Understanding Dog Food Labels


The following items represent some of The Dog Food Advisor’s most frequently asked questions about reading and understanding dog food labels.

Why are my dog food’s protein and fat percentages different from the ones mentioned in your reviews?

Because all foods (even human foods) contain varying amounts of moisture, we use dry matter basis to report the nutrient content of every product we review. This method mathematically removes all the water from a food.

Dry matter basis allows a more accurate comparison between dog foods with different moisture content.

  • CAW

    Over past year I have purchased over 6 bags of Rachael Ray dog food, different kinds, but this last bag with beef made my dogs sick. Two bernese mt. 7 yrs. and 9 yrs. My two dogs will NOT eat any of her food?

  • Aida

    What is the best food for my boxer puppy? This is my first puppy!!!!

  • Ed Cole

    Whole ground chicken would be my choice.

  • Dog Lover Plus

    Usually the manufacturer will disclose that information on it’s website or label in the form of calories/cup or per can. Obviously, each variety will vary in what that is. Generally located near were it put it’s feeding guidelines.

    I personally would be suspicious of any company that did not include this information.



  • Abby

    My vet has put my 4 year old Golden Retriever on Royal Canin Urinary SO, due to past urinary infections. The first 4 ingredients are rice, corn, chicken fat, chicken meal. Would you recommend this?

  • Pattyvaughn

    Most of my experience with eye surgery was removing cataracts from dogs which involves actually opening the eye and removing the lens…major heebie-jeebies.  For some reason the taste buds on cow tongue do it to me, too.

  • Jens

    As part of my PhD i had to get human small intestine from transplant donors. The one part of the transplant surgery that was getting me was the cornea from the donor. For some reason I had to actually make myself watch it and not walk away. I had no issues with all the other parts, but somehow eyes are very close to my inner self. Saying that a love a good boiled tongue on rye bread, but then I am a Euro Mutt…

  • Pattyvaughn

    Not really, in the sense that it was never kibble in the first place.  It’s more like granulated is what kibble would be if they forgot to use the starch binders.  The individual ingredients are ground up and mixed together, but not extruded.

  • Pattyvaughn

    I totally agree, except for the tongue part, of all the raw parts that I have cut up over the years, for some reason tongue bothered me a lot, right next to eye surgery. YECK!!

  • Dave’s Hounds

     I fed the granulated today – I have not been able to research how it is made – is it really ground up? It is like wet sand.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     I feed my dogs beef, chicken and lamb hearts, tongue, liver gizzards etc. So I have no problem with any of these by products – they are healthy and good for them.

  • JellyCat

    I would like to know exactly what I feed my dog (and number of other carnivores I have). Like I said below, one of the foods I use contains good quality by-products, but manufacturer lists exactly what they are. Here is an example: “Lamb meat, lamb bone, lamb blood, lamb green tripe, lamb liver” so in this case I know exactly what I feed. In addition, I know that this manufacturer has a lot more control over ingredients in the food, and that the quality is a lot more consistent.  

  • Pattyvaughn

    Absolutely, though I don’t have a problem with my dog consuming both, I want him eating hoof because I know I bought him a hoof instead of it being some of the garbage they hid in my dogs food.  That’s the problem with the legal definition.

  • Doggonefedup.

    Which would you prefer to see in dog food?
    Chicken parts
    Natural chicken blend 
    Chicken by-Products
    Whole ground chicken

  • JellyCat

    Doggonefedup, it is true that viscera has good nutritional properties. The only real problem with “by-products” in animal foods is that the quality of this ingredient is very inconsistent.
    Also, hearts, liver and gizzards can be sold either for human consumption or to manufacturers that actually list ingredients on the label. Therefore, you cannot know that all “by-product meals” contain these organs.

  • Doggonefedup.

    Viscera are a major part of what makes up Chicken by products. Viscera are the large organs inside the body such as the heart, lungs and stomach. Research findings has revealed that certain chicken visceral organs such as heart contain over 80% protein of excellent quality. In addition a “high quality” chicken by product would also include other quality ingredients like the brain (as part of the head) and many unnamed glands found within the ribcage, some bone material and even feet (which are offered for human consumption too). It would not include feathers, embrios, intestinal contents or feces. It just wouldn’t make any sense to try to list each individual ingredient by itself.
    You don’t need a college degree to figure that out…..but then again even a college degree can’t fix “stupid”!

