How to Read Pet Food Labels (What to Look For & Avoid)

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As a pet owner, you want the best for your furry best friend, which stems from feeding them the right food. You probably know the feeling of wandering around the pet food aisle, overwhelmed by the number of available options. The options are endless, from a wide range of brands to wet food, dry kibble, or age and breed-specific food. So, how do you know which one will help your pet thrive?

The key to choosing the right food is reading the pet food labels. However, this can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re unsure what to look for in the labels. Consider the following tips to learn what to look for and what to avoid when reading a pet food label to choose the right food for your four-legged companion.

Things to Look for in Pet Food Labels

Choose the ideal food for your pet by learning what to look for on the labels when shopping.

Correct Label Format

All food labels follow a similar format, and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has a list of pet food label requirements involving eight required items:

  1. Brand and product name
  2. Name of Species for which the pet food is intended
  3. Quantity Statement
  4. Guaranteed Analysis
  5. Ingredient Statement
  6. Nutritional Adequacy Statement
  7. Feeding Directions
  8. Name and address of manufacturer or distributor

The need for some of these requirements is self-explanatory, as this helps pet owners make informed decisions. Let’s explore some of the key elements below.

Food Name

The name of the food will give you the first clue about the ingredients in the meal. Specific terms can help you determine how much of an ingredient, such as a protein, is in the product. One word to look out for is “with.” For example, a product that says “with chicken or “with beef” indicates that protein is not the central element of the food and represents less than 25 percent of the animal ingredients.

Better quality products will avoid using a quantifying term to describe the item. For instance, “chicken pet food” can only be used if chicken makes up over 90 percent of the dry matter of the food. Similar rules apply to raw dog food, and renowned brands like Bold By Nature follow that rule by being direct with the food ingredients in the food name. On their website,, you will notice that their food is labelled “raw beef or duck cat food” and “raw pork for dogs or raw beef for dogs.”

Guaranteed Analysis

This lists the percentage of each of the nutrients present in the food. It includes the minimum percent of crude protein and fat, the maximum percent of crude fiber and moisture, and other ingredients that indicate any claims made in labelling. For example, high in calcium or vitamin A.

Nutritional Adequacy

The nutritional adequacy statement identifies which life stage or lifestyle the product has been approved for. It’s important to look at the labels and determine if the food meets your pet’s daily needs.

Things to Avoid in Pet Food Labels

Now that you know how to read pet food labels, it’s equally important to learn what to avoid.

Mystery Meats

When a food label does not specify the source of animal protein, it can be challenging for you to understand the potential benefits of feeding your pet that meal. It may also be created with lower-quality ingredients.

Pet food labels need to mention the source of animal protein, allowing you to determine if the option is a good choice for your furry friend.

Artificial Flavors and Colors

Some companies may use artificial flavors and colors to enhance the food’s taste, look, and smell. However, these are not requirements for most meals, and it is best to find a recipe without added processes. If the pet food you chose includes artificial flavors and colors, investigate its source. The FDA has approved nine color additives for food, including pet food. But some artificial flavors and colors may not be approved or healthy for dogs.


Fillers are any ingredient with little nutritional value added to pet food to bulk up the food. Some fillers include low-grade proteins, carbohydrates, and fibers, meant to bring pet foods up to minimum guaranteed analysis requirements. Pet food with fillers can take away the nutritional value of food as your pet will be consuming lowering quality substitute ingredients.

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