Confused dog surrounded by labels


There is a frustrating fact about pet food and how to read pet food labels. This truth is that the rules regarding ingredients that apply to human food – and are taken for granted as being universal – do not apply to pet foods. By law, human food ingredient panels have rules and guidelines governing the order in which the ingredients in our foods are listed on product labels. For example, a prepackaged serving of frozen chicken and dumplings may display chicken as one of its first two or three ingredients. This lets the consumer know that chicken is one of the largest components of the product by volume within that package. But what do you look for in dog food ingredients? It is not widely known that this standard is not the same in pet food in the United States. There is one strange and lesser-known exception, however; we call this “the great salt divide”.

How salt became the dividing line on a pet food’s ingredient label is not clear, however, its placement in the list of ingredients establishes a very distinctive position. Salt is the one ingredient that separates the big-time players in pet food from the supporting ensemble cast. More clearly stated, salt is the indicator on a pet food nutrition label that clarifies that every ingredient following it makes up no more than 1% of the complete formula in the bag, box, can, or container. This includes all vitamins, minerals, synthetic ingredients and additives, colorants, emulsifiers, and even those pretty fruits, vegetables, and luscious cuts of meat that the packaging leads you to believe make up the bulk of the volume of the container – it is all considered “trace” and comprises a minuscule percentage of the product. ANY ingredient listed after salt is, at best, infinitesimal.

hungry Rottie with food bowlWhy is this significant to pet parents? While it makes sense that vitamins and minerals are present in trace amounts (as that is all that may be nutritionally necessary for them) this also must be taken into consideration when evaluating all the wonderful, healthful, and “whole” ingredients that the food companies want to convey as being vital components of their products. Blueberries, for example, maybe touted for their incredible antioxidant properties as well as an outstanding source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Manganese, however, if they are listed after salt on the ingredient panel, there may be no more than 4 blueberries in the entire bag. Hardly a proud member of the main cast, are they?

Let’s go back to the chicken and dumplings example… if chicken is the main ingredient on your dog’s food label, where does it fall on the list of ingredients? Sadly, while it may even be listed first, it may actually be the last ingredient put in the bag – right before salt. Does the package state the actual MEAT PROTEIN in the product by volume? This includes meat meals (which by definition is much higher in meat protein than the meat product itself). It does NOT include meat by-product, meat fats, meat broths, or proteinate.
Read labels. Learn what is in your pet’s food and in what quantity. We can help.