Order a Dr. Harvey's Trial Bag!

Experience fresh food, firsthand.

Learn More

Fast shipping & 100% satisfaction guaranteed

There are no items in your cart.

your online orders with
SAVE 10%
Learn More
Pet Food & Ingredients

Pet Food Labels: What Every Pet Parent Needs to Know

April 12, 2023 - 11 minute read by Richard Rowlands

Jamie Street Utr E5 Dcg Eyg Unsplash Jamie Street Utr E5 Dcg Eyg Unsplash

Nutrition is the foundation of your pet's health and wellbeing, so it's vital to know exactly what you're feeding them. Understanding pet food labels is key to making sure your pet is getting the best nutrition possible. But deciphering these labels can be confusing – there are so many unfamiliar terms and numbers, and it can be difficult to make sense of it all.

Fortunately, pet food labels are carefully regulated in the United States and there are several key pieces of information you should look for. In this article, we'll break down the basics so you can feel confident you're providing your pet with the nutrition they need to stay healthy and happy.

Pet Food Label Requirements: What Are The Rules For Pet Food Labels?

First, it's important to understand who's responsible for setting the rules for pet food labels. The two main regulatory bodies are the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

The FDA regulates pet foods through the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). They require that all products are safe to eat and free from harmful substances. Pet food products must be pure and wholesome, produced in a sanitary environment, and truthfully labeled. The FDA also has specific guidelines for pet food labels including product identification, net quantity, manufacturer information, and a full ingredient list in descending order of weight.

In addition, any health claims made on a pet food label are evaluated by the FDA. For example, if the product claims to support digestive health, the FDA will ensure that there's sufficient scientific evidence to back up that claim.

The AAFCO is a non-governmental organization made up of officials from state and federal agencies in the United States. It sets guidelines for all domestic animal feeds, including pet food. Although the organization doesn't approve or enforce pet food regulations, its guidelines are adopted and enforced by each state's feed control official.

Every year, the AAFCO publishes guidelines for pet food labels, ingredients, nutritional adequacy, additives, and nutrient levels for cats and dogs at different life stages. These then become the basis for regulations in each state.


What Information Is on a Pet Food Label?

Now that you know the basics of pet food labels and the organizations responsible for regulating them, let's go over the key pieces of information you should look for.

Intended Species and Product Name

Each pet food label should clearly identify what species the product is intended for. This will tell you whether the food is suitable for your cat or dog. While this information is straightforward, the same can't be said for the product name, so it pays to read the label carefully.

High-quality foods will have names like "Chicken for Dogs," "Salmon for Dogs," or "Beef Dog Food." This indicates that these foods have 95% of the named ingredient on a dry matter basis. Lower-quality foods may have names like "Chicken Dinner for Dogs" or "Beef Entrée for Cats," which means the food only contains 25% of the named ingredient on a dry matter basis.

If the product name uses "with," this indicates that the food only contains 3% of the named ingredient on a dry matter basis. For example, if the product name is "Dog Food with Chicken," this means it contains only 3% chicken.

The term "flavor" is also one to watch out for. If the product name includes this term, it generally means that there's less than 3% of the named ingredient on a dry matter basis. So "Chicken Flavor Dog Food" means there's only 3% chicken in the food.

Ingredients List

The ingredients list must include all the components of the food in order of weight. However, since moisture is included in the weight, it can be difficult to estimate how much of each ingredient is actually in the food.

The AAFCO's list of ingredients is a great resource for understanding the ingredients in your pet's food. The list includes common terms like "meat" and "poultry by-products," as well as more unfamiliar terms such as "meal" and "rendered products."

Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis (GA) is one of the most important parts of a pet food label. It provides the minimum or maximum levels of protein, fat, fiber, and moisture in the food. This information allows pet parents to compare pet food products and determine which one is best for their pet.

The term "crude" in the GA refers to the method of measuring the nutrient content of the food. Pet food labels are legally required to guarantee a minimum percentage of crude protein and fat, and a maximum percentage of crude fiber and moisture.

In order to compare two different pet food brands, you'll need to calculate the nutrient content of each on a dry matter basis. This means subtracting the moisture percentage from 100% to get the total "dry matter" (DM) in the food. Then divide the ingredient in question by the DM and multiply by 100 to give the total percentage of that ingredient on a dry matter basis.

This article explains more about calculating dry matter basis in pet food and why it's important. Plus, it includes a handy calculator to help you compare different products.

Raw Vibrance Revised 1 (2)

Raw Vibrance to the Rescue!

Take the prep-work and guess-work out of creating a balanced, nutritious Homemade Diet.