  • JellyCat

     This why you should go for a label that states “Lamb Heart, Lamb Liver, Lamb Kidney” and not “lamb by-products”.

  • JellyCat

    To me personally, liver, kidney and heart are not by-products. However, legally they are. My point is that if food manufacturer actually uses these good quality ingredients, they may as well list them as they are. If they refuse to do so, then obviously you don’t know what is in the food. And most likely then there is actually by-products that contain very small amount of these ingredients.

  • Jens

    There is a hugh difference between a lamb heart and a lamb hoof…..

  • Pattyvaughn

    Legally they are by-products.  Legally quality doesn’t matter, a by-product is a by-product is a by-product.  Nutritionally there can be a big difference and the way I understand it, a company can list them individually by name instead of as by-products if they want to, but each individual thing will be much further down the ingredients list.

  • Jens

    I don’t think that lambs liver/heart/kidney are by-products at all. They are actually quality ingredents. Just look at what wolves tear out of a carcass first it is the offal. To me by-products are bones, cartilage, chicken feet, ground up feathers. I cook for myself stuffed lamb hearts, steak and kidney pies and flash fried liver… 🙂

  • JellyCat

    This document actually demonstrates just how bad “by-product” ingredient can be. 
    For example, chicken By-Product Meal Ethoxyquin 150 ppm, made by Tyson is preserved with Ethoxyquin, whereas Chicken By-Product Meal, Naturox TX is preserved with Naturox TX. They also have different protein content. Regardless of this both types can be legally listed on the label as “chicken by product meal”.
    SO, when you pay for food with “by-product” ingredient you don’t really know what you’re getting.

  • JellyCat

    Doggonefedup, as far as LEGAL part of ingredient list, whisch is REGULATED by FDA, there is only one by-product grade and this is “by-products”. Sure enough companies can and will come up with anything they like. Just like Purina claims that corn gluten meal is excellent nutritional component.

  • Doggonefedup.

    If there is no such thing as different grades of by products please explain this list. There are at least 24 more available besides this one from several companies. DO YOUR RESEARCH!

  • aimee

     HDG… I  took a shortcut… the Abady toy breed lists carb at 20.8% which would put fat at 26% BUT using those numbers still comes up short of the calculated calories. The only way to get the numbers high enough is if I don’t use  modified Atwater to calculate in which case I calculate the fat out to be 24.4%.

    Either way a lot higher than 12% so not sure why they report it that way.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     In reading that article it does make some sense. i have been surprised by some of the foods Whole Dog Journal selected like Carna4 with low protein and grains.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     the tripe was not avail at for dogs sake – next time i will use 1800 whiskers

  • Melissaandcrew

    LOl..I made the same mistake with the small box-it just fit so nicely in the fridge….then the next day I had to chisel it in order to feed her.. I have been feeding it to her for a few months now, and I can say I have not noticed any type of “off odor” or consistancy by storing it in the plastic bag it came in, inside the larger box.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     i use all of those by products myself

  • Dave’s Hounds

     removing from fridge…….

  • JellyCat

     The problem with “by-products” is that there is NO way to actually (legally) know what they really are. There is no such thing as “grade” of by-products and use of such terminology has not been legally regulated.
    Actually, if reputable companies actually use by-products, they state specifically WHAT KIND. For instance, as stated on the food label that I use, – “Lamb Heart, Lamb Liver, Lamb Kidney”. This is a good example of “by-product” use.   

  • Melissaandcrew

     As HDM said, not in the fridge-and not in an overly warm room either or the fats will liquify : ) I keep the small container(Tupper ware type) in my kitchen cabinet, away from the stove area-this way I can mix it up each time I scoop it. The large box(I buy the 40 or 44lb size) I keep in my front storage room with my bags of kibble-not too warm, not too cool.

