Have you taken a look at your pet’s food and the ingredients listed on the back of the label? If you have, you may not have recognized all of the ingredients or understood the label. And, have you ever thought to compare your pet’s food label against healthy recommended percentages of fats, protein, and other essentials? A pet food label can seem like a carefully outlined formula that you may have trouble making heads or tails of.

Understanding how to read pet food labels is an important part of providing optimal nutrition for your pet. This is why Union Lake Veterinary Hospital wants to explain healthy requirements and how to compare that to the label to help shed light on your pet’s nutrition.

Looking at Food Quality

There are key things listed on your dog or cat’s bag of food that assure its nutritional value. These are:

    1. List of ingredients by weight in descending order (the firsts few ingredients comprise the greatest amount of the diet)
    2. A seal of approval from Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which determines the quality of necessary pet food ingredients
    3. A guaranteed analysis of said ingredients (daily required percentages for good health)

You should also make sure the diet fits your pet’s life stage, as a puppy or kitten has different nutritional needs from an adult or senior.

How Diets Are Named

AAFCO has outlined four rules for manufacturers on how they name their products to avoid misleading consumers. These are:

    1. 95% Rule – This means that the name of the food, such as Chicken & Rice Cat Food, must have 95% of the total weight, excluding moisture content, made up of the named ingredients. In this case, chicken and rice.
    2. 25% Rule – Any other ingredients in the product name must account for at least 25% of the total weight of the food.
    3. 3% “With” Rule – A food ingredient listed in the name, such as added sweet potato, must contain at least 3% total weight of the food. Otherwise, it cannot use “with” on the label with the main ingredients.
    4. Flavor Rule – If the product lists having beef or chicken flavor (or any other flavor), it doesn’t have to contain those ingredients.

Guaranteed Analysis: How to Read Pet Food Labels

AAFCO’s guaranteed analysis of what is in pet food shows you that the food contains at least a certain percentage of protein and fat. Also, the diet cannot exceed a certain percentage of fiber and moisture. For example, a diet will include a minimum of 32% food content for protein and a minimum of 14% fat.

The reason behind guaranteed analysis and nutritional adequacy set by AAFCO is to make sure the diet is adequate for a pet’s species and age. So puppy food contains the percentages appropriate for puppies, or food labeled for seniors contains the right mix for pets of that age. Adequacy means a lot of things to pet owners. This is why, if you want to understand your individual pet’s nutritional needs, it’s important to consult your veterinarian.

Questions About How to Read Food Labels?

We are here to help you decipher food labels and guide you in your choices for excellent nutrition and longevity. Obviously, there is a wide range of quality out there, from cheap brands to prescription diets. Not all food products labeled “grain-free,” “gourmet,” “raw,” or other trendy or natural-sounding terms are the best nutritional option for your fur friend. Just because it has a trendy label doesn’t guarantee what’s inside.

Please call us and we can help take the mystery out of how to read pet food labels to achieve your pet’s health and longevity.