+ $3.95 Shipping

Oops. Can you please fix the highlighted fields?

Try Before You Buy

See the difference in your dog!

Generous Sample Size

Enough for several meals.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

Like the GA, the nutritional adequacy statement is a vital part of any pet food label. It tells you if a diet is appropriate for your pet's life stage so you can match the food to their specific needs. The statement will include the AAFCO-recognized life stage for which the food is appropriate. Here are the different stages:

  • Gestation/lactation (pregnant and nursing mothers)
  • Growth (puppies and kittens)
  • Maintenance (adult dogs and cats)
  • All life stages (appropriate for puppies, kittens, and adults)

You may have noticed that seniors, different breeds, and pets with health issues are not mentioned. Since the nutritional needs of these animals vary widely, there are no specific AAFCO-recognized labels for them.

A dog and a person eating from bowls

Feeding Guidelines

The feeding guidelines on the label are a great starting point for determining how much food your pet needs, but keep in mind that they're just an estimate. A variety of factors can affect how much food your pet needs, such as breed, activity level, metabolism, and overall health.

Pet food labels will provide estimated feeding amounts for the weight range of your pet. To find the correct amount for your pet, start by finding their weight on the range and then adjust according to their individual needs.

Net Weight

Net weight is simply the total weight of the food. This number helps you compare the price of different pet foods, since the price is based on weight. The net weight must be clearly stated on the package and can't include additional packaging materials.

Manufacturer's Contact Information

Pet food manufacturers and distributors are legally required to display their contact information on the label. At a minimum, an address must be included, but look for brands that also list a website, phone number, and email address.

If you have questions or concerns about your pet's food, contact the manufacturer for more information. They can provide additional details on ingredients and nutritional content that may not appear on the label.

What Else Should I Look Out For on Pet Food Labels?

So far, we've covered the basic information you'll find on pet food labels. But there are a few other factors to consider when choosing the right food for your pet:

  • Expiration date or "best by" date. Be sure to check the expiration date on pet food packages, as some brands may only have a short shelf life. This is especially important for wet and canned foods. Expiration information is not currently required by law, but many brands will provide it voluntarily.

  • Calorie statement. While not mandatory, many pet food labels will include caloric information per serving. Comparing calorie content between different brands can help you choose one that meets your pet's dietary needs.

  • Medical claims. Be aware that a pet food brand can't legally make medical claims about their product unless it has been evaluated and approved by the Center for Veterinary Medicine. It's always best to talk with your holistic vet about your dog's specific health concerns and dietary needs.


Why Choosing High-Quality Ingredients Matters for Your Dog's Health

Dogs require a balanced diet that contains essential macro and micronutrients, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, for their overall health and wellbeing.

Focusing on high-quality ingredients in your dog's food is crucial as it directly influences their growth, development, and long-term wellbeing. By feeding your pup nutritious whole-food ingredients, you can support their immune system, joint health, digestion, overall vitality, and more.

Dr. Harvey’s strives to offer pet parents easy and healthy solutions for their pups. Raw Vibrance is designed to make it easy for you to provide your dog with a nutritious and balanced raw diet. Composed of 21 incredible whole foods, including raw goat's milk, green-lipped mussels, shiitake mushrooms, and eggshell membranes, Raw Vibrance ensures that your dog receives a diverse range of nutrients.

By simply adding hot water to the base-mix and your desired protein and oil, you can prepare a well-rounded meal for your dog in just minutes. Whether you prefer to use raw or lightly-cooked meat, Raw Vibrance provides a flexible and convenient option for pet parents looking to prioritize high-quality ingredients in their dog's diet.

As a grain-free, holistic, and Non-GMO Certified product made in the USA, you can trust that Raw Vibrance supports your dog's health with every meal.

Find out more about how Raw Vibrance can help your dog achieve optimal health and wellbeing. And feel free to get in contact with us if you have any questions! We're always happy to help.


Your dog deserves real ingredients.

Just combine Raw Vibrance’s nutritional base with high-quality, human-grade protein, add your choice of oil for healthy fats, and you’re all done! It takes just minutes a day and it’s worth it.

+ $3.95 Shipping

Oops. Can you please fix the highlighted fields?

Try Before You Buy

See the difference in your dog!

Generous Sample Size

Enough for several meals.

Image: Jamie Street on Unsplash

About The Author

Richard Rowlands

Richard Rowlands is a copywriter and content creator who works with pet and veterinary businesses. When he's not researching, writing, or creating content plans, he enjoys spending time with his rescue dog, Otto, and exploring new places. Check out his blog for savvy pet parents at richardrowlands.com.