Understanding Pet Food Labels

Choosing a cat food is not an easy task. Pet food companies do an amazing job at pretty packaging and catchy marketing phrases.

Recently I watched the film Pet Fooled which highlighted many important issues regarding the pet food industry today. They discussed AAFCO which is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Unlike the FDA, AAFCO is a non-governmental organization and non-regulatory organization. It does not approve products but instead approves ingredients and deal with the validation and labeling of ingredients.

So what does AAFCO do? Below is their purpose and function as stated on their website:

Purpose and Function of AAFCO

Although AAFCO has no regulatory authority, the Association provides a forum for the membership and industry representation to achieve three main goals:

  • Safeguarding the health of animals and humans
  • Ensure consumer protection
  • Providing a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry.

These goals are achieved by developing and implementing uniform and equitable laws, regulations, standards, definitions and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacture, labeling, distribution and sale of animal feeds – resulting in safe, effective and useful feeds by promoting uniformity amongst member agencies.

In the Consumer section of the AAFCO website there are many important and useful topics listed such as the definition of such terms as “organic” “natural” “complete”  as well definitions of categories such as “by-products”.

If a pet food says “Chicken Flavor” or “With Chicken” What does that actually mean? Well the language they use to describe the food reflects the percentage of that ingredient.

Image result for purina felix cat food with tuna


Flavor = 0%

With = 3%

Dinner = 25%

Nuggets = 25%

Formula = 25%

Beef Dog Food = 95%
Chicken Cat Food = 95%


This is extremely important information to know! Next time you see food that says “Turkey Flavor” you should know that it may have 0% turkey in the food. However, they are still allowed to use a picture of turkey meat on the label. Continue reading for a more detailed understanding of what these labels mean taken from the AAFCO website:

Product Names

Many brand or product names emphasize the presence of an ingredient or ingredients in the product. Requirements regarding brand and product names primarily have to do with preventing false or misleading claims that may affect consumer expectations. (But a consumer can verify that the product name agrees with the ingredients in the product by reading the ingredient list.)

If a product is labeled as “beef dog food,” based on the product name, a consumer would expect the product to be mostly beef meat and that’s what the regulation requires.  If it says beef, chicken or mackerel, the name must be true to its major ingredients, and it cannot rely on less expensive byproducts, meals or flavors. For instance, beef dog food must be mostly beef meat, not beef meal or beef byproduct. For more information on ingredients, click here.

These rules are referred to as the 100%, 95%, 25%, “with” and “flavor” rules.

The 100% Rule

“All-beef jerky dog treats” must be all-beef meat with the exception of any water added for processing, decharacterizing agents (substances added to color the product so that it is not mistaken for human food) and trace amounts of preservatives and condiments. Therefore, it is unlikely anything other than a treat product will meet the 100% rule.

The 95% Rule

“Fido’s Favorite Beef Dog Food” and “Kitty’s Delight Chicken and Rice Cat Food” are examples of product names that indicate the named ingredients make up most of the product. Named ingredients must account for at least 70% of the total product by weight, and at least 95% of the product by weight, not counting added water. (Typically, water is added to canned foods to allow for processing. Dry foods also have water added during processing to help mix ingredients, but that water is driven off when the product is dried.)

The remaining 5% of ingredients in the product will be those required for additional nutritional purposes, such as vitamins and minerals, and small amounts of other ingredients necessary for the formulation of the product.

In the “Kitty’s Delight Chicken and Rice Cat Food” example above, compliance with the 95% rule would dictate the chicken and rice must total up to at least 95% of the ingredients, not counting the water for processing. However, even with the water considered in the calculations, chicken and rice combined must make up at least 70% of the product. When more than one ingredient is in the name, no ingredient can be less than 3% the total product by weight. Because chicken is listed first in the name, there must be more chicken than rice in the recipe. Thus, in this example, a product containing 40 pounds of chicken, 30 pounds or rice, 25 pounds of water for processing and 5 pounds of other ingredients per 100-pound batch would meet the requirements of the regulation.

The rules also note that coined or contracted names of ingredients do not exempt them from the above requirements. For example, “Melanie’s Chik’n Lik’n Cat Food” would still have to meet the 95% rule.

The 25% Rule

“Fluffy’s Chicken Dinner,” “Beef Entrée for Mature Dogs” and “Lamb and Rice Platter for Puppies” are examples of the 25% rule at work. The named ingredient(s) must comprise at least 10% of the total product by weight and at least 25% of the product by weight not including the added water. Additional descriptors, such as “dinner,” “entrée,” “platter” and so on, appear in the name. If there is more than one ingredient, no named ingredient can be less than 3% the total product by weight.

The best way to understand the 25% rule is to compare it to a restaurant order where a person is getting a dinner entrée and the meal includes other major parts such as vegetables, potatoes, salad—not simply the sirloin or the salmon.

The “With” Rule
Simply put, including the words “with” or “similar” allows an ingredient to be included in the product name or anywhere else on the label at an inclusion rate of at least 3% of each named ingredient. “Honest Jack’s Dog Food With Chicken” should contain at least 3% chicken, while “Cynthia’s Super Cat Food with Tuna and Rice” should contain at least 3% tuna and 3% rice.

The Flavor Rule
A product does not need to have a huge amount of an ingredient which only provides flavor. A flavor designation in a product name (or elsewhere on a label) may be used as long as:

·         a listed ingredient provides the flavor

·         the flavor descriptor is printed in the same font and as conspicuously as the name of the designated flavor

For example, on a bag of “chicken-flavored dog food,” one should find chicken fat or some other ingredient providing chicken flavor in the ingredient list, and both words “chicken” and “flavored” are printed in the same font-type and size in the product name.

Source: http://talkspetfood.aafco.org/readinglabels

Image result for friskies cat food dinner


When shopping for food for you and your pets, it is important to educate yourself and know what you and your pets are consuming. Eating clean whole foods is the safest way for you and your pets to eat. 



  1. March 14, 2017 / 3:00 am

    Whoa! That was educational! So my FF tuna entree only contains 25% tuna?

    • March 14, 2017 / 7:09 pm

      Yes the marketing they use is very tricky. It is important to know what it all really means.