Reading Pet Food Labels

by Healthy Barks Social September 05, 2022 5 min read

Reading Pet Food Labels

Do you know how to decode your dog’s food?

Pet lovers are committed to healthy and long lives for their pets and they want to make the right choice when selecting food for their pet. Pets don’t question what they eat, so we must. 


Reading Pet Food Labels

Pet parents need to make sure the food meets their dog’s needs. In order to do so, being aware of the labels on your dog’s food is important. From learning about the nutritional adequacy to what life stage the food is appropriate for, should be covered in the pet food labelling. 

Pet food standards are well-regulated in developed markets like the US, Europe, and Australia.However, unlike developed countries, in the case of the pet food industry in India, the sector lacks any kind of stringent standards that can have unaddressed pet food safety issues causing adverse health effects to pet animals. 

It is easy to be fooled by marketing gimmicks but learning about labels and reading them meticulously can help pet parents in choosing foods they can trust for their pets. 

Un-recognisable words on any dog food label are typically something pet parents should stay away from. Any chemicals, additives, or artificial ingredients and preservatives should be strictly avoided.

Reading nutrition labels is a very basic thing to do while choosing a particular food for your dog. So, how do you decipher what foods are truly high quality? In this article, we will detail key information on pet food labels, what it means and why it’s important. 


The Ingredient List on Dog Food 

Pet foods must list ingredients in descending order by weight, starting with the heaviest. It is the most important part of the label to read. Ingredients must be listed by their ‘common’ name. All the ingredients on the pet food list must be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Ingredients may possibly include artificial colors, stabilizers, or preservatives, hence they should be approved food additives for their intended purpose. 

Pro Tip: Most important sources of calories and protein are likely to be among the first FIVE ingredients. The first three ingredients should be a type of animal protein (chicken, fish, etc).


Dog Food Labeled as “All-Natural” 

Food labeled as “all-natural” or “100% natural” means that it does not contain any artificial ingredients or has extremely minimal amounts of synthetic ingredients. A Dog food label must also include ‘AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement’ proving that thepet food is substantiated for nutritional adequacy. It is often on the side or back of the package. The nutritional adequacy statement also identifies the life stage life stage(s) the food is suitable for. 


Stages are recognised by AAFCO as:

  1. Gestation 
  2. Growth 
  3. Maintenance 
  4. All Life Stages

So a product intended for “all life stages” meets the stringent nutritional needs for growth and reproduction, for “maintenance” will meet the needs of an adult, non-reproducing dog of normal activity (this kind of product may not be sufficient for the nutritional needs of a growing, reproducing, and hard-working dog). A product might also be labeled for specific use or specific breed or size, such as for ‘senior dog’, however, there is little information about the true dietary requirements such products fulfil. 

Fact: Dog food that’s labeled “supplemental” isn’t complete and balanced.


What is Guaranteed Analysis? 

Guaranteed Analysis on pet food specifies the amount of specific nutrients. A guaranteed analysis or typical composition, listing the amount of ‘crude protein’ and ‘crude fat’ in the food, is required to be included on labels. The minimums ofProtein andFat and the maximums of Fibre andMoistureare required as per AAFCO standards. Some pet food manufacturers also list the percentage of other nutrients - such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium and may also include information about the energy content in the food. 


Calorie Statement 

The best way for consumers to determine how much to be fed in a daily meal is to know the calorie content. The calorie statement can be expressed on a ‘kilocalories per kilogram’ basis and should be included on all pet food products. Calories can also be expressed in familiar household units, for example, ‘per cup’ or ‘per can’.

What's in a Pet Food Label


Feeding Guidelines (Directions For Use)

Good place to start when you are unsure how much to feed your pet! The food label will tell you how much you should feed your dog. As theFDA says, breed, temperament, environment, and other factors can influence food intake. The feeding guidelines are listed either by the weight of the food per pound of body weight or measure of food per cup. The feeding directions should be taken as rough guidelines, not regulations. Feeding directions vary among manufacturers.

Please Note: The feeding guidelines are recommendations, NOT rules. Regardless of what the package says, kindly consult your vet.  


Date Labelling

Pet food labels with a longer shelf life of 2+ years shall include a packaging date.  In case of shorter shelf life such as products that require refrigeration, the date labelling will include either a ‘best before’ statement or a ‘use by date’ statement. 

Rule of Thumb:Follow any specified product storage conditions to ensure product integrity and safety. 

The Bottom Line

The Pet food label contains a wealth of information. Whether you prefer an all-natural, preservative free pet food, or a food with ingredients that you can pronounce, the end goal is to meet the nutritional needs of your pet. It’s important to consider pet food labels before opting for a specific diet for your dog. Paying attention to what works best for your dog’s body in terms of specific vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids in defined quantities in their diet leads to a healthy life for your dog. There is plenty of room for new advancements to improve pet food labels in the Indian pet food industry but staying aware and informed will help you make the right choice for your dog and is the best course of action!

Most pet-parents often struggle with managing their pet’s nutritional requirements. We help pet parents with fresh, complete and tailored nutrition for their pets by providingpersonalized meal plans (made fresh with real ingredients) specially designed to meet their pet’s health needs, and formulated by a veterinary nutritionist so that they stay worry-free & can get on with spending real-time with their doggos. 

We are currently serving in Bangalore. So, if you reside in Bangalore, book a free, in-person consultation with the Healthy Barks family here or feel free to call or drop us a ‘Hi’ on WhatsApp at +91 - 76767 20200. 

Come and enjoy a food tasting session with us!

PS: If you have any additional queries, or would want us to cover any specific topic, feel free to tell us in the comment section below.

For a healthy treating time with your pup, try our very new all-natural single ingredient ‘Pure Bone Mix Frozen Treat’ that will leave your dog absolutely fresh, healthy and energetic with the right nutritional value. These treats are rich in calcium, highly digestible, and super palatable. We promise all-natural, human grade ingredients and no hard-to-digest by-products and fillers!

Happy Wagging & Healthy Barks! 🐾

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