How Do You Properly Read A Dog Food Label?

Organic, Holistic and Human grade. These are the terms you will often time see printed on a dog food wrapper.

But does this mean when a dog food says it’s organic or holistic it’s automatically better? Or are these just some another sleazy marketing tactic. Well, the answer like most of the times isn’t a simple yes or no. Some brands, the good ones do actually provide what they claim. Whereas others may not be very true to their word.

But anyway, to make sure that our dog gets a healthy and balanced nutrition. We must make an effort to see what’s really inside the food container and what makes up the food inside it and not just blindly trust what brand says about their product.

And for that to happen it is crucial to be able to read the dog food label. And to be able to read it properly!

Although it might sound simple, different terms on the label can become confusing not to mention that brands can play dirty and try to cover up the not so desired ingredients. As the law on dog food is very loose, loopholes are not uncommon and brands take advantage of that.

But nothing to really worry about, I will guide you through the different variables and make sure you understand what to look for in the label. So that you can get your pooch the food that’s decided by you and not by the brands.

Here’s how you properly read a dog food label:

1. What is the food made up of?

Dog food ingredients are listed/arranged (descending) according to their net weight amount. For example, assume there are three ingredients in the feed (usually there’s a lot) meat (20% weight), corn grain(15%) and broccoli (5%). Then it will be listed in an order like this: Meat, corn grain, broccoli. Simple right.

Now that was the basic listing info. But what should be the top ingredients or have the most weight? Before answering that, just to point out a thing – as I have already mentioned the dog food regulations are pretty loose. And food manufacturers take advantage of that. In that case, the arrangement of the ingredients can be altered and thus resulting in an inaccurate information.

For example, the term “whole meat” refers to the weight of the meat registered with the water content it had (which can be up to 75%) on the other hand “meal meat” does not include water content and can provide accurate data. Manufacturers can also split up the ingredients so that the weight gets distributed (and become less) and the more desired stuff (like meat) can be shown on the top. For example, an ingredient A can be split and shown as A1, A2, A3 basically as three different ingredients with three different names but in reality, they are actually the same thing.

So coming back to the question,

Although it should be obvious that the most preferred ingredient is the protein content. Veterinarians suggest that protein should make up the most portion of a good dog feed. And that is the reason why many manufacturers can alter their ingredient list so that meat can rank up high.

Make sure you go through the whole ingredient list thoroughly. And also make sure that those ingredients match the claim of the brand. For example, if a “natural” claimed feed contains artificial emulsifiers and preservatives. Something should be fishy right? Exactly!

A quick google search will reveal all of the sources of the ingredients and give info about its appropriateness. It will be especially helpful with those complex scientific type of words that no one can pronounce. Nevertheless, one thing you should always check is that the feed is verified by the AAFCO or Association of American Feed Control Officials.

2. Look for the Nutritional Content

This topic can be a bit subjective cause manufacturers make food for different dog stages (i.e puppy, adult).

The AAFCO lays down the nutritional standard. And there are different standard according to different stages of a dog. For example, the minimum nutritional standard for a puppy will obviously be different than an adult dog. Cause a puppy needs more nutrients as it’s developing.

Anyways, to make things simple there’s a thing called “Guaranteed Analysis”. Which will show the minimum amt (in %) of protein, fat and the max amt of moisture and fiber that will surely be present in the feed.

Some dog feed meets the guaranteed analysis in a way that it can be fed to all the stages of dog. But others most probably will have the minimum set, keeping in mind of the dog’s life stage.

So make sure to always look for this section to see if it meets the nutritional standards laid down by the AAFCO.

3. Be Aware of the Marketing Tactics

As already discussed, the laws regarding the dog food regulations are loose. And thus manufacturers use the available opportunities to promote their feed as something which it isn’t. Holistic, Natural, Organic, Human Grade, Super Premium are the terms that the marketers use.

As a responsible pet parent, you should not fall for these fancy terms. Always do your research on the content/ingredients and then make your decision. And by all means, it does not mean that every brand that uses these terms are bad. Some brands do offer what they say. But it is important to be informed.

So-called “Organic” feed may just contain the majority of its content organic and everything else artificial. Human Grade feed may just include feed which is suitable for human but is spoilt. Again there are no tight regulations on the food production for dogs, so we have to be very careful.

Please in case of any doubt. Just google your query, most of the time that will solve that. But also feel free to directly contact the manufacturer they are bound to give you information related to the source etc. Don’t go with a feed which you don’t feel right about. It’s better to put some effort into the research (and congrats for putting effort to read this article) rather than taking a risk. Always remember in this day and age it’s easy to get a not very good product. But there are good products, we just have to find those.


So hopefully, now you have an understanding of how to go through the ingredient list and make sure that there’s nothing fishy. And also to make sure if the respective feed meets the nutritional standards or not. And also about the different tactic that notorious brands are known to use that can lead dog parents to get a bad dog feed.

As always, good luck! Have a great poochy journey ahead!!

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