Understanding dog food labels is important to make sure that your pet dog gets the necessary nutritional requirements. Food labels on dog food should have information regarding ingredients, nutritional adequacy, and feeding directions. Knowing what the information on dog food labels means will also ensure that you feed your dog the appropriate type of food.

What should you know if you want to understand the jargon on food labels for dogs? Here are the essential facts when it comes to dog food labeling.

AAFCO Pet food regulations

The Association of American Feed Controls Officials has established some standard when it comes to labeling pet food. Although each state sets down its own laws and regulations, most pet foods sold in the U.S. comply with AAFCO guidelines.

Food ingredient list on dog food labels

Most dog owners look at the food ingredient list to see what the food contains. It’s good to remember that the list is in order of the heaviest to the lightest. Because protein is one of the most important nutritional requirements, there should be plenty of meat in a dog’s diet.

If the food label states that the food is “complete and balanced,” it should contain everything needed for your dog’s nutritional needs.


Byproducts from chicken and beef may be classed as meat on the dog food labeling. According to the AAFCO, this can include offal, blood, bone, cleaned intestines and other internal organs. Of course, these food items probably sound revolting for humans, but they are tasty sources of nutrition for dogs.

Byproducts can’t include hooves, hair, horns, or teeth.

Guaranteed analysis

The guaranteed analysis should state the proven minimal amounts of protein, fat, and other nutrients that are in the dog food. To keep your dog healthy, you should include in your pet’s daily diet 10% protein and 5.5% fat. Some overweight dogs require low-calorie dog food that generally has less fat content and higher fiber content.

How to understand terms like “natural” on dog food labeling?

It can be confusing when you come across terms like “natural”, “organic”, or “holistic” on dog food labels. Usually, food that is labeled as “natural” should not contain synthetic or chemical additives in it. However, the U.S. FDA regulations that apply to what is classed as natural for human consumption doesn’t apply legally to dog food.

Other marketing terms to be aware of include:

  • Organic. Although “organic” sounds good, you should check the label for the percentage of organically-produced ingredients in the dog food. Even if there is just a small amount of “organic” food, the whole product can be labeled as organic.
  • Corn or grain-free. It’s important to remember that dogs don’t need a corn or grain-free diet. Also, whole grains contain important vitamins and nutrients and are sources of fiber. However, remember that grain shouldn’t make up the majority of ingredients.
  • Limited ingredients. This type of dog food labeling is designed for dogs with allergies. While it’s good to limit the number of ingredients, you should also check the number of additives and supplements on the list that may have been added to boost the nutritional content.