All About Dog Food Labels

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Dog Food Series: Part One

Sometimes going to the store can be downright daunting; seeing all those dog foods with all those labels and not really knowing what everything means.

Principal Display Panel and meanings of phrases

There are certain “trigger” words in the food name which can quickly tell us how much of what is in a certain food. In the USA, if the name contains the word:

  • Chicken flavor dog food (contains between 0 and 3% chicken)
  • Dog food with chicken (contains at least 3% chicken)
  • Chicken platter/lunch/… for dogs (contains 25% – 95% chicken)
  • Chicken for dogs (contains 95% of chicken or more)

In the EU situation is slightly different:

  • With chicken flavor / chicken flavor (more than 0 and less than 4% of chicken)
  • With chicken / contains chicken (at least 4% chicken)
  • High in chicken / extra chicken / with extra chicken (at least 14% chicken)
  • Chicken dinner/recipe/menu/… (at least 26% chicken)
  • [Brand] chicken (only chicken + jelly/gravy/additives/supplements

Nutritional adequacy statement / Nutritional Claim

This explains which and whose needs a certain food fulfills. The standardized terms are:

  • Complete and balanced / 100 % nutritious (complete and balanced nutrition)
  • Complementary (helps with a certain part of a diet, but does not contain everything and needs to be used in combinations)

Sometimes the food label also explains which stage of life the food is made for:

  • Growth
  • Gestation/lactation
  • All life stages
  • Maintenance

Feeding guide / feeding instructions

Usually contains information on the amount of food to be provided / body weight of the animal. Highly regulated in the EU, not so much in the USA.

Ingredients list and additives

Ingredients lists describe raw materials used and the amounts in which they are present in the dog food.

In the EU additives fall under their own category. They tend to be grouped in five types: vitamins, copper, preserves, antioxidants, coloring agents.

Guaranteed / typical analysis

Typical analysis contains information on nutritional contents and amounts. It is the most important part of the label when dealing with dog food plans. While there are some variation in which information is listed the analysis typically states the amount of: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture. 

Other, legally non-defined terms

These terms commonly appear on the labels, but are not legally defined; so manufacturers are able to use the terms as defined by each company: 

  • Organic (usually implies no preservatives, colouring, flavoring, antibiotics, growth hormones or filler)
  • Natural (refers to the way animals / plants were grown, rather than the food not having additives)
  • New Protein (contain “exotic” animals – such as bison or kangaroo rather than pork, chicken, beef)
  • Human-grade food (can theoretically be consumed by humans without harm, though the enforcement of the standards/law varies by country)
Notice that we didn’t go very deep into the the label part called guaranteed/typical analysis. The label guaranteed analysis (or typical analysis) is the focal point of good dog food plan and is so important that it deserves an article of its own.
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