How To Read Pet Food Labels – What Are You Really Feeding Your Dog?

October 1st, 2008 by Dan

Did you know that there are specific regulations for labeling dog food by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA)Center for Veterinary Medicine? Also many dog food companies now have chosen to abide by the AFFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards of regulations as well. However, let me be clear when I say that the labeling standards expected from these two organizations are in no way a testament to the quality of the ingredients used within the food. Pet owners must research diets carefully before choosing what is best to feed their pet. I am writing this piece so my readers have a better idea of what *exactly* their dogs are consuming when they browse a label and to promote the idea of feeding premium foods (or even going raw). Your dog depends on you to make the best dietary choices for him!

Photo by merth2erth

The “95%” Rule
The 95% Rule means that 95% of the product must be made up of a the protein source in the name of the product. These types of foods usually have simplistic names like “Chicken for Dogs” or “Beef and Liver Dog Food.” At least 95% of the product must be the stated protein (and can not include water for processing and other additives). When water is included, the named protein must make up 70% of the food. The ingredients should be listed by weight, so the protein should be first in the list, followed by water. If the food includes a combination of proteins such as “Beef and Liver Dog Food,” the two types of proteins must make up 95% of the total weight of the food. The first protein listed must be a greater amount than the second. This rule only applies to protein sources. A food called “Chicken and Rice Dog Food” would be inaccurately labeled unless it was comprised of 95% chicken.

The “25%” or “Dinner” rule

The 25% or Dinner Rule pertains to both canned and dry dog foods. When the named protein makes up at least 25% of the food (not counting the water included during processing), but contains less than 95%, pet food companies must become creative. Descriptive terms like “Chicken Dinner For Dogs” or “Beef Entree” such as “Beef Dinner for Dogs” are used. Other examples are “platter”, “formula”, etc. Since only 25% of the food must be the protein source in the name of the product, it is probably not the number one ingredient. In fact, you may buy a Beef formula dog food and find that the number one ingredient is corn. A food could be called “Beef and Rice Dinner” as long as the Beef and Rice equaled 25% of the total food.

The “3%” or “With” Rule

The 3% or With Rule was created to allow dog food manufacturers to point out the addition of small amounts of ingredients. The insufficient quantities of these ingredients led to the creation of foods such as “Chicken Dinner With Greens” ( if at least 3% Greens are added to a Chicken Dinner. However, amendments to the AAFCO regulations now allow use of the term “with” as part of a dog food product name – for example, “Dog Food With Chicken”. This could mean that the product only contains 3% chicken, where as a product labeled “Chicken Dog Food” would contain 95% of the protein source!

The “Flavor” Rule

Products named under the “Flavor” rule require no specific percentage of any ingredient. However the food must be able to have enough of a certain flavor in order to be detected during testing (conducted my animals who have been conditioned to prefer some flavors over others). “Lamb Flavor Dog Food” may or may not contain any lamb. It may contain lamb by-products or some other form of flavoring.

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