Reading dog food labels correctly and knowing what to look for is an easy way to make sure your dog is getting the right nutrition and good quality ingredients. In this guide, we’ll cover how to read labels and what to look for to set you up for success.
First thing first, if there is no label then don’t even bother assessing further. All dog foods need a label. Below is a list of everything a label includes.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has rules around product name wording. This is great news for pet parents, because the product name will provide actual information about the ingredients in the food. It’s not all a marketing tactic!
The AAFCO has four rules around product naming:
The guaranteed analysis tells you the amount of crude protein and crude fat the pet food contains, as well as moisture and crude fiber content. The FDA has specific requirements for certain guarantees, such as low fat food or if a food claims a specific amount of nutrients. Dog food has to display the amount of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber and water.
The ingredients list is a vital part of the dog food label. Ingredients are always listed individually and in descending order of product weight. The AAFO prohibits any collective terms from being listed on the label and asks that all ingredients are listed by their common or usual name. Here you can find a list of ingredients in dog food by the AAFCO and more information on what names they are listed under and what they contain.
Byproducts have a bad reputation, but they are not necessarily a detrimental addition to dog food. Byproducts can include ingredients such as blood, liver and brains, which will likely be appetizing to your puppy. When it comes to byproducts, educate yourself on which ones the food you are assessing contains.
There are four life stages recognized by the AAFCO, and foods with these claims have met specific government standards. This is communicated to pet parents using two phrases “complete and balance” and “100 percent nutritious”, which can only be used if the food met the standards for balanced nutrition for all life stages of adult dogs.
AAFCO recognizes these stages for product packaging:
All life stages
There are other uses and life stages, such as “senior” or breed specific food. These stages are not recognized by the FDA, and they claim “there is little information as to the true dietary needs of these more specific uses, and no rules governing these types of statements have been established. Thus, a “senior” diet must meet the requirements for adult maintenance, but no more.”
Feeding guidelines are not regulated. They are nothing more than guidelines, so you should consult your vet to determine how much to feed your dog.
Often overlooked, dog foods do have a “sell-by” or “best-used-by” date on their packaging. Expired dog food can be rancid and have harmful bacteria growth that can sicken your dog.