How to Read a Dog Food Label
Reading nutrition labels is important when choosing dog food. WebMD shows you how.
4. How can I make sure the food meets my dog’s needs?
Look for a statement of nutritional adequacy on the label.
Many pet food makers follow model regulations set by the Association of
American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that establish the minimum amount of
nutrients needed to provide a complete and balanced diet. The statement may say
the food is formulated to meet AAFCO standards or that it has been tested in
feeding trials and found to provide complete nutrition.
The AAFCO statement also should say what life stage the food is appropriate
for. For puppies, look for a food suitable for growth or all life stages. For
adult dogs, look for adult maintenance or all life stages. Nutritional needs
for senior dogs can vary, depending on health conditions, and there is no AAFCO
standard for senior food.
5. What is the guaranteed analysis?
All dog food labels must list the minimum amount of protein and fat in the
food and the maximum percentage of fiber and moisture.
Some dog food labels also list the percentage of other ingredients, such as
calcium and phosphorous.
Low-fat dog foods often contain less fat and more fiber, to fill up a dog
without adding calories.
At least 10% of the daily diet, by weight, should be protein, and 5.5%
should be fat, according to the National Research Council, a scientific
research unit of the nonprofit National Academies. Dog foods typically contain
higher amounts than those, because dogs may not be able to digest all of the
nutrients in a food.
6. What do “natural” and “holistic” labels mean?
Legally, not much. Food labeled as natural should contain few, if any,
synthetic ingredients. Holistic, along with premium and super-premium, are
marketing terms and there is no rule that controls how they’re used. Watch out
for marketing terms like “human-grade ingredients” or “made in a USDA-inspected
“It’s difficult to confirm those claims are truly accurate,” says Teresa
Crenshaw, interim chair of AAFCO’s pet food committee. Although pet food can be
made in a USDA-inspected plant, it may happen when there is no inspector
present, Crenshaw says. Meat once considered safe for humans may have spoiled
and been diverted to pet food, she says. Neither claim means the food is safe
for humans to eat.