Pet food labels are somewhat standardized by two organizations the FDA(Food and Drug Administration) and the AAFCO(Association of Feed Control Officials). Most States adapt the AAFCO standards in their level of regulation. The AAFCO has both government officials and representatives of the pet food industry on their decision making board. Even though regulated by rules pet foods can be hard to understand and somewhat misleading in claims and ingredients.
The front of the package is purely marketing for selling the product to humans. The wording of this does have standards it can be used to the advantage of companies making foods that are less expensive to produce. A “Chicken Dog Food” is different in minimum weight percentages than “Chicken Dinner for Dogs” which will have considerable less. So do not judge the nutrition or content of a dog food entirely by it’s name.
A consumer must read the information panel in order to choose a good dog food, just like we do for our families. The information panel is similar to human food packaging. There is an ingredient list and a guaranteed analysis of the ingredients. Also required is manufacturer’s contact information and feeding guidelines.
The ingredients list is listed by the ingredients in order of most to less measured by weight when mixing for manufacturing. The cooking process takes moisture out of some ingredients mainly meat products which can contain 70% water. So the Chicken listed first in the ingredients list could be the largest percentage before cooking but less than the second ingredient corn but still Chicken is listed as the main ingredient according to the ingredients list. Meals and by-products are not meat but instead a product produced by rendering (processing the moisture out) which yields high protein content and little moisture. Meals are defined and consist of animal parts that would not be used for human consumption (bones, feet, organs, etc.) but do not include blood, hair, feces, hide, horn, hoof.
The guaranteed analysis is a listing of percentages of nutrients. It is a requirement to show the minimum percentages of protein and fat and the maximum level of fiber and water. These percentages are general guidelines so manufacturers may have more protein and fat and less fiber and water as listed.
Some manufacturers are now including vitamin and mineral content but this is not required. Also caloric content may be listed on below the nutritional information.
Feeding instructions are listed on a basis of the size of the dog and are in general overestimates for anything other than a champion athlete. Also the companies base these instructions on what a top performer would need for energy and nutrition. Best talk to your vet about food amount as they will know the best for each individual dog.
When making dog food comparisons between dry and moist pet food you have to take into consideration the difference in moisture content which is expressed as a maximum percentage. In order to compare the two the ingredients have to be expressed in a an equal equivalent which would be to take out the variable (i.e. the water). A dry food that is 10% moisture content and lists 75% chicken would convert to 100% – 10% water = 90% food content. Now divide the percentage of the ingredient by the total food content. In this case that would be 75% divided by 90% = 83% of this ingredient. An example with canned food may be 80% moisture which yields a 20% food content and 5% meat which would be 5% divided by 20% or 25% meat content by weight.
Terms like “organic dog food” and “natural dog food” are not regulated. The term “Complete and Balance” refers to lab tested nutritional standards set by the AAFCO.
Mentioned last but should be the first consideration is the nutritional requirements of different breeds. Large breeds need different nutrients than small breeds and active versus non active energy levels are caloric considerations. Just like humans puppies need different nutrients than do seniors and puppy food is different than regular dog food. Obesity kills dogs just like it does humans and should be avoided.
The pet food industry is a multi-billion dollar producer and the companies are selling to you not to your dog. Read the ingredients carefully and look for the best ingredients for optimum health of your dog based on breed, lifestyle and life stage. I think after the pet food recall over the last years that resulted in poisoning pets the average pet owner is more learned about what their foods they give their pets. Hopefully this information will start you in your choice of the best for you pal.