How to Read Pet Food & Supplement Labels

Feb 2, 2023

If you’re a pet owner, you want to provide your dog or cat with food that’s going to keep the animal healthy and meet its nutritional needs. Doing so is easier said than done sometimes, though, due to how confusing pet food labels can seem in relation to the price. Two seemingly identical pet products might have significantly different price tags despite their only obvious difference being the brands.

Despite how similar these products might seem at a glance, a thorough examination of the label will likely shed light on just how different these two items are.

To discover how to read dog food and supplement labels and simplify the process of shopping for pet food, read through this short guide. We will cover the most common information included in pet food labels, what specific words mean, and how to determine whether your pet food is nutritionally adequate for your pet.

Label Categories

Pet food labels, namely the labels on cat and dog food products, will usually contain the same basic categories. These include:

  • The name and address of the manufacturer
  • Nutritional Adequacy Statement (which states that the food product provides a certain blend and level of nutrients, which needs to be verified through testing)
  • The brand name of the product
  • A guarantee listed for the laboratory analysis of the food blend
  • Feeding instructions
  • The quantity of food included, which may be listed as weight, volume, or count
  • The number of calories included in each serving

Label Wording

Because of the careful regulations that dog and cat food manufacturers have to follow, the wording used on pet food packaging is very specific. You may notice, for example, that some pet food products have simple titles like “chicken dog food” while others say things like “lamb-flavored dog food” or “cat food with salmon.” The words used in these titles are intentional.

Let’s go over how to read a pet food label based on the wording used.

  • 95% Rule: When a pet food product uses the name of an ingredient in the name without a qualifier, such as “Salmon Dog Food,”  that ingredient must cover at least 95% of the food’s ingredients. Additionally, according to the AAFCO (the entity that regulates pet food), the ingredient also has to make up 70% of the total food product with the inclusion of the water added. The remaining 5% of the ingredients should be nutritionally-valuable items, like vitamins.
  • 25% Rule: When the name of a pet food product uses an ingredient with a qualifier, like “Lamb Dinner” or “Chicken Entree,” that ingredient has to cover at least 25% of the product’s ingredients. If more than one ingredient is named in the food title, those ingredients combined need to equal at least 25% of the product. With the added water included, this ingredient has to make up at least 10% of the total product.
  • Food that uses “with” in the brand name: If you see an ingredient that accompanies the modifier “with,” that specific food only needs to contain 3% of the ingredient named. So, if the food you’re looking at says “Dog Food with Duck,” you’re probably not getting very much duck meat in the food.
  • Flavoring: If the name of a dog or cat food product mentions flavor, “Chicken Flavor” for example, there isn’t a specific percentage requirement, but the ingredient must at least be detectable when testing is performed.

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Ingredient Lists

Depending on the brand and type of food you’re buying, a variety of ingredients might be listed on the label. While being able to recognize and pronounce every ingredient in your pet’s food is ideal, a long or unfamiliar ingredient name isn’t necessarily a red flag.

Certain pet foods are going to contain a slightly different blend of ingredients if the product is designed to meet a specific need. For example, food designed for senior dogs will likely contain different ingredients than weight management food for overweight cats.

That said, there isn’t a specific number of ingredients your pet food should or should not contain, but in general, limited ingredient dog food usually indicates a more high-quality product. A product without a lot of fillers or preservatives will typically have a shorter list of ingredients than a lower-quality product.

However, deciding whether the food you’re considering is beneficial to your pet’s health should rely more on product labels than the number of ingredients. If your pet food includes the words “complete and balanced,” you can rest assured that the product contains the minimum nutritional requirements for its type. A well-rounded product will include a nutritional adequacy statement on the label.

Additionally, the labels on the product will indicate which life stage it is intended for.

Treats & Supplements

Limited-ingredient dog treats and supplements are usually going to be healthier to give your pets. For example, if you’re looking for CBD dog supplements and you want to learn how to read a pet CBD label, you’re probably going to have an easier time than researching food ingredients.

CBD supplements or pet treats with short, clear ingredient lists are oftentimes going to provide your pet with safe, palatable products you won’t have to worry about. Plenty of natural pet treats contain as few as two or three active ingredients, and each one listed is easy to identify.

For example, these calming supplements for dogs have baobab, hemp extract, and chamomile listed as the active ingredients. The inactive ingredient list is also relatively short and lists items that most people will recognize, such as rice flour, honey, peanut flour, tapioca, and Vitamin E Tocopherols (to keep the CBD chews fresh).

For pet owners who have special needs animals, or people who are simply not sure how to narrow down their options, speak to your veterinarian. They will be able to recommend what meets your pet’s needs.

If you’re looking for limited-ingredient pet CBD chews to help manage discomfort and stress, Pet Releaf has you covered. Feel free to explore our catalog to find something your pet will love.

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