How to Read Pet Food Labels Intelligently

Here are some tips on how to read those confusing pet food labels intelligently.

Be aware of marketing tactics in naming pet food

The product name is the first thing that anyone notices on any label. The manufacturer wants the customer to feel confidence in their product. By giving the product names like Gourmet XXXX, Premium, Ultra premium etc. the pet owner feels that they're feeding their dog good food. In a lot of cases the pet food producer also adds a specific ingredient present in the food to the name of the product, such as ‘Lamb and Rice Ultra Premium Dogfood’ etc.

The 70% rule

There are set rules for content of any type of pet food. If we were to look at can of dog food with the product name ‘Premium Beef Dog Food’, 70% of that can food has to be beef the other 30% will account for water, flavorings, vitamins and minerals etc. Same goes for canned cat food. Since the ingredient list must declare the predominance in the proper order by weight, ‘beef’ should be the first ingredient listed, followed by water, and then other components such as vitamins and minerals.

If the name includes a combination of ingredients, such as ‘Premium Beef & Liver Dog Food’ the two together must comprise 70% of the total weight. The first ingredient named in the product name must be the one of higher predominance in the product. If there is more liver then beef in the product it needs to be named ‘Premium Liver and Beef Dog Food’.

The 20% rule

Just to complicate matters look at the at least 20% rule. If a named ingredient is at least 20% but less the 70% of the product, the name must have a word like ‘dinner, entree, platter, formula’ included in it. For example, ‘Gourmet Beef Dinner for Dogs’ or ‘Classy Beef Entrée for Dogs.’ On the label beef would most likely be listed only third or fourth on the ingredient list. You will need to do a quick check of the ingredient list because the main ingredient in the ‘Beef Entrée for Dogs’ may not always be the best choice. Remember since the primary ingredient is not always the prominently named ingredient on the label, it may in fact only be such as beef by-products etc.

The 3% rule

Let's add a 3% ‘rule’ just for good measure, in case the 70% and 20% rule has not been enough to get you confused. The dog food label says ‘Beef Formula for Dogs with Cheese.’ That little blurb ‘with Cheese’ will tell you that the ingredient list in the dog food has to include at least 3% cheese.

It is so very important to read the labels carefully. A name such as ‘Dog Food With Beef’ might seem like good stuff but considering what looks like a minor change in the title sure has a major impact on what’s inside.

More examples

i.e. a can of ‘Dog Food With Beef’ could be confused with a can of ‘Beef Dog Food’ whereas the latter example must contain at least 70% beef; the first needs to have only 3%.

The next example is ‘Beef Flavored Dog Food’ the word flavor does not say in any which way or form that there is any beef in the dog food.

Pet foods often contain ‘Digests’ which are enzyme and/or acid treated substances that form concentrated natural flavors. Only a small amount of this is needed to produce a ‘Beef Flavored Dog Food’.

Natural does not mean organic

The term ‘Natural’ is often used on pet food labels too. ‘Natural’ in the pet food world can mean that there are no artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives in the product.

‘All Natural’ does not mean that the dog food comes from ‘organic’ sources either. There are no regulations in place yet of what types of pesticides, fertilizers and other substances can be present in pet foods and still be to be labeled ‘From All Natural’ or ‘Organic’ sources.

The pet food label contains a lot of information, if you know how to read it. Beware of the many eye-catching marketing gimmicks that pet food manufacturer’s use. You, the pet owner have the right to know what you’re feeding your animals. Learn how to READ THE LABELS intelligently.


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Posted on Aug 28, 2008
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Posted on Aug 28, 2008