Pet Food Labeling

August 14th, 2014

Trying to decipher food labels on human food is hard enough, but understanding pet food label is even more difficult.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set guidelines and standards for pet food and provides a summary of labeling rules. When a product advertises a particular meat in the name of the food, the percentage of meat it must contain is determinate on the wording. If a product name states the meat first, as in "Lamb for Dogs'' or "Tuna Cat Food,'' the FDA rules require that at least 95 percent of the product consist of the named meat, excluding the water that is added for processing. If the pet food name has 2 meats, such as "Beef 'n Chicken Dog Food,'' then two food items together must make up 95 percent of the total, and the first-named product must be the majority. This rule does not apply to grains, so if it is a “Lamb and Rice dog food,” for instance, it still must contain 95% lamb.

The second guideline pertains to a label that contains a qualifying word like "Shrimp Dinner.'' If there is an additional word such as "Dinner,'' Entree,'' "Formula,'' etc., the named meat ingredient need only make up 25% of the product. It may contain a higher percentage of another animal product than the one named, as long as together; the two ingredients comprise at least 25%.

A third guideline of the labeling system is when a pet food label contains the word “with” in its product name. If a manufactured good is named “Cat food with tuna,” then there only needs to be 3 percent of tuna in the package according to the FDA requirements. Therefore, it is imperative to know these three guidelines and to read labels carefully.

The FDA also stipulates that pet food labels disclose the minimum percentages of protein and fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. Dog food labels frequently include the minimum percentage levels of calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and linoleic acid, and cat food labels usually list the quantities of taurine and magnesium, because they are essential for good health in felines. Something else to consider is the fact that different pet foods have different moisture contents. Dry pet foods have the least, and canned pet foods have the most. Checking with a vet for specific nutritional advice allows for the best decision making to take place.