What’s In A (Pet Food) Name

When shopping for pet food the product name and packaging are what you notice first. And in many – if not most – cases your choice to buy that product is because of the “message” portrayed by the name and packaging.

When you’re walking through the produce section of the store, a bin of apples can be labeled “Apples”. A bin of oranges can be labeled “Oranges”. You can clearly see the label matches the product.

A whole different set of rules and definitions apply to pet food. And you probably don’t know that.

AAFCO – the American Association of Feed Control Officials – writes the rule book for pet food naming. AAFCO is a private advisory board which includes some government agencies and a number of pet food manufacturers.

We’ll take a look at the:

  • 95%/70% Rule
  • 25% or “Dinner” Rule
  • 3% or “With” Rule
  • The “Flavor” Rule

Before we look at the rules, we first need to mention the difference between dry weight and total contents. Dry matter in a given product is 100 minus the moisture content.

For example, let’s say a package of dry dog food lists 20% protein and a can of wet dog food lists 10% protein.

Look for the moisture in each package.

Let’s say the dry food has 6% moisture and the wet food has 55% moisture.

For the dry food you divide 20% into 94% (100 – 6% moisture). Your protein is 21.3%.

For the wet food you divide 10% into 45% (100 – 55% moisture). Your protein is 22.2%.

The 95% Rule

The 95% rule applies to products that are primarily meat, poultry or fish which is generally limited to canned food.

When the product name includes an ingredient from an animal without any further qualifiers, that ingredient must be at least 95% of the product not including added water and condiments.

And that ingredient must be at least 70% of the pruduct including added water and condiments.

For instance:

“Beef Dog Food”. At least 95% of the dry ingredients must be beef and at least 70% of the total contents must be beef.

“Chicken For Cats”. At least 95% of the dry contents and 70% of the total ingredients must be tuna.

If the product includes multiple ingredients – such as “Chicken And Liver Cat Food” – then:
A) the combination of both ingredients must be at least 95% of the dry weight, and,
B) the first ingredient listed must be greater than the second ingredient listed.

The 95% rule applies only to ingredients from animals – meat, poultry, fish. It does not apply to grains. So a product named Lamb and Rice Dog Food must contain 95% lamb.

The 25% “Dinner” Rule

Add the word ‘Dinner’ to the product name and the named ingredient can drop to 25% of dry weight. So if the product name was “Chicken Dinner For Cats” instead of “Chicken For Cats”, the product only need have 25% chicken.

To add another dimension of confusion, the specific word “dinner” isn’t the only allowable word. The rule allows for any “ qualifying descriptive term” such as “platter”, “entree”, “nuggets”, “formula”… basically any words other than dog, cat or food should give cause for further examination.

Ingredients are listed in order of weight. Turn the can or bag over. If the ingredient is not the first ingredient in the list, it surely is not 95% of the total product content.

The 3% “With” Rule

Whatever ingredient follows the word With only needs to be 3% of the dry content. So “Cat Food With Chicken” need have only 3% chicken.

Often manufacturers take advantage of the “With” rule for special ingredients rather than the main protein source. This makes the product seem to be more premium.

Eamples of the “With” Rule:

  • Turkey WITH Garden Veggies and Greens
  • Beef WITH Cheese
  • Ocean Fish WITH Crab

The word with is a sure give away tho you should still take a look at the ingredient label to get a more full picture.

The “Flavor” Rule

The Flavor Rule requires no percentage. In fact it doesn’t even require the actual ingredient. To pass the Flavor Test animals who have been trained to prefer a specific flavor must react to the food. So dogs who have been trained to like beef must react favorable to beef “flavored” food.

Manufacturers often use “digests” for flavor. Digests are materials treated with enzymes and/or acids to create a concentrated flavor. A can of Chicken Flavored Cat Food could easily have less than a single bite of chicken… and that chicken flavor may have been developed from chicken bones.

What’s IN A Name…

  • Chicken Cat Food – 95% Chicken products
  • Chicken Formula For Cats – 25% Chicken products
  • Cat Food With Chicken – 3% Chicken products
  • Chicken Flavor Cat Food – Perhaps no chicken at all

Natural Dog and Cat Care 101 explains the nutritional requirements of cats and dogs, the short comings of popular commercial food products and how to read ingredient labels so you can choose food that better supports the health of your companion.