Picking your pet’s food is probably one of the most important, but difficult things, that a pet parent needs to do. When comparing dog food brands on the market (and there's a lot), it is very important to know how to compare pet food ingredient labels. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to do this properly. Don't feel bad because it’s not your fault. Even the best dog food brands make labels and packaging that are confusing to decipher!
In Canada, there are very few laws surrounding pet food and packaging. Guidelines given by the Canadian government state, “A label must contain sufficient legible information to provide the consumer with the common name, net weight, list of ingredients, feeding instructions, guaranteed analysis, and the nutritional adequacy or intended life stage for which it is suitable.” When you look at laws in the states, there is a little more regulation but it often doesn’t force companies to make labels easy to read for consumers.
Don’t panic because we’re going to go over some of the most important things you should keep in mind when you compare dog foods side by side. We hope that by the end of this article you are able to more confidently read and understand pet food packaging and ingredient labels!
The important components of a pet food label
This is arguably the most important part of a pet food package: the ingredients label. This is where you can get a better understanding of the makeup of the pet food. All ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. Additionally, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires all ingredients to be listed out separately and displayed with their common/usual names.
Based on Canadian guidelines a guaranteed analysis must be shown on the packaging and include crude protein (minimum percent), crude fat (minimum percent), crude fiber (maximum percent), and moisture (maximum percent). There isn’t going to be a large difference when comparing two dry foods, for instance, but there will be between dry and canned products. This is because of the difference in relative moisture contents. We will talk about how to compare foods with different moisture contents in one of the following sections about dry matter basis.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
When you see statements about “meeting nutritional guidelines” or being “complete and balanced”, this is based on the food meeting AAFCO guidelines. Foods that have these nutritional adequacy statements are safe to feed your pet as a full meal because it meets government standards and provides the correct nutritional value for pets.
This section of pet packaging is quite straightforward -- it helps tell pet parents how much of the food they should feed their dog or cat. The FDA says that there should be a statement similar to "feed ___ cups per ___ pounds of body weight daily." Remember this is just a guideline and that you should consult your vet if you have concerns.
Checking the ingredients list on pet food labels
Ingredients pet parents should watch out for
Avoid animal by-products
By definition, an animal by-product is the leftovers from the animals after all parts that are considered safe for human consumption are removed. Many people consider some of these by-products as waste, and inedible for even animals, including things like feet, spleen, stomachs etc.
Avoid products with “meal” ingredients
Meat meals are common ingredients in many commercially produced pet food brands. Even premium or high-end pet food brands sometimes list things like “chicken meal” or “beef meal” as the first or second ingredient! So what’s so bad about meat meals? It’s because it’s a mixture of many types of meat (even including zoo animals) and is not considered high quality in most cases.
Avoid large quantities of corn and rice
Many pet food brands use corn and rice in their products, but it doesn’t really add nutritional value to dogs and is only really used as fillers. Dogs need to have protein-rich diets, not carbohydrate-rich diets. When too many carbs are included in a pet’s diet, like corn and rice, this can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Preservatives and additives
Most commercial brand dog and cat foods have preservatives and additives to keep them shelf-stable, but often these ingredients aren’t safe for pets! This is why many advocate that avoiding all food with preservatives and additives is the best option! Some preservatives that are commonly found in pet food include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and propyl gallate.
There are some natural preservatives that you can use, including vitamin C, vitamin E, or rosemary. However, if you want to avoid preservatives and additives altogether, there are many other options. This includes home cooking your own pet food, choosing canned pet food, looking into a raw diet, or switching to fresh pet food.
Quality of meat/protein sources
What many people don’t know is that kibble is produced at such high temperatures that many of the ingredients lose their nutritional value. That is why preservatives and additives are in the food as well - these help to also keep the food shelf-stable.
Therefore, even if dog food brands use quality ingredients, a lot of their value is lost in kibble. When it comes down to it, the most important part of ensuring quality protein sources is that manufacturers are monitoring quality and quantity. If they purchase too much in quantity, quality could become an issue because of bacterial spoilage.
