How Do I Read a Dog and Cat Food Label Correctly?

Pet food manufacturers have to adhere to strict European directives and laws. This applies not only to the content itself but also to the packaging and what can be read there. This so-called declaration contains the composition, the additives, and the analytical components of dog and cat food. So animal lovers can understand what exactly they are serving their darling. With the help of the experts from Purina, one of the leading manufacturers of pet food, we take a closer look. Read what the labels tell us about the contents of cat and dog food below.

Complete Feed or Supplementary Feed

If a cat or dog food is labeled “complete feed”, this means that the food contains everything your four-legged friend needs. The food is balanced and contains the right amount of proteins and minerals for a long dog or cat life. Complementary feed, on the other hand, is only suitable for occasional feeding. These are, for example, snacks or white fillet meat without additives. If you feed a lot of supplementary feed over the long term, you run the risk of your four-legged friend suffering from deficiency symptoms.

What Does “Rich in …” Mean?

What is allowed on cans and bags is precisely prescribed. The Federation of the European Pet Industry (Fediaf) regulates what is meant by the terms “rich in …” or “with chicken flavor”. The Purina experts give us examples based on pet food with chicken:

  • “Chicken-flavored” means that the feed contains less than 4 percent chicken.
  • Food “with chicken” consists of at least 4 percent chicken.
  • “Rich in chicken” describes a pet food in which at least 14 percent comes from the chicken.
  • A “chicken menu” contains at least 26 percent chicken ingredients.

“At least” means that it can contain more of the meat from which it is named. The remaining percent is made up of meat and by-products from other animals, e.g. lamb, beef, or duck.

This Tells Us the Composition of a Feed

The declaration of a feed consists of three sections: the “composition”, the “additives” and the “analytical components”. The composition is similar to a list of ingredients for a cooking recipe: It lists the main ingredients it contains. The ingredient that makes up the largest proportion is at the top of the list. The further back in the list, the less of the respective ingredient is contained in the feed. In the case of a dog or cat food, it is a good sign if the meat comes first in the declaration.

What are Animal By-products?

“Meat and animal by-products” often come first in the list of ingredients. By-products are by no means indicative of inferior quality. These are ingredients from slaughter animals that would also be suitable for human consumption. These include organ meats such as the liver, kidneys, or lungs, which provide dogs and cats with important nutrients. Purina selects by-products that are particularly valuable for dogs and cats.

Some of the things we turn up our noses at are not only tasty for our four-legged friends but also easy to digest.

This not only keeps the costs of high-quality animal feed within affordable limits but also reduces the waste associated with the utilization of healthy livestock.


Manufacturers are obliged to list all the additives they contain, including their quantities. As the name suggests, these are substances that, in addition to the main ingredients, find their way into cans or bags. The additives include vitamins such as vitamin A or minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and manganese. Information about taurine is particularly interesting for cat owners because cats are dependent on taurine in their diet. Manufacturers add these nutritional additives to ensure cats and dogs are getting all of the nutrients they need.

Sufficient Nutrients Only Thanks to Additives

Why is this even necessary? On the one hand, meat and by-products do not contain constant amounts of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. In addition, processing can damage the nutrients so that they are no longer available in sufficient quantities. Responsible manufacturers such as Purina use additives to ensure that the pet food contains all the important nutrients that your four-legged friend needs by the specified best-before date.

What are Sensory Additives?

The additives also include antioxidants and preservatives, which make the feed more durable. Sensory additives such as dyes improve the appearance or taste of the feed. Even if all additives are only used after strict control and in accordance with European laws, animal lovers often see sensory additives critically.

Purina has responded and has decided to dispense with all artificial colors in cat and dog food by 2023.

Analytical Components: What is Raw Ash All About?

The analytical components tell us how much moisture, crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and crude ash is contained in the feed. “Wait a minute” – one or the other reader might think: “Raw ash in cat and dog food?” In fact, this information does not mean that ash was added to the cat food. Crude ash is created when a dog or cat food is burned for an analytical process and only the minerals it contains remain. These mineral residues are called “raw ash”, “inorganic material” or “ash residue”.

Conclusion: What’s on It is Inside!

Every animal lover can use the declaration to get a clear picture of what ends up in the bowl of a cat or dog. Transparency is important to responsible producers. And of course – contrary to the occasional rumors – there are no secret attractants or addictive substances in cat or dog food.

When it tastes particularly good to your four-legged friend, it is actually based on years of research and concentrated expert knowledge.

For example, Purina has been doing everything it can to develop and optimize tasty nutritional concepts for dogs and cats for 125 years. So it’s no wonder when your four-legged friend licks out the bowl particularly thoroughly!

Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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