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A simple guide to reading pet food labels

on November 19, 2020

Front of pack

What it should tell you at a glance

The front of a packet, tin or tray of food should tell you what type of animal the food is for the brand, flavour and life stage of the pet. It may also give extra information such as whether it's a diet for a specific condition and if the food is suitable for sensitive pets i.e. hypoallergenic
It may not always be on the front, but legally the packaging should also state whether the food is complete or complementary. A complete diet contains everything the pet needs to survive, including all the necessary vitamins and minerals. A complementary food e.g. a treat or a mixer needs to be fed alongside a main diet for the dog or cat to get all the nutrients they need.

Amount of the main ingredients

You should be able to work out how much of the main ingredients are included in the food just by looking at the front of the pack.
The European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) has produced guidelines to help manufacturers with labelling, making sure that labels and claims on pet food are clear and not misleading. Some of the guidelines are mandatory and others are recommendations. One of these guidelines is about the amount of the ingredients in the ‘flavour’ of pet food listed on the front of the packet.

For example:

To have a flavouring the food does not actually need to contain any chicken at all. Flavourings can be produced using a combination of other ingredients.
The word is very important as this means there has to be at least 4% of the named ingredient in the food, in this case chicken. 
The words or high equate to 14% of meat in the food.
If the variety of food is stated this means, there should be at least 26% of this ingredient in the food. In the case of a food called ‘chicken and rice’ this means there should be at least 26% chicken and at least 26% rice.
To check if you are correct you can then turn to the back of pack and look at the composition list (ingredients). If there is an ingredient listed on the front of the packet, then the percentage of that ingredient must be labelled on the back.

    Back (or side) of pack

    The back or side of the packet, tin or tray of food is where you will find the small print, the important stuff! You should be looking for several main components; the ingredients, which are usually labelled as composition, the analytical constituents, nutritional additives and the feeding guidelines. You should also find details about the company that produce the food so you can contact them with queries or problems with the food.


    Ingredients (Composition) 

    Ingredients are always listed in descending order of weight (biggest ingredient first). Unless you are looking for a light or senior dog diet, meat should usually be the first and therefore greatest ingredient.
    A good quality food will list all the ingredients by their specific name, rather than vague descriptions of ingredients such as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, ‘cereals’ or ‘vegetable derivatives’. If your pet suffers from food allergies, then you will need to check the ingredients carefully and you may wish to look for a food that only contains one source of meat/protein (single source) to make food trials easier.

    Analytical constituents (or Typical analysis)  

    These figures tell you the average amount of protein, fat, fibre and ash (minerals) are in the food. This is not particularly handy in determining the quality of a pet food because the actual amount of protein the dog or cat gets from the food will depend on the quality of ingredients, processing, digestibility and individual variation of the pet. However, they can be used to help you work out how many calories are in the food.


    Dog Food Ingredients



    You might be worried why there are additives in pet food. When we hear this term we automatically think of colourings, artificial flavourings and chemical preservatives but additives can also include nutritional essentials such as added vitamins, minerals and amino acids.


    Feeding guidelines

    Feeding guidelines for complete food usually recommend the average amount of food you should feed your dog or cat each day. These can be a useful starting point but should be adjusted for each individual pet as they can differ depending on exercise, environment, breed, age, sex and many more factors.


    Extra information

    Packaging can also tell you if the food is low in fat, avoids certain ingredients, is suitable for certain health conditions, contains added extras such as joint supplements, where it was produced, environmental information, the storage instructions and what batch number and best before date are. However, if there is anything else you would like to know you should be able to contact the company producing the food for the answers.