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Reading a pet food label, how difficult can it be? You just pick up your regular brand and look at the variety on the front, right? Not so fast! Reading a pet food label isn't as easy as you may think. It's not just ingredients and feeding suggestions. There's also a "secret code" you should know about. The code helps you separate the Chicken Formula from the Chicken Dinner and the Beef and Bacon from the Beef with Bacon. You may be thinking "Aren't they all the same?" and the answer is no.
While pet food labeling is regulated at the federal level, some states have their own labeling laws. Many follow the Pet Food Regulations established by the AAFOC (Association of American Food Control Officials).
The secret of pet food descriptions are dictated by four AAFCO rules...
1) The 95% Rule - The products that fall under this regulation have simple descriptions such as "Chicken Cat Food" or "Beef for Dogs". These foods must contain at least 95% (not including water) of the named ingredient. In this case, chicken or beef. If a food description contains more than one meat, poultry or fish ingredient such as "Chicken and Liver Cat Food" , then both ingredients combined must equal 95%, with the first named ingredient being the highest percentage of the two. The 95% rule does not apply to grains and vegetables, so "Chicken and Rice Dog Food" must still contain 95% chicken.
2) The 25% or "Dinner" Rule - If the named descriptive ingredient falls between 25%-94% of the total product (still not counting water), then the description must include a qualifying word such as "Dinner", "Platter", "Formula", etc. As in the first rule two listed ingredients must have be at least 25% of the total weight combined. So, "Chicken Dinner" only has to contain 25% chicken, while "Chicken and Liver Dinner" only has to contain 25% of the two combined. (Minimum of 3% of any named ingredient.) Unlike the first rule, the 25% rule applies to all food, not just meat sources.
3) The 3% or "With" Rule - This is where things get a little sneaky. Any ingredient on a label proceeded by "with" must equal at least 3% of the total weight (minus water). That might sound all right if the food is "Beef with Chicken" (95% beef, 3% chicken), but how does it sound in this form..."Dog Food with Beef"? Yep, that tells you that it only has to contain 3% beef! (Makes you wonder what the other 97% contains doesn't it?)
4) The "Flavor" rule - There is no percentage attached to an ingredient described as a "flavor". There only needs to be an amount sufficient enough to be detected by test methods. As you can probably guess "Chicken Flavored Cat Food" may contain very little chicken. In this case it doesn't even need to be chicken as we normally think about it, but instead can be chicken meal or chicken by-products.
Premium Food - Looking down the pet food aisle you may be attracted to foods listed as "Premium" or "Gourmet". These descriptive words have no requirements attached to them, so while a "Premium" food may sound like it's higher quality food, in reality it doesn't have to be any better than anything else on the shelf.
Now you know the secret of pet food descriptions and can be confident that the next time you're scanning the different varieties of food for your best friend you'll be able to tell the difference between "Beef for Dogs", "Beef Dinner", or "Dog Food with Beef".
Jill Richards is the Owner/Operator of "Have Leash, Will Travel - Pet Sitting" in Aurora, CO and offers t-shirts, sweatshirts, and stickers to Pet Professionals, Animal Rescue Workers, Anti-Breed Ban/BSL Fighters, and Pet Lovers through USPetPros.com