    Maya loves the Apex, Vitality A and the canned green beef tripe.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Don’t put it in the fridge! It will get hard.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     Thanks – that is good to know – I have never seen any dog food with the granulated consistency before. I like the ingredients a lot.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     I have two boxes of the granulated – decided to feed the dogs the canned tonight – it sure smells good – I was impressed. The granulated is interesting – I will try it tomorrow evening. Do you keep the granulated in the fridge?

  • Hound Dog Mom

    hmmm…you’re right. I didn’t do the math before, just saw that that was one of the formulas that was lower in fat. Going by their stated “min” fat/protein/carbs (estimated with Dr. Mike’s method) I came up with just under 600 kcal. per cup – they state 735.37 kcal. per cup. Not going to try to figure out where that would put the actual fat content…gave myself enough of a headache calculating that (I hate math) lol

  • aimee

     Hi HDM,

    I don’t see how the toy food really can be only 12 % fat. The label reports 12 % min and I think it has to be much higher than that.  If I calculate the kcal/kg using 12 % fat I am about 1000 kcal/kg short of what they report.

    The reported caloric density of the toy food is higher than the classic and adult both of which are much higher fat diets min 28%.

  • losul

    O.K., O.K folks. Thanks for the explanations. My first thoughts on it are changed as a result.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    losul –

    Abady is actually marketed toward working dogs, which I believe is why the fat content is higher and it’s so calorie-dense. Any dog can certainly eat it, but I believe working dogs are more it’s target market. I’ve fed the maintenance and stress formula to my dogs and I don’t think its anywhere near being too high in fat – 29.9% fat is right on par with the ancestral diet which is 25-30% fat. Also, Abady does have lower fat formulas for dogs that don’t require the high energy (for example, the toy breed formula is only 12% fat).

  • Jens

    Guess what some mushers are carrying along to feed dogs during races????? BUTTER, because it has the highest most dense calorie content…..Just worth a thought. Plus why do you think we and dogs like fat? because it is the most calorie dense of the three nutrients and was actually pretty hard to get….

  • losul

    “But we are all entitled to our opinions, I just hope you aren’t raising any real working dogs…..”

    No, I don’t have any dogs with unusual caloric demands.

  • losul

    O.K., didn’t know it was granulated. That would definitely account for alot of the caloric density.

  • Pattyvaughn

    As far as the calories/cup difference, part of the increase can be attributed to the fact that a granulated food will leave less room for air in the cup, so 1 cup of Abady would be more food by weight than 1 cup of a kibble, and depending on he size of the kibble, that can be a big difference.

  • Doggonefedup.

    Dave’s Hounds,
    You may get some loose stools for the first few days with the granular. That’s common with some dogs. You will see dogs with more energy in the coming weeks with this food.

  • Doggonefedup.

    just another example of mislead thinking……Dogs burn fat for fuel the same way humans burn carbs. Dogs in fact have no biological need to consume carbs. So a diet that is higher in fat and completely void of carbs is the most appropriate diet a dog can have. Think about Alaska…now think about sled dogs…now think about racing sled dogs…..now think about their diet. Do you think for one minute they are fed corn peas and potatoes? Think again, they are thriving on a high fat high protein all meat diet.
    But we are all entitled to our opinions, I just hope you aren’t raising any real working dogs….. 

  • Melissaandcrew


    Just remember to flip your box periodically or put some in another container. Otherwise, I found the fat/oils seep to the bottom and its a PIA to keep mixing it. I put a few days worth in a plastic container, and then flip the large box every few days or week.

  • Dave’s Hounds

     I am trying Abady’s now – i have the canned and the Stress and Maintenance granulated. I will use for second meal in PM and see how my dogs do.

  • losul

    Wow. that food might have considerable meat, but must have a way excessive amount of fat in it too, with a whopping 795 calories per cup. I think the average kibble is probably about 420 calories/cup or so?

     Lard, safflower oil and beef fat are #’s 4, 5, and 6 in the ingredients, and a couple more oils farther down the list.

    Not sure I’ve ever seen lard as an ingredient before in dog foods, and it’s not very common to see it used in human foods anymore or even for frying all that much  anymore. I guess lard is still basically cheap hog fat, and hogs have a whole lot of it. I wonder what they do with it all nowadays.

