Do you know how to read a pet food label? I bet you don’t…

When recently talking with a client about interpreting their pet’s food label, I came to the realization that the vast majority of people out there don’t realize that there is a lot of trickery involved with labeling.  In fact, I had no idea myself until I researched the issue a few years back.

For example, did you know that you can’t use the value as listed on the label to directly compare protein, fat, or carb content between pet foods?  That’s right! The numbers listed on the label are calculated on an “as fed basis.”  That means that they do not account for moisture in the diet, which is an especially big deal if you are comparing a dry food with a canned food.  So a canned food (that is 80% moisture) might say it contains 8% protein while a dry food (that is 10% moisture) might say in contains 30% protein.  Which is higher?

Well, if we remove moisture from the equation to get a “dry matter basis,” it turns out that the canned food is 40% protein and the dry is actually 33%!  This calculation is essential if you are trying to compare guaranteed analysis info between foods.  As you can see, the amount of protein consumed is totally different from what is on the label.

For more information on performing this calculation, go to

SteakAlso, did you know that the title of the pet food actually dictates the percentage of ingredients contained?  So a pet food that says Chicken Dinner for Dogs is going to contain, by law, a totally different amount of chicken than a diet that says Chicken for Dogs.  The key here is the word Dinner.  These are what are known as the 25% or Dinner Rule and the 95% Rule.  The Dinner Rule means that if the word “dinner,” “formula,” or “meal” is used, then the food has to contain at least 25% of the named ingredient.  The 95% Rule typically applies to food with simple names and the named ingredient must make up at least 95% of the diet.  This gets even more complicated:  if the ingredient is preceded by the word “with” then the ingredient it lists only has to make up 3% of the diet (like Chicken Meal with Cheese).  If the ingredient is followed by the word “flavor” then the ingredient doesn’t have to be present at all.  For example, a dog food that is called Chicken Flavored Chow does not have to contain any chicken!

See if you can guess how much beef each diet contains:

  • Beef Dog Food
  • Dog Food with Real Beef Flavor
  • Beef Dinner for Dogs
  • Dog Chow with Beef

If you guessed 95%, 0%, 25%, and 3% you are CORRECT!  Crazy huh?

For more information on how diets are named, go to

I personally thought this was very surprising and more than a little alarming!  If you want to learn more about how to interpret a pet food label, the FDA website is a great place to start!

Veterinarian/Owner of Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic

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