies are removing them from human and animal products entirely.

Guaranteed analysis

Provides information to the consumer and allows them to determine the level of at least four nutrients: protein, fat, fibre and moisture. Additional nutrients are only required to be listed if they are part of the foods nutritional claim (ie; high in vitamin E for a healthy coat). Fat and protein are listed as minimal crude percentages whereas fibre and moisture are maximum percentages. The GA is based on an “as fed All pet food must provide a Guaranteed Analysis (GA) on the packaging. The GA” basis and offers some help if comparing foods on a kibble to kibble or can to can basis, but canned to kibble comparison would require some math to decipher as moisture is not taken into account.

AAFCO Statement

The first thing that you should look for when deciding on a pet food is the AAFCO statement. If the food doesn’t have one, please put it back on the shelf! It is not the only determining factor in buying pet food, but at the very least it shows the food has some sense of composition to provide a complete and balanced meal for your pet. AAFCO has no bias and does not speak to the quality or source of the ingredients.

The AAFCO statement will read in one of two ways:

  1. “X food” is formulated to meet the nutrient levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for “X” life stage.
  2. Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that “X” provides complete and balanced nutrition for “X”.

Nutritional Adequacy

Is a statement referring to the product in relation to your pet’s nutritional needs; “Complete” meaning that it contains all of the required nutrients and “Balanced” meaning that the nutrients are in the right balance and ratio to one another, and meet the needs of your pets life stage: growth (puppy/kitten), maintenance (adult), gestation/lactation, or all life stages.

Species Identification

Must be more than just a picture, and easily visible on the packaging.


The quantity of product in the package must be displayed in both imperial and metric units, liquid or quantity count.

Feeding Directions

Feeding directions are a general guideline as individual animals needs can vary. The caloric count needs to be displayed in kcals per weight and also per unit (cup, can) Pet food manufacturers must provide guidelines based on the weight of the food, weight of the animal, and unit of time, in their specific life stage. An all life stages food needs to provide guidelines for every life stage. A pet’s individual needs still need to be identified and modified accordingly.

Manufacturer’s Information

The pet food manufacturer or distributor needs to be clearly identified for the consumer in the form of name and address. Some manufacturers include an email address and/or telephone number. Pet food manufacturers should always be readily available to answer consumer questions and concerns. Please ask us for a list of questions that every consumer should ask their pet’s food company when deciding on purchasing their product.

Product Name

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a brand name, but a unique name to identify the product and distinguish it from others. It must be true to its ingredient claims and not mislead consumers. There are percentage rules in reference to naming products: (100% 95% 25% “with” and “flavour”)
100%: You will not find a complete and balanced pet food fitting this percentage. But treats ie: beef jerky do.
95%: Named food products (ie: Buddy’s Lamb and Rice Food) must account for 95% of the product weight. The additional 5% refers to the rest of the ingredients such as vitamins and stabilizers.
25%: Descriptive terms such as “dinner” “platter” and “entrée” (“Buddy’s Beef Dinner”) describe a meal containing a feature ingredient as well as other ingredients (think of it as a steak dinner with a side of potatoes and veggies)
“With”: implies that an ingredient is within the food at a minimum of 3%
“Flavour”: only has to have that ingredient appear on the label. No specified amount is required.