The Label-Go-Round: Pet Treat Product Labeling

Update: as of September 2018, all OuttaMyKitchen! dog treats are grain-free and freeze-dried!

If you're like my mommie, you probably read the labels on on the food you buy for your family and maybe even for your pets. Food labels are designed to inform consumers of the ingredients and nutritional value contained in things we like to eat, which for me--a 5 month old bichon frisé puppy named SteveBaxter--includes yummy dog treats (especially the ones my mommie makes!)

The labeling on pet treats isn't a whole lot different than that on people food. As a rule, any person making and selling dog treats is expected to comply with their state's regulations regarding pet food production, sales and truth in labeling as well as legally conducting their business. It's a frustrating, expensive and time-consuming process that, as Mommie observes, is one of those necessary evils. Why? Because a company's integrity is reflected not just in the quality of its products, but in the honesty of its business practices.

The requirements for pet treat labeling in the state of Georgia are pretty basic. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing quantity along with the guaranteed analyses for crude protein, fat, fiber and moisture and the net weight. The label must include a designated species and a nutritional adequacy statement. Since there is no established daily requirement for pet treats, they're usually designated for supplemental feeding only. Finally, the company name and location of the facility where the treats were produced must be displayed. Seems pretty simple, right? 

SteveBaxter's look of label perplexion

SteveBaxter's look of label perplexion


This is where labeling gets a little tricky. In order to use the claim "organic" in the ingredient list, you must first obtain USDA organic certification (or your state's preferred alternative organic certifying body). So, even if you use lots of organic ingredients to make pet treats (like Mommie does), you can't say they're organic without going through that expensive certification process. By the same token, if you see pet treat labeling that claims organic ingredients without the USDA organic symbol, you can't really be sure that what you're purchasing is organic. The same goes for claims like "natural" and "premium." Sigh. Mommie says, this is where the ingredients have to speak for themselves.

Venison Dog Treats AAFCO (2).jpg

A particularly deceptive practice in labeling is referred to as "ingredient splitting." Take corn, for example. In order to decrease corn's overall prevalence in the ingredient information, it might be listed as various separate components, such as whole grain corn, corn meal or corn gluten. This gives the appearance that corn isn't a major ingredient when, in fact, it really is. In short, the issue is not the corn itself, it's the deceptive labeling leading a consumer to believe the product contains less corn than it actually does.

Reading a pet treat label doesn't require an advanced degree. However, becoming educated about what a label is really telling you is the best way to ensure you're getting what you paid for in that bag of treats. Mommie takes the same care making her dog treats as she does making food for the rest of our family. She starts with simple high-quality proteins, like venison, salmon, lamb and chicken, which is why they're first on the ingredient list. Then, she adds sprouted brown rice, vegetables and fruits for digestibility, fiber and flavor, and rosemary or cinnamon for their preservative properties. Finally, she dehydrates the treats to crispy perfection. That's it. No hype, just wholesome ingredients that speak for themselves. Nom nom nom. Wanna know a secret? Mommie's treats are so good that my even human brothers like to snack on them...shh...don't tell Mom! :-D