The label should tell you all about your pet's food.
The labels do, in fact, tell us a lot about foods. Let's look at them as they are today.
A product's name is often the consumer's first impression of the product and because of this, pet food makers carefully choose the names of their products. The box of pet food on my desk as I write this has on the front of the box the maker's name—The Honest Kitchen—and the individual food's name—Zeal.
Net Quantity Statement
This tells the consumer how much food is in the container. On the box of Zeal, the quantity statement reads, 'Net weight 10 lbs/4.54 KG.' Since this is a dehydrated food that must be mixed with water prior to feeding, there is also a statement, 'Makes 40 pounds of real food.'
Manufacturer's Name and Contact Information
This identifies the responsible party for the pet food. There should be a name, a website, and some means of contacting the pet food maker. On the box of Zeal is The Honest Kitchen's name, a phone number, website, email address, and even the Facebook information.
Most pet owners look to this information right away; especially if their pet has some allergies or food sensitivities. Other pet owners prefer to avoid certain ingredients and will check the label. Pet food makers are required to list all of the ingredients contained in the food and those ingredients must be listed in order by weight—from the heaviest to the lightest—as they are added to the food during processing. The weight includes the food with its water weight. For example, one measured cup of meat will be heavier than one measured cup of meat meal. For Zeal, the ingredient list begins with dehydrated haddock, dehydrated pollock, dehydrated sweet potatoes, dehydrated eggs, and so on.
This provides the percentages of several parts of the food. It will list the minimum percentages of protein and fat as well as the maximum percentages of fiber and moisture. Zeal's guaranteed analysis shows crude protein minimum 35.5 percent, crude fat minimum 8.5 percent, crude fiber maximum 5.8 percent and moisture maximum 8.9 percent.
Calories are expressed on a kilocalories per kilogram basis. Kilocalories are the same as we're used to seeing on our food human labels, but a kilogram is a unit of metric measurement equal to 2.2 pounds. So the calorie statement on Zeal shows that the calorie content is 3,800 kilocalories (kcal) per kilogram (kg). Pet food makers can also list the calorie count in a more familiar manner, such as Zeal's 437 kcal per cup of food.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
This is the commonly seen package description of the food. It may say the food is complete, or balanced, or for puppies or kittens, or for all life stages. AAFCO has established feeding guidelines and dog and cat nutrient profiles that pet food makers must adhere to prior to being able to display the statement, "This food is complete and balanced, and is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for adult maintenance" (or for puppies, or for gestation and lactation).
These show the consumer how much food should be offered to their pet. At a bare minimum the label might read, "Feed __ cups per __ pounds of body weight." Other labels might be more specific and break down the feeding guidelines by the pet's weight and activity levels. No matter what the pet weighs, however, these are recommended amounts and will vary as every pet is an individual.