Making Sense of Dog Food Labels

Dog food label

Does a rose by any other name still smell as sweet?

Honestly, you must be thinking, “what do roses and dog food have in common?” Well, not much but reasonably speaking if someone sells you a rose, you’d expect a rose in return for your dollar and not a tulip.

The same goes for our dog’s food. And this is where a name by any other name should be, well, called something else.
Which brings us to the real topic of discussion—dog food labelling. Have you ever wondered how labels for commercial dog food are written? Most commercial brands have adopted the labelling requirements of the American Association of Feed Control Official (AAFCO) where ingredients are listed by order of weight before processing.

Keep that thought in mind.

Meat/Meal, Potato/Potato
We’re sure you’ve seen this word ‘meal’ appearing a number of times if you’ve picked up a bag of dog food before. So, what is ‘meal’ exactly and is it the same as ‘meat’?
By definition of the AAFCO, ‘meal’ is the final product rendered from “mammal tissues exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” It is usually a dehydrated, powdered product resulting from the process of high temperature roasting and grinding.

Whereas meat on the other hand is defined as the clean flesh/muscle of the animal, along with any fat, gristle or tissue that usually accompanies the muscle.

Both are vastly different from each other, but sometimes we get mislead into thinking that that bag of food is made up of meat/seafood/poultry as it claims itself to be.
Be wary of generic terms like ‘meat meal’ and ‘animal meal’. These are red flags because it contains anonymous animal protein inside the powdered mix which are often low-quality slaughter house meats, expired supermarket meats and even diseased or dead cattle. In no circumstance should we ever be feeding this to our buddies if we want them to thrive.

Splitting hairs over splitting ingredients
Just one more thing, kibble manufacturers also rely on little textual sleight of hands by splitting up the same ingredient in different forms so that it does not appear to be the major ingredient. Case in point is the example below where peas and pea protein are the first and third ingredient listed – we’re quite sure this bag of food is really filled with peas as opposed to salmon.

Food Label Ingredient Listing

So, the next time you flip over a packet of food or treats to look at the label, remember that you are the gatekeeper to your dog’s health and with careful reading, you can prevent yourself from buying into a company’s marketing spiel about meat being its first ingredient and instead make informed, confident purchase decisions based on what is written on the label.

AAFCO: Talks Pet Food: What’s In Pet Food
Healthy Pet Foods: How To Read A Pet Food Label
Weethnutrition: What’s In A Name