Can You Trust That Dog Food Label?

What’s really for dinner?

As it turns out, you can’t always trust the dog food label for accuracy.


You may think you have a pretty good idea of what’s in your dog’s food. After all, there’s a picture of a chicken right on the label and an ingredients list on the back for further clarification.

But even though the FDA regulates the production of pet food, this doesn’t mean you can trust everything you read on a dog food label. In fact, there are some pretty shady tricks that dog food brands use to deceive consumers.

In this article, we’ll expose one of the most sneaky tactics that dog food companies use and show you how to read a dog food label to make sure you’re giving your furry friend the best nutrition available.


Is Meat Really the First Ingredient?

The FDA requires that all ingredients in a food product (whether for human or animal consumption) be listed on the label in order of its pre-cooking weight. A dog food label that lists “chicken” as the first ingredient should contain more chicken than any other ingredient, right?

Sadly, many companies frequently use a tactic known as “ingredient splitting” to twist the facts and manipulate their customers.

how ingredient splitting works

With ingredient splitting, one ingredient is split into several components to avoid listing it as the “first ingredient.” So instead of admitting that their kibble is 30% rice and 20% chicken, they’ll say that it’s 20% chicken, 15% white rice, and 15% brown rice.

This way, they can still say that chicken is the first ingredient.


Quality of Ingredients

Even if meat really is the most plentiful ingredient, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good quality. It’s incredibly common for dog food brands to use meat that has been contaminated, taken from a diseased animal, or ground up and rendered (often labeled as “meal”).

If your dog’s food comes from another country, you don’t have the slightest clue what’s in it. The FDA only inspects pet foods produced within the United States. If you buy dog food that was made in a country like China—where they have absolutely no laws regarding pet food—there’s no telling what your dog is eating!

You might be thinking, “That sounds gross to me, but I’m not a dog. My dog will literally eat anything!” But your dog’s appetite is far from the only consideration when you’re buying dog food.

The primary purpose of food is the same for any living being, canine or otherwise: nutrition. The body needs certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from that food in order to function well.

If you feed your dog the wrong ingredients, s/he won’t be able to digest them or absorb the right nutrients.

illustration of generic dog food package

How to Read a Dog Food Label

If you can’t trust the packaging, how can you be sure that a certain dog food will give your pet the nutrition it needs?

Here are some tips for reading a dog food label.

1. Look Beyond the First Ingredient

There’s a lot of hype about the “first ingredient,” but to be a savvy shopper, look at the first five ingredients instead.

If the first ingredient is beef, but the next four are some version of wheat, corn, or soy, that’s a good indication of a poor quality product.

2. Where Is It From?

Check the packaging carefully to see where the product was produced. If it doesn’t say “Made in the U.S.A.”, then you know that dog food was not operating under the guidance of the FDA or USDA.

At Rick’s Dog Deli, all of our meals are not only produced in small batches in our College Park kitchen, they start with 100% USDA-inspected ingredients. This is very uncommon—even in the United States!

3. Added Ingredients

Check the ingredients list for added vitamins. You might think added vitamins and minerals show a nutritious product, but more often, they are used to compensate for poor quality ingredients.

You should also steer clear of any dog food with added dyes. Dogs rely on scent rather than sight and (unlike humans) have not been socialized to prefer food with bright colors (or any color at all!).

4. Unclear Ingredients

Have you ever seen the words “bone meal” or “meat by-products” listed on a dog food label? What do these terms even mean?

A dog food label should not be vague. If it doesn’t specify the type of meat included, leave it on the shelf.

5. Beware Of Marketing!

Dog food companies spend a lot of time figuring out the best ways to get you to purchase their product. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually involve telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

A package that screams “90% of protein from meat!” does not mean the meal contains 90% protein. It simply means that 90% of the protein in that meal comes from meat (and the rest from vegetable sources). On its own, this claim means absolutely nothing.

Another popular marketing tactic is to declare a product to be “grain-free” but this doesn’t mean “low carb” or “high protein.” The product might be chock full of other fillers that happen to not come from grains.

dog licking lips

Trust the Company Before You Trust the Label!

These are just some of the sneaky ways that a dog food label may be trying to deceive you.

Dog food companies have used these tactics (and more) for decades and will likely come up with new ones in the future. This is why the best thing to do as a consumer is to find a company who you can trust.

At Rick’s Dog Deli, we’re passionate about giving your dog the best nutrition possible in a meal they’re sure to love.

It all starts in our local kitchen with 100% USDA-inspected ingredients that have been artfully blended to create a complete meal. Because we start with fresh meat, eggs, and produce, no added vitamins are necessary!

After being gently cooked in small batches, our meals are then frozen to lock in the nutrients and the flavor. Just thaw and serve.

Curious to learn more? Take a look at our Signature and Therapeutic meals, or have our kitchen create a Custom blend. If you want to see for yourself, drop by our College Park location. We’re happy to show you around!

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