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Reading the label on your dog or cat’s food packaging can be confusing. It doesn’t look anything like the nutrition labels on human food, and there’s a lot of information packed into a small space. As a pet parent, it’s important to understand how to read pet food labels so you can make informed decisions about what to feed your dog or cat.  This article deciphers the terminology, gives an overview of the different parts of a pet food label and shows you what to look for— so you can make sure you’re giving your dog or cat the good stuff!

Why Pet Food Labels Look the Way They Do

Pet food labeling is regulated two ways: by the FDA (at a federal level) and also at the state level. Individual state requirements are almost always based on guidelines from AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials). 

FDA & AAFCO requirements include:

How to read a dog food package label

What Pet Parents Should Look for on Food Labels

All those requirements are in place to make sure pet food labels aren’t misleading or inaccurate. But some parts of the label matter more to pet parents than others. Here’s what you should look for to make sure you’re feeding your pet what they need.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

The nutritional adequacy statement has to be printed in a standard format so you can compare different pet foods. This statement affirms that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for a specific animal and life stage. These include:

The nutritional adequacy statement is what tells you if the food is appropriate for your pet’s nutritional needs. This is fundamentally important!


All pet food ingredients have to be listed individually, using standard names and definitions established by AAFCO. Ingredients also must be listed in order from most to least, based on weight. Pet parents should look at the first 3-5 ingredients closely, since these will make up the majority of the food. Stella & Chewy’s raw pet foods, for example, are made primarily of animal meat, organs, and bones, so you’ll see these listed first on our ingredients list. The first 3-5 ingredients in dog and cat diets should be whole food ingredients, and protein should always be first.

Guaranteed Analysis

Pet food labels must include four basic nutritional guarantees showing the minimum percentage of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percentage of crude fiber and moisture. In this context, “crude” refers to the measurement method. Crude analysis only measures the quantity of protein, fat and fiber. It doesn’t measure quality or digestibility, which can vary. According to AAFCO, the minimum required amount of crude protein for dog food is 18% for adult maintenance and 22.5% for puppies and nursing dogs. The minimum required amount of crude protein for adult maintenance cat food is 26%, or 30% for kittens and nursing cats.

Calorie Content

Calorie information isn’t required to be in the guaranteed analysis, but it is required to be on dog and cat food packaging (including treats, supplements and snacks) and must be kept under a separate section from the Guaranteed Analysis, following the header “Calorie Content”.  Calorie content must be expressed as kilocalories per kilogram (kcal/kg) and kilocalories per familiar household measure (cup or cans) or unit of product (treats or pieces). Knowing how many calories are in dog or cat food helps pet parents understand how much to feed to maintain a healthy weight. It’s also handy when giving your dog or cat treats (which should make up no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake).

Feeding Guidelines

Feeding instructions on pet food must include how much food to give based on your dog or cat’s weight and life stage. There should also be different feeding instructions for growth (puppies and kittens) and gestation/lactation (pregnant or nursing dogs and cats). Individual dogs and cats have different metabolic needs and activity levels, so you might need to modify feeding instructions based on your vet’s recommendation.

Cat with cat food packaging

Understand Pet Food Labels & Feed with Confidence

Once you know how to read pet food labels you don’t have to wonder whether you’re feeding your dog or cat the right type of food. All Stella & Chewy’s pet foods also include feeding guidelines, ingredients and guaranteed analysis on our website to make things as easy as possible for pet parents! You’ll also find a helpful feeding calculator towards the bottom of each product page. There’s more to know about properly feeding your dog or cat, so keep learning with our guides covering how much to feed your dog and how much to feed your cat. And you can always contact our team if you have any questions about pet food labels or feeding!

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