The Label That Matters: What Pet Parents Should Look For In Pet Food

We are what we eat. The same goes for your pet cat or dog–what they eat can determine their overall health, be it their gut health or their physical and mental wellbeing.

As such, choosing the pet food he’ll have for his everyday meals needs a lot of research and planning. For paw parents, this may be a daunting task. What if I choose the wrong type of pet food? What if my pet baby doesn’t like it? What if it doesn’t have the best nutrients that he needs, especially for growing fur babies?

These questions can be answered by a simple but discerning look at one of the most important aspects of pet food: the label. There can be a lot of difference between knowing what you’re looking for and just choosing a brand on the fly.

Here are a few key things you should remember the next time you go grocery shopping for your fur baby’s dietary needs.

Don’t Decide Based On The Cover

As with anything we shop for, it’s easy to fall prey to how a certain product is marketed. Presentation is everything, even when it comes to the pet food that we purchase. From cute pets on the covers to fresh ingredients appetisingly arranged, these are all elements that help to entice you as the fur parent. After all, we just want what’s best for our dogs and cats.

However, some brands can use the packaging as a way to divert attention from the things that matter. The way certain words are phrased or the way the ingredients are enumerated in the packaging all provide a clue to what’s really in the kibble bag. That’s why it pays to build your label lingo.

Know The Different Meats


When it comes to ingredients, one of the most important ones that you want to consider is the protein content. Whether it’s for cats and dogs, protein is a crucial part of their daily needs. That’s because there are some amino acids that your pet cannot produce on his own.

But not all proteins are made equal. Some are high in nutrients while others merely add taste or even filling to the kibble or the canned food. Experts note that, when buying dog or cat food, you need to have some knowledge about protein types, especially if your pet suffers from intolerance to some proteins.

Animal digest

Perhaps the lowest-grade protein type on the list, animal digest may be an ingredient to avoid as it is usually added in the most generic pet food brands or as flavour for some premium ones.

Animal digest is the product of the chemical breakdown of animal tissue, which produces a concentration of gelatinous peptide. However, only in very rare cases is the meat fresh and free from chemical and waste contaminants. It’s best to stick to dog and cat food that clearly outlines the state of meat that was added into the mix.

Meat by-products

Going up the food chain of meat products, you may encounter meat or animal by-products. While they typically include meat that can be safely consumed, they tend to include blood, bone and fatty tissue–not exactly the most premium of ingredients.

Meat meals

This meat type sits in the most ambiguous categories of all. Some meat meals have proper nutrients, particularly due to the meat parts used. However, given the extensive processing that some meat meals undergo, some kinds can be difficult to classify altogether.

The healthier meat meals consist of animal organs, muscle, and fat. Poultry meals, sourced from different kinds of poultry, may also contain some bone traces. As long as these meat and poultry sources come from legitimate USDA-inspected and passed animal sources, the meat meals may have a more nutrient-dense makeup.


For the best source with no compromises, always trust in “meat” sources for your furry pet. Meat sources means these are made from muscle meat, skin, and bone of the animal that is named on the label.

The only differences that you may anticipate is in the ratio of muscle meat to skin and bone. This may vary from brand to brand, but as a whole, it is the safest option for both cats and dogs.

Need to be assured of the right meat for your pet? Go with brands that opt to use fresh ingredients and go with single-source protein for their kibble. Brands like earthmade by Boneve source its meat from the freshest farms in New Zealand, so you know exactly where your meat comes from.

In fact, New Zealand is known for being a non-GMO country. Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, manufacturers of products including pet food cannot make use of ingredients that are not naturally made–not even those that have been genetically engineered. This is an important clause that earthmade by Boneve has incorporated into its philosophy and operations.

When you go for single-source protein, you know that when you buy “beef” then your pet will definitely only eat beef protein. This is a big plus for pets with intolerance to different proteins–no more trial and error!

A Cautious Note: “Dinner”

If you’ve ever seen the word “dinner” in dog or cat food, you may have assumed that this meant a complete meal that your pet can enjoy. However, this is exactly where you should pay the most attention.

Some brands may use a variant of the name. This includes “platter,” “formula,” or even “entree.” All of them ideally mean the same thing: this dinner formula only comprises 25% proportion of protein found in the pet food. As an example, if you buy beef dinner for your pet dog, there’s a big chance that the beef portions in the formula is only a fourth of the entire ratio. The pet food contains more of the other ingredients than the meat protein you were going for.

