Understanding Pet Food Labels

Happy Havanese puppy dog is lying beside a red bowl of dog food

One of the most stressful things about shopping for groceries is reading the labels. You’re definitely not alone if you feel like trying to look at or compare food labels sends you down a blackhole. Just as soon as you start to feel like you’re getting a handle on calorie counts and daily percentages, you notice an ingredient with a strange name that sets off your internal red flags. 

Trying to read pet food labels can be just as stressful of an experience. Because pet food labels have to comply with the rules set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, they are actually considered legal documents. That status makes a lot of sense when you attempt to read a pet food label and immediately feel like you’re being hit with a mountain of jargon.

Although making sense of pet food labels isn’t something that comes naturally for most people, the good news is it’s definitely possible to figure out whether or not a food product contains things that you want your pet to consume. To help you get a better understanding of things, we’ve put together a list of the pet food label elements that matter most:

Food Type

A common stumbling block in regards to reading pet food labels is the various food type terms that are used. What’s interesting about those terms is even though they may just seem like marketing buzzwords, they actually have very specific meanings. Let’s use the meat chicken as an example. If you only see the word chicken on a label, the food is at least 95% chicken. Chicken dinner means the product must contain 25-94% chicken, while the requirement for the phrase with chicken is at least 3%. And chicken flavor means the food must have a detectable amount of chicken.

Meal vs. Meat

Another area where people get tripped up is understanding the difference between meal and meat. Meal simply refers to meat that has been ground up and dried to a moisture level of 10%. This process actually makes meal much richer in protein than standard meat. Chicken meal has protein content of 65%, while the protein content of standard chicken is only 18%. This increase in protein is one of the reasons Pet Wants uses meal in its foods.

Feeding Directions

Even though feeding directions are generally one of the easiest elements of a label to understand, that doesn’t mean you want to gloss over them. Given the varying ingredients across different types of pet food, following a specific food’s feeding instructions is the best way to ensure you’re using the right portions and thus maximizing the nutritional soundness of that food.

If you want to feed your pet food that you can be confident will play a positive role in its health, we encourage you to take a look at our Pet Wants ingredients page to see all of the quality nutrients that go into each of our pet food blends.

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