How to Read Pet Food Labels

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With so many dog and cat food options to choose from, all promising that they are the best choice for your pet, how can you really know if you are buying a high quality pet food? Pet food labels are strictly regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). As with food for humans, there are certain types of information that must be clearly stated on pet food packaging. The AAFCO requires the following:

  • Product and brand name
  • Which species the food is for
  • Quantity statement
  • Guaranteed analysis of certain specific nutrients in the product
  • Ingredient statement in order of prominence
  • Nutritional adequacy statement (type of pet and stage of life)
  • Feeding directions
  • Name and address of manufacturer (or distributor)

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Pay special attention to the nutritional adequacy statement. Look for the words “complete” and “balanced” in this section. This will tell you that the food contains all required nutrients in the proper amounts. Categories in the guaranteed analysis section are maximum percentages of protein, fat, fiber, and moisture.

Besides making sure you read the label, pet nutrition experts have some general pet food choice guidelines to ensure that you are buying high quality food. Verify that highly digestible forms of animal protein are in the top 2-3 spots on the ingredient list. This would include chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, and fish. Stay away from foods that list meat by-products (or any unidentified meat or bone meal), vegetables, or grains first. Pet foods that are soybean, corn, or rice-based do not contain enough protein compared to meat-based diets.

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The AAFCO has lots of great information for pet food consumers. Check out their website HERE.