Post Featured Image
Post Featured Image

How to Read a Dog Food Label

Four things you should pay attention to when reading the label of your dog’s store-bought food.

By: Tracey Tong

Last Updated:


How to read a dog food label to make sure it is the best choice for your dog! Look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional adequacy statement. This ensures that the diet meets the minimum nutrition requirements, says Vancouver-based veterinarian Dr. Katherine Kramer. The basis for the AAFCO nutritional statement is either through the formulation method or the feeding trial method, she says. The formulation method is a laboratory nutrient profile analysis that does not require feeding or digestibility trials to substantiate the availability of the listed nutrients. The feeding trial method is considered the “gold standard.” Foods that have had feeding trials can make claims as being appropriate for gestation and lactation, growth, maintenance or complete for all life stages. Pet foods that do not meet the AAFCO requirements will have a nutritional statement that indicates that the food is “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.”

Prioritize proteins

Label ingredients are listed in order of weight with the first ingredient being the largest amount,” says Dr. Kramer. Ideally the food should have one or two quality proteins listed within the first few ingredients.

Know what is meant by guaranteed analysis on your dog food label

This is a mandatory requirement that contains the labeled percentages of crude protein, fat, fibre, and moisture. Discuss the analysis with your veterinarian to make sure the percentages will suit your pet. The guaranteed analysis and the ingredient list are the only way of truly comparing apples to apples when it comes to pet food, says Dr. Danielle Bernal, an on-staff veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food.


“Every pet parent wants to see ingredients they recognize: fresh meat first, concentrated meat proteins second or third, real fruits and vegetables, and then all the bells and whistles like healthy fats, salmon oils or flaxseeds, dietary fibers, prebiotics and probiotics,” she says. Next, Dr. Bernal suggests looking for a long-guaranteed analysis, which is the way of seeing which nutrients are left in the finished kibble once the cooking process is complete. For a healthy pet, look for proteins around 35 percent for dogs and 45 percent for cats, fats moderate around 15 to 16 percent, omega fatty acids guaranteed, vitamins and antioxidants guaranteed, glucosamine and chondroitin guaranteed and probiotics that are listed as guaranteed to ensure they are still viable for a pet when they eat them, she says.

Be wary of marketing terms

Don’t get sucked in by terms, says Dr. Kramer. ”'Holistic' does not have a legal definition in the pet food industry but it is used to imply the food contains additional ingredients to boost health,” she says. “'Natural' also does not have a legal definition but typically implies that there are no additives, preservatives or artificial colourings or flavourings. Both of these terms are typically used as a marketing ploy and any company can use these terms.” Organic foods are those that are free of pesticides, added growth hormones, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, by-products, and genetic modification, says Dr. Kramer. Companies must adhere to strict federal regulations in order to be USDA-certified organic. 

Vegetarian diets suggest that they contain no meat products but may contain dairy products, and vegan suggests that there are no animal products within the diet. Dr. Peter Dobias, who specializes in Western and holistic veterinary medicine and nutrition for dogs and, in 2011, became Canada’s first dog-only veterinarian, suggests avoiding this diet altogether. “Balanced vegetarian or vegan food is reasonable and ecologically sound for humans,” he says. “The canine digestive tract requires a combination of meat, bones, and plant food. People would laugh if someone tried to feed a steak to a rabbit or a horse while we do something very similar to cats and dogs with vegetarian or vegan food. I wish they could thrive on it as it would save animal lives, but they simply can't.”

Treats: What's the Rule of Thumb?

Considering that 56 percent of dogs are overweight, pet parents need to reconsider how they reward their pets and start thinking of healthy snacking choices instead. “The most important thing to consider is that any treats are within your pet’s daily intake and not on top of it,” says Dr. Bernal. Her simple rule of thumb is to have treating account for 10 percent of total daily calories, which in many cases is equal to a few healthy treats.

Dr. Kramer recommends fruits and vegetables, which “make great low-calorie treats,” she says.

Dr. Dobias favours “single source, locally made dehydrated treats. The less processed they are, the better, and dehydrated or cooked meat is ideal,” he says. “Beware of feeding too much liver, which can cause hypervitaminosis A—so-called liver toxicity.”

Moderation is key. Make your dog liver treats at home with the best fresh ingredients!




Last Updated:

By: Tracey Tong
Comments (3)

Join the newsletter and never miss out on dog content again!

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

By clicking the arrow, you agree to our web Terms of Use and Privacy & Cookie Policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.