How to Read a Label of Pet Food

Figuring out what to feed your pet is an important part of keeping them healthy and ensuring they live a long life. But there are so many options nowadays that it’s hard to figure out what’s good for your pet and what isn’t. To that end, one of the best ways to make an informed decision is being able to decipher labels on pet food products. Here are a few tips on unraveling label jargon to help you choose what you should buy.

read a label of pet foodBeyond the Marketing Claims

What a pet food label claims in their marketing isn’t always what they are selling. Manufacturers often use terms that aren’t defined by existing regulations but consumers find appealing. In other words, they use words you want to hear. So be sure to read the product’s food list because many-a-times, the main ingredient of the product that’s being advertised isn’t always the actual main ingredient used in it.


Look for the ‘guaranteed analysis’ stamp on a food label. While the percentage breakdown of proteins, fats, and fiber can be helpful, varying levels of moisture amongst pet foods means they don’t hold fast and true across the board (moisture levels can affect the percentages).

Dry kibble will naturally be dryer than canned food, for example. So the best way to figure out the actual percentages is to compare all pet foods on a dry food basis. You do this by subtracting the given moisture percentage from 100 (let’s call this the ‘total dry matter’).

Then divide the individual components of the product (protein, fiber, etc.) from the total dry matter figure. By doing this, you can make exact comparisons between a variety of pet food products and choose what works for your pet.


But knowing the percentages alone isn’t enough. It’s also critical to know where the ingredients are being sourced from. For example, you can get protein both from chicken meat and from a chicken’s beak, but the latter isn’t a good source. To figure this out, you will have to go over the list of ingredients on the packaging. These are listed in order of weight, so if a meat source is in the top five of the list, it’s a good thing. You should also see if there are grains as well as they provide energy for your pet.


Many pet owners look for foods that use human grade ingredients and no animal by-products in them. Some also avoid foods that have artificial sugars and flavoring. This is not always a good thing. Livers and other internal organs are a good source of amino acids, and are often animal by-products. Dry pet food, on the other hand, might need preservatives to keep them from spoiling. If you aren’t sure what by-products are used, you can always contact the manufacturer directly.

Cost to Weight Analysis

Dry products can be ‘puffed up’ and therefore change the weight of the product, while wet foods can be labeled with measurements like ounces, making it hard for you to compare different products. Always check the price as well to make a good choice. In other words, make sure you’re getting your weight in pet food before you buy.

Nutritional Adequacy

See if the label says ‘nutritional adequacy’. This can make a difference to the actual nutritional value of a pet food product as opposed to a marketing slogan saying it is thoroughly nutritious. What you need to look for is the following sentence, “(Product name) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Dog/Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles.”

Alternatively, look for, “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (Product Name) provides complete and balanced nutrition.” Also be sure to buy food to suit your pet’s current stage in it’s life cycle (these are usually on the label as well). Also be sure to check for breed and size labels and make sure they are up to standards for your pet’s nutritional requirements.

Feeding Instructions

Always read the instructions carefully, no matter how sure you are on how to feed your pet. Also be sure to carefully and regularly monitor your pet’s wants and needs. Consult your vet if you are unsure about anything. Read calorie counts of food products, and be sure to vary it depending on your pet’s condition (young, old, healthy, sick, and so on).

So in short, be wary of marketing jargon like ‘holistic’, ‘premium’, ‘organic’ and so on. These are buzzwords with no real legal definitions for these words, and relying on them to buy the right food for your pet is not the safe and healthy way to go.


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