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Understanding Dog Food labels

 Dog Food Labels?

Dog food labels can be tricky  to understand so here is a look at  how to interpret them. Also included are some of the ‘tricks’ that dog food manufacturers get up to and highlighted are the short comings of the legislation governing dog food labeling.

Dry dog food has a moisture content of less than 14%. Incidentally moist or semi moist foods have moisture contents of between 14 – 60% and wet foods have moisture contents of over 60%!

Here is a summary of what information should legally be included on a pet food label and some of the issues!

  • Name and Product Description
  • Composition (ingredients list)
  • Analytical constituents (information about nutrient levels)
  • Information about additives
  • Best Before Date, Batch Code
  • The name of the producer or the distributor and how to contact them for further information
  • How to use the product (feeding instructions)
  • Weight and/or quantity statement

Labelling Standards
“All information given on a pet food label must be truthful and not misleading about the nature and quality of the product.”

  • Statutory Statement 
    The law requires a statutory statement to be put on every label or package which must contain the following obligatory declarations.

    Direction & Description
    These must state: –
    whether the product is complete or complementary;
    • the species for which the product is intended;
    • directions for use/feeding instructions.

So firstly the label on the food must tell you if the food is complete or complementary.

Complete foods are nutritionally complete, providing all the nutrients in the amounts and proportions your pet needs. It is only complete foods that are suitable for daily feeding without adding further food products.
Complementary foods (treats) are designed to be only a part of a pet’s diet and they do not meet the known nutritional requirements when fed alone.

Typical Analysis (Analytical Constituents)
The percentage of the following must be listed:
• % of proteins
• % of oils & fats
• % of fibre
• % of moisture in the product when it exceeds 14%
• % of ash (ash represents the mineral content of the food and is determined chemically by the burning of the product. % of ash is labelled as one of the following terms ‘crude ash’, ‘incinerated residue’ or ‘inorganic matter’).

Remember -The digestibility of protein and fat can vary widely depending on their sources. A pet food manufacturer made a mock product that had a guaranteed analysis of 10% protein, 6.5% fat, 2.4% fibre, and 68% moisture, similar to what you see on many canned pet food labels. The only problem was that the ingredients were old leather work boots, used motor oil, crushed coal, and water!old boots01

Also remember that in foods with poor quality protein sources the dog has to eat more of it in order to get any nutrients from the food. This is why in most cases you have to feed more of the ‘cheaper’ foods, meaning that the true cost of the food may well be higher than the cost of a good or premium food! Check the feeding guides as well as the ingredients!!!

Ingredients List (Composition)
The ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. They can be indicated using category names, which are laid down by the Regulations, such as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, ‘cereals’, ‘derivatives of vegetable origin’. Alternatively ingredients can be listed by their own individual names. When an ingredient is used that does not fall into any of the prescribed categories, its individual name must be listed. In all other circumstances, mixing individual names and category names in the ingredients list is not permitted. If particular attention is drawn to a specific ingredient in the name of the food (eg With Chicken), the percentage of that ingredient component must also be listed.

Note: So if a food is called Dave’s Puppy Food the individual protein sources do not have to be listed or the amount/percentages in the food declared!  


If you see terms like “with”/”rich in” used on the label, the following amounts must be present, and in addition will be stated on the label:

“flavoured with X” = less than 4% X (but more than 0%)

“with X” = at least 4% X

“rich in X” = at least 14% X

“X dinner” = at least 26% X


Do you know what is in this?? No neither do we!

Extruded Cereals, Meat Products, Cooked cereals, Vegetable Protein, Animal Fats, Minerals, Vegetable Oils, Vitamins and Minerals, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Biotin, Folic Acid, Nicotinic Acid (Niacin), Pantothenic Acid from Calcium Pantothenate, Deoderase – a natural extract from the yucca plant to aid in neutralising offensive odours.

This next example is a very popular food and sold in most supermarkets! Would you feed it to your dog?

Cereals, vegetable protein extracts, meat & animal derivatives (minimum 4% fresh meat in the soft moist kernels, minimum 4% chicken in the brown kernels), oils & fats, derivatives of vegetable origin, various sugars, minerals, vegetables,(minimum 4% vegetables in the green & orange kernels), contains EC permitted colourants, antioxidants & preservatives.