  • Jens

    How many wolves have you seen in the past digging for potatos sweet or white and tapioca starch….just saying……it might be grain free but not cheap ass filler free….

  • Jens

    Crude protein at 26% makes it a rather poor food…and why do they mention potato as a veggie and then mention it again right after….a lot of potato in my opinion…..also peas, carrots and pumpkin are great if your dog suffers from the runs, but otherwise is a cheap filler. Just saying. I rather pay twice as much for my dog food and feed them half of the amount they used to eat…..plus the dogs are much healthier….

  • Jens

    Wow you must have some vested interest simply by posting a comment that requires half a day to read…..I don’t know the food, but while dogs, aka wolves, will eat by-products in the wild, having a significant amount of by products in a diet is not advisable. I eat a fair amount of offal, flash fried liver and brandy/cream sauce, steak and kidney pie, heart stew or heart steaks, fried kidneys, roasted marrow bones, etc but I do not make it my main stay..just saying. I feed my dogs orijen and that is going to beat pretty much 95% of dog food out there…..

  • Doggonefedup,

    Actually, my experience with Abady Customer Service has been quite different. That’s why I’ve never reviewed these products on my website.

    Even though I’m impressed with how much meat appears to be included in each recipe, I still have legitimate questions regarding the label information on the Abady website.

    Because the label information appears to be posted in a non-standard (non-FDA) format, I’ve found it necessary to contact the company for clarification.

    Unfortunately, though, once I’ve identified myself, my questions have been met with extraordinary avoidance – even hostility.

    The company avoids providing me with definitive answers to my questions – and does not return my calls when they promise to do so.

    I’ve repeatedly asked for an explanation on their use of the word “quality” when used on the label to describe the term “by-products”. What does this mean?

    I’ve also inquired about their use of the word “human grade” on the FDA-regulated section of the ingredient list.

    I’ve attached a screen capture of the non-standard format for Abady Formula for Maintenance and Stress as it actually appears today (1/21/2013) on the website.

    By the way, the customer service rep advised me (as recently as this past Friday) that the labels were changed years ago and that the information on the website is not accurate and out-of-date.

    How can any consumer or reviewer get accurate product information or make a fair judgement about the Abady line when that product is not available in a local pet food store?

    Or is inaccurately portrayed on the product website?

    I (like nearly all reviewers) rely on the Internet to provide accurate product information.

    The Abady Company is shamelessly biased against independent reviewers. So, they do everything they can to avoid having their products questioned or reviewed in the open court of public opinion (on the Internet).

    For proof of this unusual hostility and disrespect for those who would review consumer products, take a look at this condemning editorial against the widely respected Whole Dog Journal published by Abady on its own website.

    Until Abady is willing to discontinue its discourteous attitude toward independent evaluators and provides full and complete disclosure to the press regarding the content of its products, The Dog Food Advisor will continue to pass on covering Abady’s products on this website.

  • James Bailey, USA Jerky Treats

    I found the ingredients on an Australian review site.  I don’t know how accurate they are.

    Ingredients: Meat (Poultry Meal and Meat Meal, Duck and Meat Meals), Vegetable and Vegetable Meals, (including Potato, Peas, Carrots, Pumpkin), Potato and Tapioca Starch, Tallows and Oils (Poultry and Vegetable), Beet Pulp, Chicken Digest, Oilseeds (Canola and Linseed), Egg Powder, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vitamins (A,D,E,B1,B5,B6, Niacin, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, B12), and Minerals (Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Iodine, Selenium) Kelp Meal, Choline Chloride, Soy Lecithin Powder, Dried Chicory Root, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Garlic Powder, Tomato Powder, Potassium Sorbate, Natural Antioxidants.Crude Protien Min 26.0%Crude Fat Min 14.0%Crude Fibre Max 5.0%Salt (Sodium Chloride Max 1.2%Calcium Min 1.0%Phosphorous Min 0.8%Metabolizable Energy 350 kcal/100g APPROX

  • LabsRawesome

    Hi  Lab_a_holic, Abady will not provide the owner of this site with any info on their food. They told him that they do not want it reviewed. That coupled with the fact that they make outrageous claims on their (Abady) website, makes me think that they are extremely sketchy. Something is not right with that company.

