What To Look For On Pet Food Labels

“Crude ash content 5%, moisture content 12%, fibre content 3%, steak flavoured meal”; Such statistics and this type of wording are all found on pet food packaging, but a straw poll among pet owners will quickly reveal that few know what these values and claims mean.

Pet food labels contain essential information but sometimes it is difficult to understand all the details. Everyone knows that balanced diets include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals but we still commonly buy pet foods without considering the contents, mostly because it is convenient, well-packaged, and attractively advertised.

As caring pet parents, we should know whether and how our pet’s nutritional needs are being met. Below is a breakdown of the key information to glean from pet food labels.


  • Front-of-bag statements by reputable brands are usually very accurate, but it’s important to understand what these claims mean because certain label-wording is regulated:

    • A label that highlights the contents as, e.g., “chicken dog food” or “beef dog food” must contain a minimum of 65% of the named ingredient.
    • When in combination with words such as “formula,” “dinner,” or “entrée” at least 26% of the mass should be the named ingredient.
    • Advertising that the product is “dog food rich in chicken” means that at least 14% of the content should be chicken.
    • Using the word “with” in the description e.g., “dog food with lamb” could mean a main ingredient content as low as 4%.

  • The guaranteed analysis that specifies the nutrient quantities in the product is not a legal requirement, but must be accurate if present. Remember that labels stating “max,” or “min” reflect ranges, not actual values.

  • The required daily allowance (RDA) on human food packaging tells us what percentages of the recommended intake of vitamins etc. the contents provide. This is not found on pet food labels because of the extreme size differences, particularly among dog breeds. The serving guides somewhat fulfil that purpose.

  • All ingredients should be listed by weight, from the highest to the lowest content. Protein in grams/kg is usually followed by moisture, fat, fibre, carbohydrates, and crude ash. The latter sounds odd but is a measure of the trace minerals essential for pet health. This is not an additive but the remnants when all the other contents such as protein, fibre, etc. are incinerated. Normally, crude ash should not exceed 8% or be less than 2%.

  • The energy content is expressed as “kilocalories per kilogram”. This lets owners calculate the optimal calorie count per serving for their pet’s energy needs.

  • All additives such as colourants, flavourings, and preservatives should also be listed. This is especially important for managing allergies.

  • The manufacturer’s information, such as a consumer support number and the company address, should always be included.

In New Zealand, pet food labelling is regulated by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

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