Reading Pet Food Labels

If part of your New Year’s Resolution this year is to eat better, you’ve probably been thinking a lot more about labeling. After all, eating better food (and food that’s better for you) is more complicated than it seems. Labels can hide a myriad of secrets – fat levels versus calorie counts, cane sugar versus corn syrup.

The same is true for the foods our pets eat. Pet labelling laws allow for a world of rather ‘interpretative’ descriptions of what the foods we feed our pets are actually made from. Labeling restrictions are mainly defined by AAFCO (the American Association of Feed Control Officials). AAFCO’s guidelines, however, don’t cover some of the newly emerging terms sometimes adding to pet food packaging, such as “All Natural” or “Organic”.

Here are some examples of what AAFCO’s labeling guidelines do cover – a set of descrptions sometimes known as the ‘named ingredients’ rules.

The 95% Rule

eg: Beef for Dogs

The ‘named ingredient(s)’ must make up at least 95% of the product by weight. A real life example of this would be Tripett’s Green Tripe for Dogs.  The named ingredient (in this case, tripe) makes up 95% or more of the ingredients in this food.

“Dinner” (also Entree, Formula, Nuggets, Platter, Recipe)

eg: Chicken and Salmon Dinner for Dogs, Beef Entree for Cats, Lamb and Rice Recipe for Dogs

The named ingredients must make up at least 25% of the product by weight, not counting water. Each individual named food must make up at least three percent. In other words, a food called –

Chicken and Rice Dinner with Real Fruit and Vegetables

Must have a total portion of 25% chicken, rice, fruit and vegetables, with each of those accounting for at least 3% of the ingredients. The other 75% of ingredients in this food can consist of just about anything.


eg: Gourmet Kibble with Chicken

The only requirement is that the named ingredient accounts for three percent or more of the total ingredients in the food.


eg: Beef  Flavored Cat Food

There is no specific percentage of ingredients required to conform to ‘flavoring’ labels, but the product must contain enough of the flavor to impart the claimed taste. They may use any of an assortment of products to achieve this, however – ie; beef stock for beef flavor, chicken pumice for chicken flavor, etc.

Light, Lite, Low Calorie, Reduced Calorie

eg: Reduced Calorie Beef Dinner for Dogs

The food meets the AAFCO limits for a reduced calorie diets for overweight cats and dogs. The other labeling requirements still apply, in addition to the reduced caloric count.

Grain Free

eg: Grain Free Chicken Dinner for Dogs

Protein in the product comes from non grain sources – in other words, no corn protein can account for the protein count in the food. However, this does NOT mean that the food doesn’t contain ‘other’, non protein source grains (oatmeal, amaranth, barley).

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.