How to Read a Pet Food Label

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How to Read a Pet Food Label

Dry versus Wet


Each type has its own set of advantages. Dry food contains more nutrients by weight than wet food since wet food is mostly comprised of water.  Dry foods are also better at cleaning teeth because the shape and hardness of the food help to scrape teeth clean.  Wet foods tend to be more palatable to both cats and dogs and contain more meat protein in its original form.  There is some evidence to suggest that wet food may be better for cats because the ancestor of cats, the desert African Cat, obtained the majority of its water intake from its food.


Comparing Nutrition in Wet versus Dry Food


Wet food is mostly water, so comparing how much nutrition is in the solid portion of wet food versus the same amount of  dry food can be tricky. Accurately comparing the two is called determining the % to total weight on a dry matter basis.  Here’s how to do it.  Firstly, determine what percent of the canned food is water.  For this example, we’ll say that the canned food is 75% water.   Now take the % of protein listed on the can, let’s say it’s 10%, and divide that by 25% (the amount of dry material in the canned food).  The result is 40%.  That is to say, 40% of the dry amount of food in the can is comprised of protein…a pretty high ratio!


AAFCO Statement


All safe dog foods will contain a minimal nutrition statement by the Association of American Feed Control Organization.  If the AAFCO Statement doesn’t come with the bag or can, do not purchase it.


Label Language


Manufacturers use the absence of pet food labeling guidelines to their advantage.   Definitions for words like gourmet, premium, all natural, human grade, fresh and farm-raised are decided by the manufacturer and can vary dramatically.  Remember that pet food makers create labels to both describe the product and incentivize a sale.  Be on guard for ways that manufacturers play to your food buying instincts by listing catch phrases (low fat, wholesome, etc.), on the label as a way to grab your attention, but ultimately do little to qualify one product from another.




Nutritious dog foods contain meat protein, vegetables and grains. Good cat foods are comprised mostly of meat proteins.  Regulations require manufacturers to list the ingredients by proportional weight, with the ingredients that comprise the bulk of the product listed first followed by the second most dominant product and so forth.  Keep in mind that some deceptive practices occur when products are weighed before they are cooked (and contain more water and consequently are more heavy). Manufacturers may also choose to list the rice or other grain components by their subparts (white rice, brown rice, etc.).  In this way, it appears to the consumer that rice is a less dominant component of the food, when in fact, the sum total of the parts may be very great indeed.




It is a misconception that meat by-products are bad.  Use this link for more information on the definition of meat meal, meat by-products and meat.



Posted on

May 21, 2017

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