How to Read a Dog Food Label - dummies

By M. Christine Zink

Reading a dog food label to determine whether it provides the correct nutrients for your dog really isn’t very different from reading the nutritional label on your cereal box. A certain amount of nutritional information must be included on the label: on the product display panel on the front of the package and on the information panel usually on the back of the package.

The dog food company uses the product display panel to catch your eye. The key pieces of information you’re likely to find here include the dog food company name, the product identity, the product use, and the net weight of the package.

The front of the package may also have a banner statement, where the manufacturer makes specific claims about the dog food. The content of banner statements is regulated by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

The information panel should provide a guaranteed analysis of what’s in the food, an ingredient list, a nutritional adequacy statement, feeding guidelines, and the manufacturer’s contact information.


Legally, dog food labels are required to state just the minimum levels of protein and fat and the maximum levels of moisture and fiber in the food. Keep in mind that the dog food may have more than the minimum amounts or less than the maximum amounts of components.

Dog food manufacturers are required to list every ingredient in descending order by amount on a dry-weight basis.

In general, a good-quality dog food will have two quality animal protein sources listed in the first few ingredients. Look for a food that also has two different sources of fat in the ingredient list, for adequate energy and to provide all the essential fatty acids.

Poultry, turkey, or chicken fat are higher in quality than animal tallow, because they have more unsaturated fatty acids and are more digestible. Sources of linoleic acid, which is an important omega-6 fatty acid, include most vegetable oils — soybean, lecithin, corn oil, wheat germ oil, sesame seed oil, and linseed oil, so look for these on your dog food label as well.

The right balance of animal fats and plant oils is important for a glossy hair coat and soft, pliable skin.) In addition, look for whole grains, vegetables, and other real-food ingredients on the label.

Every dog food label must have recommendations regarding how much to feed dogs of different sizes. These guidelines usually overestimate the amount of food a typical dog needs to eat every day. Cynics say that this is a ploy on the part of the dog food manufacturers to sell more food.

The dog food manufacturers indicate that these guidelines are based on calculations of what typical dogs in their feeding trials needed to satisfy their energy requirements. The dogs in these feeding trials get a great deal of exercise so this may be true, but most dogs need much less food than the amount listed on the bag.

If your dog is ill, small differences in the amount of nutrients may make a difference in her health, so if you have any questions about what’s in your dog’s food and whether you’re giving her everything she needs, talk with your vet.