Labels and terminology

Labels and terminology

How to choose a quality food is a concern for many pet owners. At the Ste-Rose Veterinary Hospital, we try to help you make the best choice. Here is our new article in this series on commercial diets. For more information, please see our articles on commercial diets and life stages, or the one on the AAFCO before reading this one.


The labeling is regulated by strict laws and regulations (FDA in the United States and several levels of Government of Canada as the Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada). These are the same regulations that govern the labeling of foods for humans.

So this is a legal document, but also advertising which is thought to seduce you!

According to regulations, the ingredients are listed in order of weight, from heaviest to lightest, but do not provide information on the quality and digestibility of the diet; but with a discerning eye, it may give you some interesting information.

It should also be understood that the ‘chicken’ as first of the ingredient list, is a whole chicken, uncooked or dried, with its water, feathers and bones. Indeed the chicken meal is rather the dried or dehydrated chicken, without its organs and its carcass, so it will be lighter once processed and will be found further down the ingredient list. Its position in the list of ingredients will then be more meaningful.

What the words actually say:


It is a term specifically defined by AAFCO: it’s an ingredient without transformation from its natural state. By cons, a 100% natural diet is often wobbly as the only power source. A 100% natural product is widely regarded as a treat, not a maintenance diet.


It is an ingredient which has been transformed or extract to be incorporated in a diet and ensure its absorption by the body. Most vitamins are in this category. Chemical does not equal toxic or unhealthy.


Unlike popular belief, this is generally a high quality product. The liver is one of them and some companies prefer to register ‘liver’ instead of ‘by-products’ because it is more marketable, then again that’s the same thing. The internal organs are usually more digestible than animal meat products (muscles: chest or thigh chicken for example). Note that, from one company to another, the quality can vary.

This does NOT include: hair, horns, teeth and hooves.


Unregulated term or undefined or not required by the AAFCO. It is a marketing tool to entice you. In short, all the companies could write it on their bags, whether true or not.

Human grade/ human quality / Human consumption grade

A marketing term, not defined. This can unfortunatly mean anything.


A term not defined either by the AAFCO, or by any government.

Originally, it is a term of philosophy that could mean ‘that applies to a set of individual or all of an individual. Its opposite is individualism … So we can conclude that a holistic diet is for a whole dog population, or the dog as a whole … So, that would mean that the majority of non-prescribed diets are holistic diets?

Grain / No grains

Unlike myths, dogs AND cats use grains in their diet. When they are well prepared in the diet, there is even evidence that some grains, such as corn are more digestible and beneficial than animal meat. The so-called seedless diets usually replace them with rice, peas or similar ingredients. So again, it’s a question of marketing.


Hopefully this little guide will help you guide your choice.


Marie-Christine Hamelin, Veterinary Technician

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