  • InkedMarie

    Yep, thats what I found as well. I think it’s from Australia.

  • I looked for them also. Someone just mentioned this food on another thread. I found the company’s website, but even there they don’t list the ingredients. Hmmm, makes you wonder why?

  • InkedMarie

    Can you post the ingredients? I can’t seem to find them.

  • Lab_a_holic

    I’ve been feeding Abady NPF (natural power formula) for years and my labs do great on it – I was wondering why this food is not rated –

  • Wendymrhs02

    My new grain free dry dog food has potato(both sweet &  white potato) & tapioca starch in it is that good or not? second & third ingredient. the brand is not listed. VIP Pet Foods, Nature’s Goodness. 

  • Ella

    Thank you for your great insight.:)

  • Shawna

    A meal is simply a food that has been cooked long enough for the water to be removed—-dehydrated. So a powder. The extra moisture from non-meal meats makes it impossible to extrude the product to form the kibble.
    I would agree that meals are inferior to whole meats (the meals are cooked twice while whole meats are cooked only once). BUT, it is impossible to get adequate animal protein when not using a meal.. To my knowledge there is not one 5 star food and only one or two 4 star foods that don’t have some form of animal meal in them (be it chicken meal, or turkey meal or salmon meal).
    The only way to get acceptable protein levels, without using meals, is to feed something other than kibble (such as canned, home made, commercial raw or freeze dried etc).

  • Ella

    What does the word meal mean in dog foods. Like Salmon Meal or corn meal. I have been told meal is not that good for your dog. I use Kirkland wheatfree Salmon, but shows mostly meal. I have a female black 4 yr. Lab. Since switching to wheat free she quit chewing on her paws. Thank You for your help.

  • TxSioux

    I, too, have been waiting to see an analysis of the Retriever Brand dog food.

  • nitro

    i ws wonderin about this dog food to

  • Jan_Mom2Cavs

    I’ve heard it is made in Utah….I’m taking a guess that it’s American Nutrition, but don’t quote me on this.

  • HurricaneBulldogges

    Have you had a chance to review this food yet? My dog trainer actually recommended it to me so I wanted to check it out on here first. 🙂
    Thank you,

  • Friedawhite

    where is Simply Nourish dry dog food produced?

  • Puppythreads

    I heard that a manufacturer can change the ingredients in the product and not have to change the ingredients on the label for 6 months. I find this disturbing. Does anyone know if it is true? Specifically I am concerned with when a small manufacturer of historically high quality pet food gets bought out by a larger company.

  • melissa


    Often if a new food comes out and MIke has not reviewed it yet, I look for foods with similiar make up, ingredients etc to get an idea of where it would rate- Here are the ingredients for Retriever High protein(their better food from what I can see) I can’t imagine that it would rate more than a 1 or 2 at best, but you can try comparing the ingredients to the other foods that have been rated.

    Ingredients-Meat and bone meal, ground yellow corn, wheat
    middlings, ground wheat, soybean meal, animal fat (preserved with BHA
    and citric acid), corn gluten meal, animal digest, salt, potassium
    chloride, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, vitamin E supplement, ferrous
    sulfate, color added (red #40, yellow #5, blue #2), L-lysine, zinc
    oxide, niacin, copper sulfate, vitamin A supplement, biotin, manganous
    oxide, calcium pantothenate, vitamin B12 supplement, thiamine
    mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, menadione sodium bisulfite
    complex (source of vitamin K activity), riboflavin supplement, sodium
    selenite, calcium iodate, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement, cobalt
    Guaranteed Analysis:Crude Protein (min.)
    27.0%; Crude Fat (min.) 15.0%; Crude Fiber (max.) 4.0%; Moisture (max.)
    12.0%; Calcium (min.) 1.20%; Phosphorus (min.) 0.90%; Vitamin A (min.)
    8000 IU/kg; Omega 6 Fatty Acids (min.) 1.40%*

  • Hi Chuck81367,

    Retriever Dog Food is already on my To Do list. However, due to my current backlog of products for review, it could be a while longer before I get to it.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Chuck81367

    you don’t list retriever brand dog food from tractor supply