Commercial dog food labels are typically divided into two sections - the product's name and display on the front, and the dog food ingredients details on the back.
Most consumers are innocently baited and betrayed by product names which camouflage the true quality of the dog food.
If you're unable to read between the lines, you may well be fooled into making an erroneous dog food comparison.
Okay now, grab a bag or a can of dog food and follow along. We guarantee you're in for an eye-opening exercise here!
The eye-catching front of the dog food label is what we normally gravitate to first.
All dog foods have a name. And the dog food companies are masterful at creating imaginative names that conjure up certain images and assumptions.
Are you aware that the name may not even describe the actual main ingredients of the product?
As per AAFCO, all labels that describe the dog food ingredients in the name of the product (Beef Entree, 95% Salmon, etc.) are required to conform to one of four AAFCO "Product Name Rules":
This dog food chart illustrates the hidden meanings behind these cryptic product names, and how to easily spot the huge differences between a premium dog food and an inferior dog food product.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Venison Dog Food
Duck and Liver
Lamb and Rice
Note: The meat ingredient is listed first in the product name.
This rule is used mainly on canned dog food, and applies only to ingredients of animal origin, i.e. meat, poultry, and fish. Other ingredients such as grains and vegetables are excluded from the rule.
The product must contain at least 95% of the named meat ingredient on the label, excluding water or any added preservatives.
If more than one meat ingredient is in the product name, these ingredients combined must total 95% or higher of the product. There must be a higher percentage of the first named ingredient, than the second, or third, etc.
Note: If the product name were "Lamb and Rice", the product would have to consist of 95% Lamb.
The 25% or "Dinner" Rule
Beef and Turkey Entree
Note: A descriptive phrase follows the meat ingredient.
The product must contain at least 25% and less than 95% of the named meat ingredient(s) found on the label, excluding water or any added preservatives.
A variety of descriptive phrases are permitted.
If more than one meat ingredient is in the product name (e.g. Beef & Turkey Entree), the ingredients together must total at least 25% of the product. There must be more of the first ingredient than the second, and the lesser ingredient must be at least 3% of the product.
The 3% or "With" Rule
Dog Food with Lamb
Made with Chicken
The product must contain no less than 3% of the named meat ingredient.
The "Flavor" Rule
Salmon Flavor Dog Food
A dog food label with the word "Flavor" in the same font size and color as the ingredient name, means that the manufacturer is not bound to any minimum percentage for any one ingredient.
The dog food ingredients can be anything from actual lamb to any "by product" or meal of the animal, or a broth or stock, etc.
From the above, you can now see how the following four products are in reality
FOUR ENTIRELY DIFFERENT QUALITY DOG FOODS:
"Lamb and Rice"
"Dog Food with Lamb"
"Lamb Flavored Dog Food"
The first product needs to contain at least 95% lamb,
The second product needs to contain at least 25% lamb,
The third product needs to contain as little as 3% lamb,
The last product needs to contain merely a "trace" of lamb.
Dog Food Ingredients List
As per AAFCO rules, all dog food labels must list the dog food ingredients by weight (before processing), in descending order.
Unfortunately, the “before processing” piece of this rule, gives dog food manufacturers a loophole to make their products appear better quality than they actually are.
One example of how they may do this is by using the better quality ingredients in a high moisture composition, and the inferior ingredients in dehydrated form. In this manner, the high moisture ingredient will appear on the label before the more plentiful dehydrated ingredients.
Thus, it gives us an artificially manipulated impression of the ingredients.
Another unethical habit is ingredient splitting. This is the practice of dividing a high volume, inferior ingredient into separate, lighter weight portions. e.g. Corn is split into corn meal and corn flour, and rice is split into rice gluten and rice bran.
In this manner, dog food manufacturers can artificially elevate a lower quantity meat component to a higher position on their dog food labels.
So! When all we have to work with, is ambiguous and cryptic ingredient labels, how can we be expected to make a true commercial dog food comparison?