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23 February 2016


What Dog Food Labels Really Mean

Confused by the terms on dog food ingredients labels? You should be. Here’s your guide to breaking the dog food manufacturers’ codes.

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Dog food labels are notoriously difficult to decipher—often intentionally so. Choosing high-quality dog food with the best ingredients is not a responsibility that we take lightly as pet parents. After all, our furry babies deserve nothing but the best of the best. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for pet food companies to try and trick us into thinking that a specific brand is healthy by using misleading language on dog food ingredients labels.

What Is a Dog Food Label?

The dog food label is the information on the back of the package where the dog food ingredients and nutrients are listed. Sometimes we refer to the banner statements often found on the front of the packaging as the label as well. These are designed to catch consumer’s eyes as they walk down the aisle. Both the label and the banner statement are regulated by the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

The ingredients on the back are listed in order of weight. The best foods for a dog’s balanced diet list fresh, whole foods, however, many manufacturers choose the least expensive dog food ingredients over the best. Make sure you never find these six ingredients on your dog’s food label. Ollie’s dog food, on the other hand, only contains whole foods, no fillers or artificial flavors.

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Popular Dog Food Terms

Both the dog food ingredients label on the back and the banner on the front of the packaging often contains signifier terms like “gourmet” or “natural,” but what do these words really mean? Here are some common words you might encounter on a pet food label and what they actually indicate when it comes to dog food quality.

“Premium Dog Food”

This unregulated word doesn’t mean anything at all. Don’t let “premium dog food” fool you into thinking it’s something it’s not, even when accompanied by other fluffy words like “super premium” or “extra premium.” This is marketing, not true love.

“Gourmet Dog Food”

The truth is, pet food companies can slap the word gourmet on a label without any credentials. Gourmet doesn’t mean anything in this case, except maybe “costs more.”

“Holistic Dog Food”

Holistic? Holy nothingness, Batman! Add this to the long list of pretty names that don’t necessarily mean anything at all. The term “holistic” is not regulated by the AFFCO.

“Natural Dog Food”

Okay, FINALLY a term that carries some meaning. The word “natural” falls under the jurisdiction of the AAFCO, the regulators of pet food manufacturing, so “natural” foods must be made entirely of ingredients from plant, animal or mined sources, and cannot be highly processed or contain artificial flavors, preservatives, or coloring. But the word gets a little vague when we’re talking about which parts of an animal is included. Worrying, as there are parts of a chicken you definitely don’t want in your dog’s food bowl.

“Organic Dog Food”

Technically speaking, “organic” pet food is made without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, waste contamination, or food additives. However, the USDA doesn’t define “organic” for pet foods, so the AAFCO sets the standard and this is supposed to be regulated by individual states. Additionally, for a label to say “made with organic ingredients,” the product only needs to contain 70 percent certified organic ingredients.


As in “beef flavor dog food,” this word doesn’t require any actual percentage of meat to be in the food, but instead enough flavoring (usually from that animal’s fat) to be detected. So “flavor” is a broad term.


A word that conjures the image of a Thanksgiving spread means something different on a food label. A can of “Turkey Dinner Dog Food” must contain 25% turkey, but the remaining 75% can be made up of other fillers of all varieties, including other meats. The same goes for words like “platter,” “grill,” and “entree.”


As in, “chicken meal” or “lamb meal,” this is a catch-all term for all tissue (excluding blood, hair, hides, manure, stomach and rumen) that are cooked down then dried and added as “meal” to the pet food.

The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.

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