Pet Food Labelling Explained

Hiedi Hutchinson

Blog , +2

November 13, 2017

Do you really know what the labels mean on your pet food packaging?

We want to make it clear and easy to understand what different pieces of information on the label mean in order to help you make a better, more informed choice.

There are different ways of hiding what goes into our pet food, so it is important that you know what to look out for when searching for a new brand of food for your pooch. Here are some commonly used words which may help in your search. Additionally, if you would like any further help Skinner’s are free to call Monday- Friday 9am-5pm for free friendly nutritional advise.

Drawing attention to the presence of an ingredient (feed material)

Attention can be drawn to a specific ingredient that is added, by indicating the percentage of that ingredient on the label. However, feed materials are not always available in a fresh or frozen form but can also be used in a dried form (eg. For better handling or seasonal availability).


Where are the additives in pet foods?

For pet food, ingredients are either considered feed materials (e.g lamb, rice, peas, etc.) or additives (eg. Vitamin C, calcium, tocopherols.

Additives are used in the same way as they are in human foods to help provide texture, colour or to maintain the product quality. Vitamins, amino acids and trace elements- for example, iron- can also be added to ensure that the product is nutritionally complete for the pet.

Many additives used in pet food are also used in human food. Led by authorities, there is a strict process in place to ensure all additives are authorised, based upon animal safety.

This authorisation process assesses whether the additives in question represent a risk to animal health and whether it is effective for its intended purpose. Companies are only permitted to use authorised additives and in general only use the correct amount that will provide the intended effect.

How are additives labelled?

Additives are grouped by law into different categories and functional groups describing their purpose. For example the category “nutritional additives” has the functional groups of “trace elements”, “vitamins” or “amino acids”.

What amount of the claimed material are in the pet food?

If you see terms such as “with duck” or “rich in duck” used on the label, the following amounts must be present, and in addition will be stated on the label:

  • “flavoured with duck”    =   less than 4% duck
  • “with duck”                    =   at least 4% duck
  • “rich in duck”                 =  at least 14% duck
  • “duck dinner”                 =  at least 26% duck

Some ingredients, for example those with intense flavour such as herbs, will necessarily be included at lower levels.

Indicated amounts can be based on rehydration. For example: a “with duck” variety has to contain at least 4% fresh duck or an equivalent amount of dried duck.

Meat and animal derivatives

This can be any of the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals. In addition, all animal material used in pet food comes from animals passed fit for human consumption pre and post mortem.


For minerals pet food manufactures have agreed on the possibility to use the category name even for declaration by single ingredients (eg. “Minerals” instead of calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride etc.

Why label pet food?

Pet food, as any other animal feed, needs to be labelled in accordance with the latest regulations to ensure that you receive correct information about that particular product.Name and product description
Composition (ingredients list)
Analytical constituents
Information about additives
Best before date and batch code
The name of the manufacturer or the distributor and how to contact them for further information
How to use the product (feeding instructions)
Weight and /or quantity control

Name and product description

Most usually for pet food, this will be in the form of: “A complete pet food for dogs” or “A complementary pet food for dogs”.
It may also state the particular life-stage of the animal for example “complete food for adult dogs”

What does it mean when it says “reduced fat” or “increased protein”?

Some dogs require higher levels of protein than others such as working sheep dogs. The manufacturer is allowed to make this clear by putting a claim on the packet such as “increased protein”. This means that the protein is at least 15% higher than in a “standard” product. Likewise, if the claim is “reduced”, it means that the level of the nutrient or material named is at least 15% lower than in a similar “standard “product.

*If no explanation is given on the pack, the reference is made to the standard adult product of the same range.

What do complete and complementary mean?

Complete means that the pet food provides all the nutrients your pet requires each day, when fed as instructed. Complementary means that the food is either intended to be mixed with something else (eg. Wet food mixed with a mixer biscuit); or it could be intended as a snack or treat for your pet.

What type of product varieties exist?

Different varieties for your pets can refer to the inclusion of specific ingredients but also certain animal species or the meat content (eg. “With carrots”; “with chicken”; “with fish”; “rich in beef”).

Manufacturers often use a range of animal materials in their products to ensure that pets always receive the correct nutrition. So when the variety mentions an animal species or the meat content, this refers to certain parts of the animal materials authorised for pet food.

Composition (ingredients list)

Pet food manufacturers follow two ways of declaring ingredients used in the recipe:

  1. Either by category names as defined in EU legislation (Eg. Meat and animal derivatives, vegetables, cereals, minerals, etc)
  2. Or by single ingredient names (Eg. Dehydrated chicken protein, wheat, corn starch, chicken fat, etc).

Batch code and best before date

The batch code allows the manufacturers and enforcement authorities to identify batches of product in exactly the same way as in human food. It provides traceability from the point of manufacture.

The best before date tells you exactly that- when the product will be “best” before – it is not necessarily harmful if consumed after this date, but this is when nutrients like the vitamins will be guaranteed until.

How to contact the manufacturer for further information

You will find on the packaging the name and address if the manufacturer or distributer where you can enquire for further information additionally, there must be references to either a free telephone number, a website or a dedicated consumer care line or other means by which you can contact them.

How to use the product (feeding instructions)

On the label, you will find a guide on how much and how often to feed the product to your pet to ensure they receive all the essential nutrients.

Weight statement/quantity

The weight statement on the pack is governed by the same legislation as the weight statement for human food.

Skinner’s are environmentally friendly

Here at Skinner’s we care about the environment. Within the last few years we have moved from oil to gas to also help with being environmentally friendly.

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