How to Read a Pet Food Label

Reading a pet food label can often end in confusion – ingredients versus nutritional facts, guaranteed analysis, AAFCO statement. What does it all really mean? A pet food label is a legal document regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and is the primary means of communication between the pet food manufacturers and pet owners. We understand that labels can be confusing, therefore we will try to help you understand.


Ingredients are the vehicles that provide nutrients, while nutrients are food components that support life and are metabolically useful. For example, lamb is an ingredient that provides nutrients such as protein, fatty acids and vitamins. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight prior to processing (cooking). Ingredients such as chicken, beef or lamb contain more than 50% water. Their high water content makes them weigh more than dry ingredients such as grains, meat/poultry meal, minerals and vitamins, so they are listed first.

Guaranteed Analysis:

The guaranteed analysis is designed to provide consumers with nutrient information about the pet foods they purchase. It indicates minimum or maximum levels of nutrients such as protein, fat and fiber in the product to guide consumers. It is important to remember, however, that the guaranteed analysis is not an indication of the actual nutrient content of the food. For example, a minimum fat guarantee may be 8%, but the product can legally contain 15% fat or more. Likewise, a product with a maximum guarantee of 5% fiber may only contain 1%.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement (AAFCO Statement):

This portion of the label verifies if the food was put through feeding trials to compose the diet or if it was formulated to need nutritional requirements of AAFCO. It also indicates if the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for growing animals, pregnant and nursing mothers, adults,or seniors. In some cases it may say that the product is nutritionally adequate for “all lifestages”. Caution should be exercised when considering foods intened for all lifestages. They likely contain excessive levels of some nutrients necessary for the most demanding lifestage, which is growth – making them inappropriate for adult or senior pets.

Formulation versus Feeding Trial Method:

Formulation method is less expensive and results are determined more quickly as actual feeding or digestibility trials are not required. There is no guarantee of pet acceptance or nutrient bioavailability when utilizing this method.

Feeding trial method is also known as the “gold standard” for determining nutritional adequacy. The manufacturer must perform an AAFCO protocol feeding trial using the food being tested as the sole source of nutrition. Feeding trials are the best way to document how a pet will perform when fed a specific diet.

Manufacturer’s Toll-free Number:

The package label should contain the manufacturer’s name and phone number. We encourage you to call the companies to learn more about their products, including place of manufacturing, actual nutrient content, calories and palatability of your prospective pet food choice.