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Understanding Pet Food Labels
Amanda Marcum, CVT
Taking a walk down the pet food isle at the local grocery store can be an overwhelming experience. The shelves are stacked with multiple brands and types making it difficult for the pet owner to know what to buy. The various flavors only add to the confusion. The good news is you can make that decision easier if you understand a few things about the product label.
There are two main labels that are legally required on all dog and cat food packaging. The principal display panel is the main area on the front of the bag that contains the product name. The information panel consists of the ingredient list, nutritional adequacy statement, guaranteed analysis, and feeding guidelines. The information panel may be located anywhere on the package. Ingredients on the information panel are listed by quantity in descending order.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has strict regulations that pet food manufacturers must adhere to. One of these regulations deals with the product name on the principal display panel. The name used is based on ingredient percentages of the total product. If a product uses the word “chicken” in the product name, it means that chicken ingredients must make up at least 70 % of the total product. If the words “chicken dinner, chicken entrée, chicken formula” or similar words are used, chicken must make up 10 % of the total product. If the words “with chicken” are used, chicken must make up at least 3 % of the total product. Using the words “chicken flavor” allows for chicken to be less than 3 % of the total product.
If the product name lists two ingredients such as “chicken and liver” then both ingredients together must make up at least 70% of the total product with the first of the two words being the most abundant. The exception is when ingredients such as grains or vegetables are listed with a meat, fish or poultry product. A food with the words “chicken and rice” in the product name still require chicken to make up 70 % of the total product
Understanding the pet food labels is the first step toward choosing the best food for your companion. If you would like further information on pet food labeling and regulations you can visit the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine at http://www.fda.gov/cvm/petfoods.htm.