What’s in the Bag? Decoding Dog-Food Names.

Your dog food’s name contains hidden messages. Can you spot them below?

  1. Beef Dog Food
  2. Beef Dinner for Dogs
  3. Beef and Lamb Dinner Dog Food
  4. Beef Flavor Dog Food with Cheese

The wording on each label corresponds to specific FDA guidelines for animal feeds and corresponds to percentage of nutritious ingredients in the formulation. Here’s what the labels listed above are really saying:

Beef Dog Food.  When you see pet food defined by a single ingredient–like beef, tuna, lamb, or chicken–it means each serving contains 95% of the listed ingredient. This label is typically limited to canned foods. (Allowing for added water, the named ingredient must still comprise 70% of each portion.)

Beef ‘Dinner’ for Dogs. Add the word dinner to the label and the main ingredient can legally dwindle to 25% of the total serving (but could be as much as 94%, according to FDA guidelines). This includes words like meal, nuggets, morsels, platter, or formula. And just because one ingredient (like beef) jumps out in the name, don’t be surprised it contains others, which is perfectly legal. But if your pet is a picky eater—and won’t touch fish, for instance—check the ingredient list to make sure fish doesn’t turn up in that ‘chicken meal’ you’re buying.

Beef and Lamb Dinner for Dogs.  Double-ingredients mean the first is used in greater quantities. The second ingredient (lamb, in this case) needs to make up only 3% of the formula in question. The same holds true for non-meat ingredients like rice or cheese.

Beef Flavor Dog Food with Cheese.  Uh-oh. The FDA requires no specific concentration when the label indicates a ‘flavor’, only that the flavor can be detected. (Although, in this case, the ‘with cheese’ designation requires a 3% concentration of that ingredient.) Dogs trained for flavor-preferences are used to confirm the presence of advertised flavors. Artificial flavors are rarely used in pet foods (with the exception of smoke or bacon flavors) so the good news is that you can trust the ‘no artificial flavor’ stamp on this product.