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The truth about dog food

Do you know how to read a pet food label? Does the idea of knowing exactly what to feed your dog ever leave you feeling confused? If so, join the club. Even yours truly, who reads and writes about dogs, dog products, and dog nutrition, gets perplexed.

It was with ardent fervor that I attended a seminar focusing on pet nutrition during a recent pet bloggers conference. The very informative one-hour presentation was given by Daniel S. Aja, DVM, at BlogPaws. Some of the key points Fidose of Reality learned about pet food and nutrition:

  • AAFCO sets the nutritional standards for animal foods sold in the United States and Canada. Look for the nutritional adequacy statement on pet food labeling.
  • The nutritional adequacy statement need not guarantee a pet’s acceptability of the food nor nutrient bioavailability.
  • The “gold standard” to receive the AAFCO statement is the animal feeding trial method. Using the food as the sole source of nutrition, the documentation reveals how an animal performs when fed a specific food.
  • The Guaranteed Analysis on a pet food label only lists maximums and minimums; this is NO indication of quality.

pet food label

  • Check out the ingredients; they are listed in descending order by weight. Meat can appear first due to higher moisture content than the dry ingredients in the food. Several different forms of the same ingredient may be listed separately, commonly known as “ingredient splitting.”
  • Nutritional excesses are more common and as harmful as nutritional deficiencies. The old adage, “too much of a good thing” does apply to pet food.
  • If the pet food name says “chicken, beef, seafood, etc” for the meat source, for AAFCO standards, it must contain at least 95 percent of the named ingredient.
  • If the pet food name says, “formula, recipe, dinner, entrée, or platter,” for AAFCO standards, it must contain at least 25 percent of the named ingredient.
  • If the pet food name says, “with (as in with chicken, with beef)”, for AAFCO standards, it must contain at least 3 percent of the named ingredient.
  •  If the pet food name says, “flavor (as in beef flavor)”, for AAFCO standards, it must contain at least 3 percent or less and disclose the source of flavor.

Naming pet foods

  • USDA rules must be followed in order for a product to have an “organic” label. The term organic in the pet food world IS legally defined.
  • The term “natural” requires a pet food to consist of only natural ingredients and have NO chemical alterations.
  • There is absolutely NO definition of the word “holistic” in terms of pet food law. Pet food manufacturers can call a pet food “holistic” regardless of the ingredients. Proceed with caution.
  • Human grade bears little, if any, trust on a pet food label. If a product for pets claims “the purchaser can eat it,” this is false as there are no legal mandates in place. The same goes for “human quality” labeling. No regulations required. Ugh!
  • What about the pet food recalls? Pet food manufacturers and distributors carry out recalls to protect “public health and well-being from products that present a risk of injury or gross deception or are otherwise deceptive.” Proceed with caution, always.

guaranteed analysis pet food

The bottom line: Know what your dog is eating to the best of your ability. A healthy dog running without inhibition into a meadow with daisies on the front of  a can or bag of food does not equate to health on the inside (of the product nor the dog).

With the array of choices in dog foods available, dogs are what they are eating. Garbage in, garbage out, and buyer always beware. Our dogs can’t shop the aisles, read the labels, and make a concerted decision on what is best for them. That’s our job as their pet parents, so be armed with information and be the owner your dog wants you to be.

Do you read labels and know what your dog is eating??


  1. Jessica Sala says

    This is great information! Thank you so much for such a packed article that covers so much of the information surrounding purchasing safe food!

    • Bill says

      Great info! Accurate and relevant for every dog owner! I believe that anyones pet can only be as healthy as their diet. And what better way to safeguard the diet than by being an expert on what you buy! Once you can read a label then its time to shop!

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