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How To Read Labels On Dog And Cat Food

Pet Diet & Nutrition 5 min read
Reading labels on products

Reading pet food labels seems like an impossible task. And if that is not hard enough, we also must make sure we are the best pet parent possible in all other aspects. Most information is readily available online, like what kind of toys can I give to my pet, or how to play fetch. More complex issues require a more technical approach, like what kind of vaccines my pet needs, or how to read labels on the dog and cat food, and whether the ingredients are good for your pet.

A lot of information is included in pet food labels, and they can be overwhelming and confusing. If you can section and filter the important parts of the label, it becomes much easier to understand.

Labeling in the USA is regulated on a federal basis by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), which establishes standards for all animal food. Some states, however, have their own regulation, which is often adopted from AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). Overall, dog and cat food labels have roughly the same format:

  • Product and brand name
  • Product weight and measure
  • Guaranteed analysis
  • Ingredients
  • Nutritional adequacy statement
  • Feeding guidelines
  • Manufacturer’s name, address, and expiry date
  • Calorie statement

Once you locate these sections, it is easier to filter the ones that will provide you with the nutrition information of the product. Four of these sections are important in this matter:

  • Guaranteed analysis
  • Ingredients
  • Nutritional adequacy statement
  • Feeding guidelines

Conveniently enough, these sections are almost 100% of the time located on the back or the side of the bag. So turn the bag and learn about your fur baby’s food.

How To Read The Ingredients On Dog And Cat Food Labels

This is the most important section and the first one you should read.

This is the most important section and the first one you should read. As regulated, all ingredients included in the food must be listed in this section and in descending order by weight. Meaning that the first listed ingredient is found in the greatest quantity, whereas the last ingredient is in the smallest quantity. Also, general terms like “animal protein products” are not allowed, so all ingredients must be listed by their common names.

Photo of an ingredients list from the side of a dog kibble bag.

The problem with this is that all ingredients are weighed before going through the process of making the kibble. Meat is wet food and it often loses half or more of its original weight when processed, whereas plant fiber and plant protein are already dry and will not lose much. That said, although the first ingredient is meat, it might not be the one that is higher in weight in the bag after the process is finished. So, pay attention to the first five to eight ingredients on the list, so you have an idea which one is more present in the bag.

Always read the ingredients list thoroughly, especially if you have more sensitive animals that may be allergic to a specific animal protein or grain. If the food you want to give your pet has chicken or chickpeas, and your baby is allergic, these ingredients will be listed in this section.

How To Read Guaranteed Analysis On Dog And Cat Food Labels

This provides you with information about the nutrient content of the food. It must, in all cases, list minimum crude protein, crude fat, and maximum crude fiber, and moisture. Other nutrients will be listed if any claims about the nutrient were made on the bag of the food.; The pet food company can also list additional nutrients as they wish.

how to read labels on dog and cat food

Here we can find some differences between cat and dog food. Cat food will commonly list the guaranteed analysis of taurine and magnesium. As for dog food, many companies will list calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and linoleic acid.

It is important to note that when comparing pet foods, you must always compare one dry food with another dry food that has a similar moisture level. The guaranteed analysis of wet food is different and should not be compared with dry food unless both have similar moisture levels.

For more detailed and complete nutrient information, it is always possible to refer to the company website or contact them by email or phone.

how to read labels on dog and cat food

How To Read Feeding Guidelines On Dog And Cat Food Labels

The first thing to say about this section is that it is just a guide, not a regulation. The guidelines are based on the average pet weight and activity level, and maybe your pet is overweight or overactive, which may require less or more food. You can start with the amount that was suggested for your pet’s weight and age and observe how they do within the next week or so. If in doubt, always consult your veterinarian.

This section will always determine the measuring standard, for example, a cup, and give you the daily amount a pet of a certain age and weight would need. When starting a new food, always observe your pet for the first days as different brands offer different nutrition values, the same if your pet is less active or older, and the energy requirements can vary greatly.

For this, we do suggest referring to the Body Condition Scoring for Dogs and Cats and assessing your pet’s body condition before deciding the amount of food you are going to give and adjusting accordingly.

You can find the body scoring for dogs and cats here.

how to read labels on dog and cat food

How To Read Nutritional Adequacy Statement On Dog And Cat Food Labels

This statement will tell you if the food is complete and balanced, providing all the nutrients that a pet requires. It will also state if the food is only recommended as intermittent feeding or as a treat. In this section, you will find out if this food is recommended to a specific life stage (for kittens or puppies, for example), or if it is suitable for all life stages.

Learning to filter the information on the bag is the key to deciding which food is adequate for your fur baby.

Are you still not sure if you chose the best food and are worried about lack of nutrition? Our Multi-Essentials may help you to fill nutritional gaps and strengthen the immune system.

NHV Multi-Essentials, is a multivitamin that helps to fill dietary gaps, supporting digestion while promoting strong muscle and bone growth. It is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help ensure your kitten and puppy have energy and vitality to live a healthy and happy life.

Do not want to read all the ingredients and want to try something fresher and more natural? Not to worry. We can help you with a personalized nutrition plan for your baby. Our in-house veterinarian, Dr. Amanda that plans a home-cooked diet specifically for the conditions of your baby.

Dr. Rebeca Oliveira DVM

Dr. Rebeca Oliveira DVM

Dr. Rebeca is a holistic veterinarian from Brazil with a passion for natural and integrative medicine. She’s been studying integrative medicine and alternative (and healthier) diets since 2015, and now started to study the power of herbs with the NHV Family. In her spare time, you can find her spending time with her golden retriever, Kuga.

Published: January 2, 2021

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