Understanding Pet Food Labels – How To Read And What Matters

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Do you know how to choose good dog food? Do you know how to read pet food labels? If you need help mastering this, then this article is for you. Read on and learn once for all how to understand pet food labels.

As a dog owner, you want the best for your dog. Providing the best for your dog and enabling a good life for him, means that you are doing your best to deliver the right food on the table for your Fido.

If you truly want the best for your dog then you need to keep his nutrition in order. Shopping for dog food can be overwhelming.

After all, the pet market is packed with countless dog brands, with everyone claiming that their food is the best.

When it comes to food type, options are unlimited: dry food, raw food, wet food, age-specific food, breed-specific food, size-specific food, restricted diets, and many more, making the choice harder.

Luckily, there is a simple tool that can help you choose the best food for your canine and the most affordable option for your wallet, and it’s called the food label.

The food label is the best tool to use when you have to make a choice, but can often be hard to understand. Here is how to read a dog food label.

Dog Food Label Format

When something is widely used there has to be some standards. Standards usually mean that certain procedures and steps are followed in order to deliver the same quality for everyone, no matter what the product, and for whom it might be.

Therefore, pet food labels usually follow the same format:

  • Product and brand name
  • Quantity of product weight, liquid measure, or count
  • Analysis that is supported by a respected body
  • Listed nutrients
  • Ingredients listed in order by weight
  • Nutritional adequacy statement
  • Feeding guidelines
  • Calories statement
  • Manufacturer’s information

Reading the Ingredient List

How often do you check ingredients on human foods? If not so often, then thats probably the case with pet food as well, and that OK.

People tend to miss reading ingredient lists – the most common reason for this is that they don’t understand what’s written, and some words just sound weird.

This is the key – you need to read labels calmly and be ready to explore everything that you find weird, unusual, or hard to understand.

Once you master the food label, you will be in fact able to get a better idea of the quality of the product.

At the same time, you will have to learn to recognize various marketing tacts and get to the real information, the real nutrition in the dog food, and food in general.

What Does The Ingredient List Tell You?

Manufacturers are obliged by the law to list all ingredients of dog food in order to weigh. However, the tricky part is that weight is determined before processing. What does this mean? This means that weight will include the moisture content as well. Do your best not to be tricked by wordplay.

For example, if the list says ‘deboned chicken’ in reality it means thats full of moisture, and as you know already – moisture adds weight.

Remember: once the food gets turned into kibble, moisture evaporates.

We all know that dog food should be rich in protein. However, animal protein was being weighed before processing, which means that’s difficult to tell if that protein indeed makes up a large portion of the final product.

What about meat meals? Meat meals are used in higher protein foods because the same weight of meat meal will have a higher protein content when compared to fresh meat, or even the deboned one.

The quality of meat meals can be hard to determine as meat meals must be comprised of meat and bone, and the source isn’t always listed.

Always search for foods with named animal meals, like chicken meal or lamb meal, compared to something marked as meat meal or even poultry meal.

This doesn’t necessarily guarantee the quality, but unmanned meat sources are considered poor quality in any format, and in any size.

Dogs thrive on different foods, so always choose food that’s rich in protein sources, and offers meat meals, whole prey, deboned meat, and even organ meats.

Always choose a food brand that’s transparent about ingredients and stick to them, because some companies will try to hide poor quality ingredients in between good ones.

Feel free to read our dog food comparison to find out the best one for your dog.

What About Additives?

As mentioned earlier, dogs thrive on a variety of foods, no additives. This is why you should always focus on getting food that is rich in meat, healthy fat, and vegetables.

If the food list shows only a few real foods and is followed by 20 or more synthetic additives, then this food could be lacking nutrition from real ingredients.

The only exception may be limited ingredient foods because this type of foods limits their protein sources to one animal, and a few other ingredients.

This type of diet can usually help you determine which ingredients your pet can digest, and which could cause some undesirable reactions.

Bad Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

Choosing the best food for your dog isn’t way when the market is flooded with various food types and feeding options.

Learning to identify bad dog food is as important as knowing to find the good one.

You cannot trust brands too much, because they will use many marketing tricks to make their food appear much better than it actually is.

So, what can you do? The only thing that you can do actually – you need to rely on your knowledge and expertise in reading dog food labels.

Interestingly, some ingredients that are bad in dog food can also be found in human food as well, so you might want to check what you eat as well.

Whenever possible choose healthier options.

Here are the five common ingredients that you should be vary of in your dog’s food:

White Flour

This is a simple carbohydrate with no nutrition. It can also cause a spike and cause hunger soon after consuming it.

Artificial Colours

To make food visually appealing, artificial colors are a great addition. However, they are often linked to hyperactivity and several biochemical processes within the body.

As for colors, they are completely unnecessary both for humans and pets.


MSG stands for monosodium glutamate which is often seen in many processed foods.

This ingredient can cause many issues health-wise both in humans and dogs.

When it comes to dog food, MSG is usually used to make up for the lack of flavor in low-quality ingredients.


Yes, dogs may be allergic to gluten, just like humans are. People usually avoid gluten because it messes up with their stomach, and overall health, and choose to focus on no-gluten foods.

In dog food, gluten can be found in gluten-containing grains, such as barley and wheat. Plus, wheat gluten can often be found as an ingredient on their own.

Chronic ear infections, stinky ears, itching ears, and hot spots are common signs of gluten sensitivity or allergy in dogs.


Salt is much needed both in the human and canine diets. However, for humans and dogs, too much salt can be extremely harmful. If salt is bad for dogs why is it present in dog food?

Salt is found in sufficient quantities in dog food without adding it directly. It’s common for manufacturers to add salt to pet food to create stronger flavor and to encourage drinking water.

However, the high salt amounts can lead to high blood pressure and other health conditions that may include stroke, stomach cancer, and even cardiovascular disease.

If a dog food label says that there is more than 1% of salt know that’s too much, and isn’t allowed. Pet food is required to include less than 1% salt in a complete and balanced diet.

Last, but not least, avoid feeding treats and human foods that are high in salt.

Always Search For Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis will help you understand better just how MCU-specific dog food is healthy or not.

In fact, the guaranteed analysis will tell both the minimum and maximum percentages of protein, fat, fiber, and some key nutrients in the food. It’s important to note that it doesn’t tell you everything, but tells you enough.

Thanks to this analysis you can determine if a specific brand has an appropriate balance of nutrition for your dog or not.

If the label says fat, you might want to think if that fat is from name meat or a less desirable one and so on.

With that in mind, always look beyond the basic information that is offered on the product packaging.

The Bottom Line

Pet food labeling is a serious procedure that goes through few steps before its allowed to be offered to consumers.

The best thing that you can do both for you and your dog is to learn how to read dog food labels and choose the best food possible for your canine.

Learn what the numbers and words are and how to avoid bad food. By providing proper nutrition, you will empower your dog to live a happier, longer, and healthier life.