Choosing a Pet Food: Labeling

Choosing a food for your pet can be so overwhelming— there are so many dietary options and flavors to choose from! How do you know you’re getting a food with good quality ingredients? I’m going to teach you how to quickly identify what’s in your pet food, simply based on the label. Anatomy of a Pet Food Label:

100% Rule:

If a pet food is labeled “100% beef“ or “100% chicken”, that is the ONLY ingredient legally allowed to be in that treat/food, besides water.

95% Rule:

If a pet food is labeled along the lines of ”Beef Dog Food” or ”Salmon Cat Food”, then it is required that the recipe be 95% of that named ingredient before processing. If it is listed as a ”Turkey and Veggie Dog Food”, naming multiple ingredients, then the recipe should be 95% of those ingredients before processjng, with each named ingredient comprising a minimum of 3% of the recipe each

25% Rule:

But wait! If a pet food is labeled as a “dinner”, “entree”, or other synonyms, then the named ingredient(s) must only comprise 25% of that recipe! And, same as before, if there are two or more named ingredients, then they together need to comprise 25% of the recipe before processing, each with a minimum of 3%.

It Gets Worse:

If you see a pet food that is labeled as using “chicken flavor” or “with real beef”, then only 3% of the recipe needs to be from that protein before processing. Also, it is required to list where the source of that flavor is coming from in the ingredients panel.

Even more concerning, all of the aforementioned rules and guidelines pet food manufacturers are required to follow only count for the recipes BEFORE PROCESSING. Meaning, before it is cooked and smashed and packed into the little kibble pellets, it has to have the required % of ingredients. HOWEVER, once processing begins, these levels fall dramatically. Manufacturing processes like cooking, extruding, and crushing all deplete the whole ingredients from their existing vitamins, minerals, and nutrition content. So, if you get a bag of “Chicken and Veggie Dinner”, that 25% of chicken and veggies (min. 3% each) ends up actually dwindling down to 10-15% of the recipe after processing.

The Guaranteed Analysis:

The guaranteed analysis is provided to show what is left in the pet food when you remove all the water and nutrition contents of a food. This is the digestible components that are in the food. AAFCO requires that all Guaranteed Analyses show crude protein, fat, and fiber, as well as moisture and ash. If you’re looking for a “high-protein“ or “low-fat” food, this is where you’ll want to check.

Bottom Line:

Pet food is highly unregulated and there are too many “tricks” and “loopholes“ standing in the way of providing clear information in regards to what is going into your pet food. It is up to the consumers to look into laws and regulations to best understand what they are getting when they choose a specific food for their pet. Even with this quick synopsis, there are still many things to research and consider when buying a pet food (quality of ingredients, where are the ingredients coming from, storage, etc), but we hope that this at least provides a start in making the food search a little easier to understand.

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