Reading Your Dog’s Food Label: Part I

Are you mystified by the lists and charts on that bag of dog food? Let’s break down Fido’s food label and figure out what’s what. The most important parts of the label include the following:

  • the name of the food
  • the AAFCO statement
  • ingredients list
  • Guaranteed Analysis

Today, in the first of two parts, we’ll discuss the food’s name and the AAFCO statement. Next time we’ll tackle the remainder of these mystery items.

1. What’s in a Name?

Pet food manufacturers create names to attract the consumer (that’s you, not your dog). But according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), they have to follow certain rules.

AAFCO requires that the food must include at least 25% of the name’s first ingredient. But while “Beef and Chicken Dinner Supreme” has plenty of beef, it may contain as little as 3% chicken. Most foods include a qualifier like “dinner,” “platter,” or “chow,” but if not, requirements are stricter. A simple food labeled “Lamb for Dogs” (not “Lamb Dinner for Dogs”) must contain at least 95% lamb.

A note about “beef flavored”: To earn the “flavored” label, the dog food must have enough of the ingredient to lend it flavor–and that may be only a little broth. No amount of actual meat is guaranteed.

2. The AAFCO Statement

The AAFCO has developed standards to determine how nutritious dog food is. Somewhere near the ingredients list, look for a clearly marked AAFCO Statement. Unless designated as a treat or supplemental food, the food should constitute “complete and balanced nutrition” for dogs. AAFCO tests food two ways: in a laboratory or by feeding the food to dogs over a six-month period to judge its nutritional quality. The statement will tell you which method was used. Both are reliable.

In Part II of this series, we’ll look at what goes into your dog’s food and why those ingredients matter.

Posted by Claire M. Caterer

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