Dry matter basis — A better way to compare different pet food brands & types
We provided information on the guaranteed analysis previously. As a reminder, it must include crude protein (minimum percent), crude fat (minimum percent), crude fiber (maximum percent), and moisture (maximum percent). These numbers are generated using a system that does not take into account the varying levels of moisture in different pet foods.
So what is a better dog food comparison tool?
To accurately compare pet foods, it is important to take moisture content into consideration. This is where the dry matter basis comes in. It’s a moisture-free approach to figuring out the nutritional values in food.
It’s quite simple to determine the amount of protein using the dry matter basis. All you need to do is divide the reported amount of protein by the total amount of dry matter (calculate based on moisture content provided) and multiply the result by 100.
By doing this calculation and comparing the numbers of different guaranteed analyses, the result will be a proper comparison. Many people believe canned food is inferior to dry kibble, but that’s because they ignore the importance of moisture content and the dry matter basis.
But wait, you should also consider the information a product’s name can tell you!
Did you know that a product’s name gives you a lot of insight about a specific pet food? There are a few rules to keep in mind when you see products like “Salmon for Dogs” or “Beef Dinner for Dogs”.
95% Rule: This rule states that when a single ingredient is in the product name, like “Chicken for Dogs” or “Beef for Dogs”, then this ingredient must make up 95% of the product, not considering water content. Taking into account added water, the ingredient must still make up 70% of the product. The other 5% will be ingredients that add the required nutritional value.
25% Rule: When you see product names with ingredients as well as a primary descriptive term (think stew, meal, dinner etc.) then the mentioned ingredients account for anywhere between 25% to 95% of the product, and at least 10% when considering added water.
“With” Rule: If you see “with” in the product name then this means that the mentioned ingredient only needs to be 3% of the entire product. This is a good example of how small changes in wording can dramatically change pet food requirements!
“Flavour” Rule: Any product name that uses the word “flavour” doesn’t need to meet any minimum requirements for that ingredient. According to the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the product only needs to “contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected.”
Although a product name doesn’t give you the most informed picture of a pet food, it is an early indicator of what to expect in many cases! Now you know how much language matters when it comes to pet food product names.
A quick comparison between fresh and other types of pet food
Compared to other types of pet food, fresh meals can be a healthier option that also provides peace of mind to owners. For instance, Kafka’s Organic pet food for cats and dogs has quite a few benefits, including:
- Fresh, human-grade ingredients so that you know exactly what your pet is eating
- No preservatives or additives since all meals are made in small batches and frozen right away
- Often a fan favourite among pets who have allergies, are picky eaters or have sensitive tummies
- An easy-to-read label and limited ingredient list mean you’ll never have to guess about what your pet is eating (have more questions? Visit our FAQ page or please ask us directly, because we believe in full transparency!)
How does this match up against other available pet food options? We’ve created a quick and easy infographic to show you a comparison between dry dog food, canned food, raw dog food, and Kafka's fresh pet food.
About Kafka’s Organic
What are you waiting for? A new year means new goals for you, and it should also mean new goals for your pet! Whether you have a small breed or larger dog, a finicky cat or an overweight. cat, Kafka's has options for you. It is the best time to try out fresh pet food and add a healthier food option to your dog or cat’s diet.
Kafka’s Organic is a local fresh pet food brand trying to provide a healthy, tasty option for Vancouver dogs and cats. Our recipes are vet-approved with human-grade ingredients and locally-sourced animal proteins. Many of our customers use our dog food for pups with sensitive tummies and our cat food meals for those picky kitties.
If you're looking for fresh with no hassle, you should consider signing up for a subscription! You can check out Kafka’s entire selection of delicious recipes, pick your order frequency, and get 5% off all of your purchases. With affordable pet food delivery options in Vancouver (free on orders of $60+), there’s no better way to help your pet live a happier and healthier lifestyle!