How To Read Pet Food Labels

Figuring out how to read pet food labels can be a bit tricky so we have created this blog to help break things down a bit.

In Canada, the pet food industry is mostly self-regulated. Members of the Pet Food Association of Canada adhere to federal regulations for labelling and ingredients. However, most Canadian pet food is also manufactured, processed, packaged and labelled to meet the nutritional standards set out by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Whether you are feeding your cat or dog raw (our recommended choice), quality canned, or quality dry kibble, the basics of food labelling doesn’t change.


Pet food ingredients are listed by weight

Just as on packaged food for humans, pet food ingredient lists rank contents by weight, from heaviest to lightest. When comparing wet and dry food labels, it may appear dry has less protein than wet, but that’s not necessarily true: Chunks of meat in wet food weigh more than dehydrated proteins in dry food. (That’s why you may see grains, or fillers, higher up on the ingredients list with kibble.)

AAFCO requires all ingredients to be listed in descending order of predominance by weight before processing. It’s important to note the first few ingredients listed, as there will be more of them than anything else. So if the list doesn’t begin with animal ingredients in the top positions, you may be best to move on.

According to the Dog Food Project, the food will be primarily made up of the first named ingredients up to and including the first source of fat listed (e.g. chicken fat). This is sometimes, but not always, the first 10 ingredients. By following this guideline, you can check for ingredients that are not particularly beneficial or healthy (e.g. beet pulp, corn gluten meal) and should ideally be included only in small amounts within a quality food.

When reading the list, it’s also helpful to learn the differences between human grade meat, real meat, meat meal and meat byproducts so you know what you’re getting.

When it says… What it really means is….
Human Grade (or Table-Grade) Beef, Lamb, Chicken, etc. Real beef, lamb or chicken that is of a high enough quality to be fed to humans, as well as pets.
Real Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Fish, etc. Real meat flesh that is suitable for pets but not approved for human consumption. If it’s called a more generic term like meat or poultry, it’s more likely to come from a questionable source.
Meat meal, poultry meal, bone meal, or other ‘meal’ ingredients Protein ingredients made from various mammal, poultry or fish tissues, like flesh and skin with or without bone, which are approved for pets to consume but not humans.
These raw ingredients are rendered, which means they are boiled for several hours to separate fat, remove water and destroy bacteria, viruses, parasites and other organisms.
By-products Everything else that comes from the animal, that is NOT the quality cuts of meat and highest quality entrails and organs that are used for human consumption.


Check the “guaranteed analysis”

The “guaranteed analysis” is comparable to human food’s “nutrition facts”. It tells you whether your pet is getting the protein, carbs and fat your veterinarian recommends. If there isn’t a list, call the toll-free number on the package to ask for it. The guaranteed analysis:

  • Indicates minimum or maximum levels of nutrients such as protein, fat, fiber and moisture.
  • Does not indicate or provide exact levels of nutrients in the pet food.
  • Is not a guarantee of the nutritional quality of the pet food.
  • Moisture levels in pet foods vary, making it nearly impossible for an average pet owner to accurately compare nutritional information.

Feeding Directions

Feeding directions are useful, but only a guideline. In many cases, you may need to adjust your feeding portions according to your pet’s age, breed, environment, activity level and body condition. We can help you determine how much to feed and it’s important to know that each time you change brands or formulation, so might the feeding guidelines change.

Feeding directions also help you compare products, as the daily quantities of food recommended for each will vary according to the size and density of the food. A more expensive bag of a denser kibble that recommends smaller daily servings may be better value than a larger, lower priced bag of less concentrated kibble with more generous servings recommended. And you’ll have the added benefit of lower stool output with a denser brand.

Calorie Statement

Each product includes a statement telling you how much caloric energy it provides but it can be listed in any one or all three of the following formats:

Gross Energy The energy in a food based on an “as fed” state.
Digestible Energy The energy available to your pet after you take away the amount lost in its feces.
Metabolizable Energy (ME) The energy available to your pet after you deduct the amounts lost in feces, urine, and digestive gases. This is the most common value used.


Food label reading is very complicated. We can help.

When you come into a Global Pet Foods New Brunswick store, our staff has been through extensive training and has detailed product knowledge, provided by our top suppliers. We are pet food experts and we’ve been trained to ask you the right questions before we recommend any type of pet food. Drop in with your questions anytime!

For more information about federal requirements of pet food labelling in Canada, see the Guide for the Labelling and Advertising of Pet Foods