Pet Food Anatomy: What Do the Labels Mean?
Sun, April 18, 2021

Pet Food Anatomy: What Do the Labels Mean?


Like how individuals treat their loved ones, Owners are always on the lookout for the “best” we can afford for their pet, said PFIAA (Pet Food Industry Association of Australia), which promotes standards of excellence in Australia’s pet food industry. So, what do owners need to put in their pet’s food bowls?

Answering this question involves “value proposition” and observing your pet’s reaction if it is enjoying its food or suffering from side effects. You’ll never know until you try, but the label you see on the packaging gives you a plethora of information to help you decide if that food is the “best” for your pet.

Pet Owners and Veterinary Professionals Have Different Perceptions On Pet Food Claims

The 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) involved 1,156 pet owners and 574 veterinary professionals from October 12 to December 21, 2018, cited by Cision, a public relations and earned media software firm and services provider.  40% of dog owners and 45% of cat owners agreed that grain-free diets are healthy unlike 13% of veterinary professionals who are dog owners and 15% who own cats. However, 36% of dog owners (18% veterinary professionals) and 35% of cat owners (14% veterinary professionals) did not know if grain-free diets are healthy.

Only 45% of pet owners and 22% of veterinary professionals believed that grain-free options were healthier a year prior to the survey. 27.7% of dog owners and 20.3% of veterinary professionals who owned dogs said low-glycemic foods were healthier for dogs. For 62.5% of dog owners and 41.4% of veterinary professionals, they answered “I don’t know,” suggesting that there is confusion about the health benefits of low-glycemic dog foods.

When asked which alternative proteins they would consider feeding their dog or cat, 55.2% of cat owners and 55.8% of dog owners cited clean meat, while 27.9% and 25.2% answered “Maybe,” respectively. 

Cultured poultry was one of the most preferred alternative proteins among 23.8% cat and 25% dog of dog owners. Only 40.1% cats and 32.8% dog owners said “Maybe.” On the other hand, 82% of all cat owners and 78% of dog owners said they fed dry pet food “exclusively” or “most of the time.”  8% of cat owners and 4% of dog owners said they fed canned or moist foods “exclusively,” whereas 38% of cat and 14% of dog owners answered “most of the time.” “Corn and soy free” pet foods were influenced the purchasing decisions of 45% of pet owners and 10% of veterinary professionals. 42% of pet owners and 15% of veterinary professionals preferred “No by-products.”

Other labels that influenced the respondents were “Non-GMO” (6% of pet owners and only 5% of veterinary professionals), “organic” (29% and 5%), “Cage free chicken or eggs” (18% and 1%), and “Sourced and made in the U.S.A” (41% and 25%). “Manufacturer or employee discount” was rated highly by 36% of veterinary professionals (5% pet owners). Only 38% (24% pet owners) answered “None affect their purchase.”

Only 32% of pet owners and 13% of veterinary professionals rated “High protein” relatively well whereas a smaller proportion of respondents rated “Low-glycemic” (11% and 6%) and “Portion control packaging” (4% and <1%).



The Anatomy of Pet Food

1.     Product Name

This can influence your decision-making process, and manufacturers often resort to using fancy names or other techniques to emphasize a certain feature of the product, stated the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), a federal agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Most owners purchase a product based on a specific ingredient. Hence, many product names incorporate the ingredient to highlight that it is included in the product.  

2.     Marketing Claims

These statements give you a “value-add” and highlight the approach the manufacturer is taking to making pet food. Some examples include “sustainably-sourced,” “biologically-appropriate,” “free-range,” and the like. However, PFIAA said that these claims lean towards on a product’s “aspirational qualities.”

Sometimes, claims and terms have a defined meaning established by international guidelines or consumer law. You might also need to contact the firm or staff members who know the product to define some terms that are not defined by regulatory bodies.



3.     Functional and Health Claims

For example, functional claims may emphasize the importance of calcium when marketing products that aid in your pet’s growth. You might also see claims related to digestibility on many food products. Other examples are “Muscle-building protein” or “Fish oils for skin and coat health” that respectively depict nutrient or ingredient function claims in a product.

Alternatively, “prescription” or “clinical” diets sold by your veterinarian are used to manage your pet’s illnesses. It is recommended to clarify the features of the diet and safe feeding practices to your veterinarian. Claims like these are supported by widely accepted, published scientific research.

4.     Manufacturer’s Name and Address

Do you see the “manufactured by…” statement on the packaging? That’s the party involved for the quality and safety of the pet food. This statement also includes the location. However, statements such as “manufactured for…” or “distributed by…” means that the product was made by an outside manufacturer. The label also includes the responsible party. Not all labels include the address, the city, state, and zip code. The FDA said that by law, this information should be listed in either a city directory or a phone directory. On the other hand, most manufacturers willingly provide their toll-free number for inquiries.

5.     Ingredients List

Ingredients should be arranged in “order of predominance” by weight. The weight— which should include water weight— is determined by the manufacturers while they are adding the ingredients in the formulation. Water content is important when assessing relative quantity claims, particularly when analyzing the moisture contents of ingredients.



6.     Feeding Directions

Feeding directions should include the statement “feed ___ cups per ___ pounds of body weight daily.” Bear in mind that the feeding directions should be taken as a starting line when feeding your pet, as its breed, temperament, environment, etc. can influence the amount of food it can consume.

7.     Calorie Statement

Pet food products differ in calorie content even if they have the same moisture type or made for a certain life stage. Feeding directions may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so the calorie content in a daily serving of pet food may differ from another product.


Pet food labels contain a lot of information about the product ranging from its calorie content to the manufacturer’s name and address. If owners and veterinarians doubt something in a product, it is recommended to call the manufacturer for clarifications. Marketing or “too good to be true” claims should not influence the buyer decision process. Manufacturers also have the right to be transparent with the claims they put on the labels.