How to reStephad a dog food label

 Written by Stephanie Colaianni

There are so many types of dog foods out there, how do you know which one is right for your pet? Just the basics of learning how to read a food label, will help you make your decision.

The front of the bag:

Yes, the bag’s vibrant and bold colors are what bring in your attention, but more than that, you see words like “holistic”, “organic”, “human grade” and “natural”. What exactly are these words and what do they mean?

“Organic” is actually the only word that has any regulation to it. The USDA will allow a company to use its logo and the word “organic” on the bag, only if, that food meets their qualification. Terms like “holistic”, “human grade” and “natural” have no real definition in the USDA or FDA language. Some food brands will try to get around this with changing the spelling of the word “organic” by using an “x” instead of the “c”. However, the word “organic” in its form is only allowed to be on packaging after it’s been approved by the USDA.

Royal Caninhealthyadvantage






The back of the bag:

For most of us, the second thing we look at is the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in descending order based on the pre-cooked weight of that particular ingredient. The protein source tends to be the first item (chicken, beef, venison, etc).

Ingredient splitting is the main way around how the ingredients are listed. For example, instead of a list stating “rice”, they will specify the individual rice so that they are lower on the ingredient list like “rice gluten” and “rice bran”. This way of splitting ingredients helps bring the meat or protein to the top of the list. It is not necessarily a bad thing to list the ingredients individually. This just opens a new way of reading the label and educating yourself on what exactly it is you’re looking at.

If you really want to do the math and calculate the “dry matter basis” of your pet food, here’s a great link with the math equation:



What is AAFCO and why should I know about it?

AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) is a group that works with local, state and federal agencies to regulate the feed control rules. While they do a lot, the one thing they have that directly correlates with pet food is the AAFCO Statement. By law, every pet food bag must have an AAFCO statement. Usually it’s small and hidden either on the side of the bag, by the ingredients listing or by the bar code. The statement will include one of two phrases: “Feeding tests” or “Formulated”. Feeding tests means that the food was physically fed to a controlled group of animals to signify that the food is healthy enough for consumption. This is great for prescription foods because this means that it was tested successfully on dogs or cats. Formulated means that the food produced was based on a written formula and wasn’t actually fed to animals. Most pet food is formulated because of the amount of money it takes to actually have a study done. Keep in mind, just because it says “formulated” doesn’t mean that it’s not a good food.


Hopefully this excerpt will help you look at your pet food a bit differently. In a future blog, I will go over certain ingredients and touch a bit more on ingredient detail.