This post is sponsored by Balanced Blends

This article is part of a series sponsored by Balanced Blends, a raw pet food company, answering some of the most common questions around feeding a raw food diet to your cats.

Buying pet food can be an overwhelming and confusing process. Pet food labels are supposed to provide information to consumers, but unless you know how to interpret the information on the labels, they may only add to the confusion.

Who decides what goes on a label?

There are actually two groups who have power over this – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

The FDA is in charge of enforcing the regulations that cover the expected standards for all pet food. These include, “proper identification of product, net quantity statement, manufacturer’s name and address, and proper listing of ingredients.”

AAFCO has their own set of regulations that they have established in conjunction with many of the larger pet food companies. These regulations cover such items as, “the product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements.”

What goes on a label?

There are eight items that are required to appear on a pet food label. If the product only has a front side, all eight have to be on the front. Otherwise, there are three that must appear on the front, and the rest may appear on the back.

The three items that appear on the front include:

· the brand and product name
· the species for whom the food is used,
· the quantity statement, which is the net weight or net volume of the food.

The brand and product name have their own rules, which means there is a difference between something labeled as “All Beef Cat Food” versus “Beef Recipe Cat Food.” The difference is in the actual amount of the ingredient in the food. In the first instance, the word “all” implies that only one ingredient is in the food (not including water for processing, decharacterizing agents (agents that are added to non-human grade meat,) or preservatives and condiments. In the second instance, the word “recipe” is a descriptive term that implies at least 25% of the weight of the product is beef, while the rest can be other ingredients.

The species is straight forward – if it’s cat food, it must be labeled as such, but the descriptor “cat” may be part of the food name.

The net weight or net volume is displayed on the lower 1/3 of the label and has to be in both US and metric terms.

The other five items are:

· the guaranteed analysis
· the ingredient statement
· the nutritional adequacy statement
· feeding directions
· the name and address of the manufacturer/distributor

The guaranteed analysis states the percentage of each nutrient that appears in the food. The minimum percent of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percent of crude fiber and moisture are always required. If the label makes a claim, such as being high in a particular vitamin or nutrient, it may be required that the company guarantees that claim.

Ingredients are listed in order by weight. They must be generally recognized as safe (GRAS), approved as a food additive, or approved for use in animal feeds. If AAFCO has defined a name for the ingredient, that is what must be used on the label.

The nutritional adequacy statement states whether the food is balanced for all life stages, or one in particular (kittens, adult cats), and whether the food is “complete and balanced” or approved for supplemental usage or intermittent feeding only.

The feeding directions must state, “feed (amount of product) per (weight) of dog/cat”, in addition to how often to feed. This information is not required for treats.

The manufacturer/distributor information must include the name of the company who guarantees the product, along with the city, state, and zip code. If that company isn’t personally making the food, the words “distributed by” or “manufactured for” will appear in front of the company’s address.

Commonly used terms on a pet food label and what they mean

Human grade

This is probably one of the most misunderstood terms in pet food. The term “human grade”, when used on a label, means that the entire finished product is edible by humans and that each ingredient used to make the product is fit for human consumption. It also means that the factory that made the food is licensed to make human food, and that all the ingredients are stored, processed, handled, and moved like food for human consumption would be. However, even if a pet food uses all human grade ingredients, is prepared in an USDA facility, and is stored, processed, handled, and moved like a typical human food would be, if the final product is not fit for human consumption, the pet food cannot claim it is human grade.


If a pet food is classified as natural, it means the finished product, as well as all the ingredients used in the product, are also natural, as in they were not chemically made. However, a company may state something like “all natural with added minerals and nutrients”, which would mean those minerals and nutrients do not fit the natural definition, and were synthesized chemically.


Sometimes, a label will state a main ingredient, followed by the word “with” and a few other ingredients, such as “Beef With Carrots and Sweet Potatoes”. This means that the named ingredients must make up at least 3% of the final product. In our example, at least 3% of the final product weight would be made of carrots, and at least 3% would be made of sweet potatoes.


The word flavor does not provide information on how much of a particular ingredient is actually in the food. There are no minimum requirements for flavor, and it simply means that enough of the ingredient was used to add flavor to the food.

What questions do you still have about pet food labels?

This series is sponsored by Balanced Blends. For more information on their Raw Dinners for Cats, please visit their website.

FTC Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, which means that I was compensated to feature this content. Regardless of payment received, you will only see products or services featured on this site that I believe are of interest to our readers.

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