The dog food nutrition label, like
the nutrition facts box on packaged foods for people, is designed to help you
compare products and to learn more about the food. But it can be a bit hard to
decipher. We’ve put together a guide to the label to help you understand how to
Like packaged food for people, pet food must list ingredients by weight,
starting with the heaviest. But if the first ingredient is a type of meat, keep
in mind that meat is about 75% water, according to the FDA.
Without that water weight, the meat probably would fall lower on the
Meat meals, such as chicken meal or meat and bone meal, are different; most
of the water and fat have been removed, which concentrates the animal
2. What are byproducts, and should I avoid dog foods that contain them?
Veterinarians say that’s a matter of personal choice. Any pet food labeled
as “complete and balanced” should meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
Liver, which is a byproduct, is rich in nutrients such as vitamin A. Meat
byproducts also can contain blood, bone, brains, stomachs, udders, and cleaned
intestines, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
Byproducts don't include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves, although an exception is allowed for
amounts that occur unavoidably during processing.
Meat meal also may contain animal parts that many people consider to be
byproducts. An ingredient listed as “chicken” or “beef” may include the
heart, esophagus, tongue, and diaphragm. Although all these ingredients may
sound unpalatable to you, your dog would probably disagree. So don’t
necessarily balk if you see byproducts in the ingredients list.
Federal rules to guard against the spread of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (mad cow disease) ban some previously allowed cattle and buffalo
parts in animal feed, including pet food. The FDA rule bans the inclusion of
body parts from any animal that has tested positive for mad cow disease, as
well as brains and spinal cords from older animals, as these are considered to
be at higher risk of the disease.
3. What are all those chemical-sounding names lower on the ingredient list?
Preservatives, artificial colors, and stabilizers in pet food must be either
approved by the FDA or be generally recognized as safe, a category that
includes everything from high fructose corn syrup to benzoyl peroxide, used to
bleach flours and cheese. Manufacturers must list the preservatives they
add, but they do not always list preservatives in ingredients such as fish meal
or chicken that are processed elsewhere.
Some pet owners don't want to buy food that contains the synthetic
preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene),
or ethoxyquin. These preservatives stop fats from turning rancid and can keep
dry dog food fresh for about a year, but their safety has been questioned by
some consumers and scientists. But the FDA says they’re safe at the level
used in dog food.