How do you make sure about the meat? Check the label and see the order in which the ingredients are laid out. Brands that follow The Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) recommended labelling practices will likely list the ingredients from the most proportions to the smallest servings per ingredient.

The 100%, 95%, and 25% Rule


More than just what a pet food manufacturer offers, AAFCO actually has specific rules when packaging and marketing pet food. This protects pet owners, so that they know exactly what they are getting with each bag. So what are these three major rules?

100% rule

Is it actually possible to give your pooch or feline friend 100% of the ingredient on the label? Using “100%” can be a major selling point, but manufacturers need to adhere to a number of prerequisites.

For starters, 100% should mean exactly what it says–that the listed ingredients are the only inclusions in the pet food. Manufacturers are also only allowed to label it as “100%” if the kibble bag contains just one or two ingredients, minus water.

So if you see a brand that just says “Lamb dog food” note that it may not be 100% just lamb. The key here is to also look at just how much each ingredient is in relation to all the other ingredients on the label.

95% rule

The ratio of how much a specific ingredient matters a lot–and that should reflect in the packaging. Thus, even if you can’t be too sure that “chicken cat food” actually has 100%, it’s still required for chicken to comprise 95% of the entire product.

25% rule

Since there are some pet food that tend to make use of terms like “formula” or “dinner” in their packaging, you should note that the protein source mentioned in their label will likely only comprise 25% of the entire weight of the kibble bag.

This is where you need to exercise more caution; 25% is already quite low in terms of the percentage of how much meat is in the bag. Sometimes, fillers, like by-products or even some grain can be included–so be discerning at all times!

Part of reading the label also means knowing which fillers tend to bring more harm than good. A lot of pet food brands still resort to palm oil as a way filler ingredient–and it has been incorporated as propylene glycol or even pure palm oil in an attempt to shift gears towards supposed wellness.

Opt for more natural and healthier alternatives, such as fish-derived fatty acids that are loaded with Omega 3 and 6. Considering earthmade by Boneve’s naturally sourced ingredients like cold-water mackerel, each kibble bag is brimming with healthy fatty acids that are perfect for management of certain ailments like inflammation.

Grain vs Grain-free: Does It Matter?

What is grain?

Some types of grain provide carbohydrate, fat, and antioxidants. The last one is important for developing cats and dogs. But the good thing is you can also get antioxidants from brands that add these as main ingredients to their kibble.

Try this!

earthmade by Boneve’s Cage-free Chicken Grain-free Cat Food features antioxidants like rosehip, manuka honey, and kiwi–so you get the benefits without the fatty aspects of grain.

Bottomline: A trusted source

It pays to stick with a trusted brand, because you can be sure of their process, from source to stocks.

Preservatives–Yay or Nay?

While it can’t be denied that natural is best, the likes of dry kibble for both cats and dogs requires some additional preservatives to make them last longer. 

Still, just like with ingredients, some preservatives are better than others, namely natural and artificial preservatives. The latter may carry more risk, even though they are commonly found in more affordable pet food options. According to some experts, the top synthetic preservatives in both dog and cat food include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and propylene glycol. 

Look for dog and cat food brands with natural preservatives like vitamin C, and vitamin E. These add-ons not only keep your kibble safe for longer in your cupboard–they keep your furry pals safe, too!

Check out New Zealand Mackerel Dog Food and Free-range Grass-fed Beef Grain-free Cat Food earthmade by Boneve. Both of these only feature vitamins C and E supplement and rosemary extract. Now there’s no need to worry about keeping the kibble for long.


Guaranteed Analysis: What’s there to analyse?

The nutrient section

Pet labels put all the nutritional value for protein, fibre, and fat in this section.

A cat’s nutritional needs

It’s common practice to have a minimum and maximum percentage for nutrients. For cats, the FDA has regulations for calcium, sodium, phosphorus, and linoleic acid.

Paw parent’s protection:

The AAFCO regulations dictate 78% of moisture is the maximum percentage for common pet food. However, there are exemptions, including those labelled “stew,” “sauce,” or “gravy” as they follow a different formulation.

By looking at the label, you can check if you get what you pay for with each kibble bag. For instance, brands like earthmade by Boneve list down the exact ingredients, so you know the inclusions–sauce, bits, and all!