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Understanding Pet Food Labels

Posted Thursday, 22 Jun 2023

Affiché : Thursday, 22 Jun 2023

Understanding Pet Food Labels

What dog food is best? It's a common question we often ask ourselves and discuss with friends, family members and people we meet at the dog park. There are so many diets to choose from! If you've spent any time looking at pet food packaging, you may feel like you're reading a different language, and it can be easy to get lost in all the details.


Fortunately, there are guidelines for pet food manufactures on what should be included on their packaging. While the location of each section may be different for the food you are looking at, you'll likely be able to find these common details.


Name & Quantity


These mandatory pieces include the common or generic name of the product, such as "Dog food", the quantity (often in pounds or kilograms for dry products, grams or ounces for wet products), and the manufacturer name and contact information. In Canada, this information must be present in both English and French.


Guaranteed Analysis (Nutrients)


This is where some of the information on nutrients in the diet is included. Specifically, the minimum percent of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percent of crude fibre and moisture. The minimum percent fat and protein are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to meet the requirements for a complete and balanced diet.


Shopping for a dog with a specific health condition? Keep in mind that these levels could be higher than what's listed. It is always best to consult with your veterinarian when deciding on food for a pet with a medical condition.




This is probably the most familiar area of the packaging label. All ingredients are listed by percentage of weight; the more weight of an ingredient is used, the higher it is listed on the list. But the state of the ingredient can make a difference! For example, you may notice that diets which use whole ingredients, such as "whole chicken" have these ingredients listed higher than diets that use ingredients processed as a meal, such as "chicken meal". However whole foods contain a higher percentage of water, making them heavier than their processed counterparts, so they end up higher on the ingredient list. Ingredient meals typically contain a higher percentage of the main ingredient (in this case, meat), but are lighter due to their lack of water.


Sometimes a food can be labelled or named based on an ingredient it contains, for example "Lamb and Rice Recipe" or "Turkey Flavour". While the product will include at least some of that ingredient, the percent can be quite small. For example, when a food is listed as having a particular "flavour", that flavour will make up less than 3% of the total ingredients of the food! This can pose a problem if we are looking to exclude an ingredient from our dog's diet, such as when we're worried about a food allergy. Always check the ingredient deck to see what other ingredients are included and speak to your veterinary team if you’re concerned your dog has an allergy.  


Nutritional Adequacy (Complete & Balanced)


This is an important, albeit small section on pet food packaging. This statement may only be a line or two, so it could be difficult to find it. Once you've tracked it down, you will see something stating whether the diet is formulated to meet the needs of a particular life stage. The life stages that can be used in an adequacy statement include all life stages, gestation/lactation (pregnancy/nursing), growth, and maintenance (adult). Ensuring that you are feeding the right food to your dog based on their life stage is critical to meeting their nutritional needs.


Some products, such as treats or top dressers, may state that the food is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only. These items can be fed as a part of your dog's diet, but no more than 10% of their daily calories. In some cases, veterinarians may prescribe certain diets with this claim for specific medical conditions, as the nutritional needs of those pets do not match that of a typical adult dog.


Feeding Guidelines


This is another important part of the packaging, as it can help determine how much your pup needs to eat! Feeding guidelines are based on energy calculations determined by a dog's weight and age (for puppies). It is always important to follow guidelines to avoid overfeeding, but also to monitor your dog's weight. If you feel your dog is gaining or losing weight and you're following the feeding guidelines of your packaging, you may need to chat with your breeder or see your veterinarian for an examination.


Selecting the right food for your dog can be confusing! Deciding what diet to feed your pet will rely on a variety of different factors, including age, breed, size, medical conditions, health predispositions and lifestyle. There are a lot of different things to consider, and the reality is that no single diet is the best option for every dog. Your veterinarian or breeder can be an excellent resource to helping figure out what you should be feeding your pet!



1. Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC)

2. Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

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