Or would you, like us, prefer to feed this one?

Salmon 36.5%(includes 24% salmon & 12.5% Salmon Meal), Potato (min 26%), Oats, Maize, Sugar Beet Pulp,  Poultry Fat, Salmon Digest, Minerals, Salmon Oil, Vitamins.(Nk9d Adult Salmon and Potato)

Talking about ‘tricks’ here’s one for you – Be aware of those manufacturers who disguise less desirable ingredients by breaking an ingredient into several different smaller ingredients and listing them individually. This is done to lower these undesirable ingredients farther down the ingredient list.

Rice is rice! In this very popular puppy food there is 42% Rice!

Chicken Meal (30%), Brown Rice (21%), White Rice (21%), Oats, Peas, Chicken Oil, Beet Pulp, Sunflower Oil, Seaweed, Vitamins and Minerals.

Wheat and wheat!

Wheat, Chicken Meal (Min 14%), Wheat Feed, Poultry Fat, Peas, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Preservative Potassium Sorbate, Coloured with Sunset Yellow, Tartrazine, Ponceau 4R, Iron Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Patent Blue V..

Note: In cow01case you didn’t know Wheat Feed is a general term applied to the mixture of wheat offal arising from modern flour mills and is generally fed to ruminants!!


 What about these next two? Both are from a very popular premium brand!

Dehydrated Poultry Meat, Wheat Flour, Maize Flour, Maize, Wheat, Animal Fats, Hydrolysed Animal Proteins, Dehydrated Pork Protein, Beet Pulp, Fish Oil, Soya Oil, Yeasts, Minerals, Yeast Extract (Source Of Mannan-Oligo-Saccharides), Egg Powder.

Rice, dehydrated poultry meat, maize, animal fats, maize flour, maize gluten, hydrolysed animal proteins, vegetable protein isolate, chicory pulp, minerals, soya oil, psyllium husks and seeds (1%), yeasts, fish oil, fructo-oligo-saccharides.

You get the idea?

The official definition of Meat and Animal Derivatives or Meat By Products is –

“all the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals”. In addition, all animal material used in pet food comes from animals passed as fit for human consumption.

But Remember –

If your dog food lists Meat and Animal derivatives you don’t know what you are feeding your Dog! Is it Beef? Lamb? Chicken? Turkey? Pork? Or a mixture of any animal proteins! Also the manufacturer has licence to vary the protein source with every batch they make so the food you feed may never be the same!
If preservatives, antioxidants or colourants have been added to the product their presence may be declared on the label. If a pet owner has any queries regarding additives, they should contact the individual manufacturer responsible, quoting the batch number.

In short the manufacturer does not have to declare the preservative they are using in the food. It is well known and documented that some preservatives may be harmful for example carcinogenic and these are regulated by the amounts that can be added to the food.

And of course, if you think about it, if the complete food you are feeding has the maximum amount allowed of a potentially harmful chemical preservative and you then feed treats containing the same preservatives you will be overdosing your pet!!

But dog foods can be preserved with natural ingredients called tocopherols which are Vitamin E concentrate extracted from vegetable oils. These natural preservatives do not give the long shelf lives that some manufacturers prefer and are more expensive than their chemical counterparts but are natural and not harmful.
If Vitamins A D & E are added to the product, their presence and level has to be declared. The level must include both the quantity naturally present in the raw materials and the quantity added. The Regulations also lay down the units which must be used to declare the level.

The amounts of vitamins and minerals listed on the label represent the amounts present at the end of the shelf life of the food -so showing the minimum values in the food at the time of the analysis.

‘Best Before’ Date
This date indicates the minimum storage life of the product. The month and year must be shown.

Bar Code
This is not a legal requirement but allows for information about sales, stocks, etc.

Batch Number
A batch number or the date of manufacture must be given to facilitate traceability of the product. This may be given either in the statutory statement or elsewhere on the package/label/container, in which case the statutory statement shall indicate where it can be found.

Net Weight
The net weight must be given.

Name and Address
This is the name and address of the company responsible for the products. It may be a manufacturer, packer, importer, seller or distributor.

Remember more information about the ingredients that go into dog food is available in our free ‘What’s In your Dog Food’ leaflet. Please visit NK9D to order your Goody Bag.

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