Pet Food Labels: How to Read

Companion Animals February 24, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Commercial pet foods are an easy and convenient way to feed your dog or cat. Deciding what to feed can be difficult for some pet owners. There are some general items to consider when selecting a food that is right for a particular companion animal. When choosing a pet food, read the label before buying. The items on the label can be confusing, but it becomes much easier to make the right pet food choice when you know what to look for.

To evaluate the information on the label, we must look at the label in two parts: the principal display panel (front of the label) and the information panel (immediately to the right of the principal display panel). Each part is required to contain specific information and may include extra information that may help the consumer make a decision.

Principal display panel

The principal display panel must include these three items: the name, purpose, and net weight of the product. Click on the links below for more details on the principal display panel:

  • Principal Display Panel
    • Rules for Naming Pet Foods

Information panel

Click on the links below for more details on the information panel and its specific components:


The information provided on a dog or cat food label is important and can be helpful when choosing a diet that will help pets lead a long and healthy life. Checking pet food labels to ensure that the proper diet is fed will allow pet owners to make more informed decisions and ensure that all the nutritional needs of their pet are being met. After carefully reading the label of the pet food, a pet owner can feel confident about making the right choice for their pet.

Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, Ph.D. - University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.