There’s a wealth of information on a dog food label. The two main parts of a label are the principal display panel (PDP) and the information panel. The PDP is typically the part facing out on the retail shelf. Information required by law to be included on a dog food label includes the product name, a net quantity statement, and descriptive words about the type of product in the container.
In order for a food to proclaim a specific word (such as “beef”) in the product name, regulations dictate that the product must be made up of 95% beef. Typically, this kind of product would be a canned food. The 25% or “dinner” rule applies to canned and dry dog foods. Products using a descriptor in the name, such as “dinner,” must be made up with at least 25% of the ingredient in the name.
The net quantity statement tells the consumer how much of the product is found in the container. The FDA regulates how this statement is printed on the container so that it is consistent among brands. Dog owners can use this statement to compare the cost of different sized products. Look at the cost per ounce or per pound of dog food to make sure you are getting the best possible deal.
On the ingredient list, ingredients that make up the product are listed in order of predominance by weight. Weights are determined including water content. This is why comparing products on a dry matter basis (not including water) helps make a true comparison of ingredients. Typically ingredients must be listed by their common or “usual” name. Chemical names that appear in this list will be vitamins or minerals that are necessary for complete nutrition.
All dog food containers are required by law to show the minimum percentages of protein and fat and the maximum percentages of fiber and moisture contained in the product. These are called guaranteed analyses. The most accurate method of comparison is to convert the guarantees to a dry matter basis. By taking the water out of the equation, you get a better idea of the true value of the product.
AAFCO established a rule that any dog foods using the claim that they are “complete and balanced” on the label must meet specific nutritional requirements to ensure complete nutrition. Foods can either be created to meet these requirements or they can be tested according to specific AAFCO-dictated procedures. The statement must also describe which lifestage the product is meant to be suited for, such as for growth, maintenance, senior, etc.
Other parts of the dog food label include the feeding instructions, calorie contents, and manufacturer contact information. Directions tell the dog owner how much of a particular dog food product should be given to the dog daily. The manufacturer must by law include their contact information on the bag, box, or can. Most dog food companies will include a toll free phone number for customer service inquiries and/or a website.