Dog Food Regulations: The Different Levels

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Yorki Eating Dog FoodJust like human food, the government does have regulations in place that concern the production of not only dog food, but other pet foods as well. Dog food production is regulated at several levels, including federal, state, and sometimes local levels. However, you have to keep in mind that much of the regulation that concerns dog food is focused on proper labeling and is not monitored on a regular basis unless there is a potential problem.

To understand this, consider the laws about speeding. You are not supposed to go over the speed limit, but there is no one in your car to monitor you. You only get caught going over the speed limit if you leave evidence of it during an accident, or an officer happens to be tracking speeds when you drive by.

Local Dog Food Regulations

For the most part, dog food regulations would not be impacted by local regulations unless it became a health issue. In fact, local regulations concerning dog food are most likely to be concerned only with local building codes and manufacturing location codes than they would with the actual content of the dog food.

State dog food Regulations

All states retain the authority to inspect the plants where dog food is made. States also have their own regulations concerning the content of the dog food, registration of the product before production, and label reviews. States provide minimum standards for dog food manufacturers to meet in the form of percentages required of crude fat, crude protein. They also regulate the maximum amount allowed for crude fiber as well as moisture content.

Federal dog food Regulations

When it comes to federal regulation of dog food and dog food production, the chore is primarily left up to the Federal Trade Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture. The regulations that are overseen by these divisions are based on the function of each division as it serves the entire population. For instance, their focus is going to be a more generally focused and not always specific to dog food.

The Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for overseeing fair trade. As it applies to dog food, the main concern of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is basically limited to advertising. They uphold the truth in advertising standards. In other words, the FTC says that whatever the dog food manufacturer or distributor advertises is in the dog food had better actually be in the dog food. Dog food manufacturers also cannot make false claims. If they make a claim about their product, they need to be able to provide evidence for that claim. That is why dog food is not advertised with promises of things like giving your dog the ability to fly or other things that it cannot do. Keep in mind that the evidence that is provided only has to show success. It does not have to show failure. So, if a company ran an ad that their dog food cured cancer, it doesn’t mean it will cure all cancer. It might mean that it cured cancer in one dog.

United State Department of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for oversight of things having to do with agriculture and in this case, pet food. This very wide umbrella serves to regulate pet food in a similar manner as the way they regulate human food. The USDA is responsible for regulating pet food ingredients including the amount of meat that must be used, the minimum nutrients contained and what the labels offer.

Content of Foods

Dog food, which falls under the category of “pet foods” as far as federal standards go, is subject to the same regulations as human foods when it comes to harmful substances. Dog food may not contain substances that could be harmful to dogs. Dog food is not in compliance with these standards if poisons or other harmful substances are found in it. It must be produced, packaged and labeled in a sanitary environment that does not contain harmful substances or the parts of any diseased animals.


Labels are not just for looks or just to appease the customer. Federal regulations declare that dog food labels must contain a number of items to be compliant.

  • Pet Food: Dog food must be specifically labeled as dog food rather than just as “pet food”. This ensures that the company making the dog food has not included substance that might be harmful to a dog specifically, even if it may be harmful to another animal.
  • Additives: Dog food labels must include information concerning any artificial flavors or colors that have been added. The label must also alert consumers to the fact that chemical preservatives have been added, if they have.
  • Use of dog food: If the dog food is supposed to be used under certain conditions, then the label must declare this. For instance, if the dog food must be eaten with other foods, the label must state such.
  • Ingredients and weight: Dog food labels have to include the ingredients that go into making the dog food. The label should also list the weight, but does not have to list the weight of particular ingredients. For instance, if a ten pound bag of dog food has a label that says it has meat and corn in it, don’t assume that is ten pounds of meat.
  • Manufacturer information: The label must offer information concerning the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor.

Voluntary Inspection

Federal regulations are in place to allow for voluntary inspection of the dog food. If the company chooses to request a voluntary inspection and they pass it, they may label their product as such. So if you want to know which companies really care about what they are producing, look for the label that tells you the product has undergone a voluntary federal inspection.

Understanding Regulations

You are probably wondering how it is possible that so many dog foods have been recalled when there are regulations in place to prevent harmful dog foods from ever reaching the consumer. It is important to remember that there are several issues at work here.


Very few manufacturers make their own ingredients. Ingredients are usually bought from producers, and then combined in the process of manufacturing. If any of those ingredients are contaminated when they reach the dog food plant, they will contaminate much of the food they are mixed with. Quality standards are in place so that when the ingredients are used, it is already assumed they are safe to use.


When you think of companies that manufacture dog foods, try not to think of them as dog lovers. Some of them may love dogs, but the production of dog food is about running a successful business. Most of the concern of running a successful business is about making profits. Sometimes that goal may override morals.

For instance, if one production line is found to be contaminated, that may not mean that the entire plant is checked or even that this one single line is checked. Morals would dictate that it be so, but that could mean a loss of profits for the manufacturer. All of the food would have to be either destroyed or checked for contaminants. That doesn’t just mean they lose that food, they also lose the production of the food that was to follow as well as paying for man hours for dealing with the contaminated food. As a result, the food may not be thoroughly checked. In fact, depending on what the accountants say, even some of the contaminated food may be packaged and sold.

It really comes down to numbers. If more money is going to be lost decontaminating the line or facility than would be lost through fines and law suits, it is very possible that the food will be moved on to the market. The cheaper the dog food is, the more likely this is to happen. It is not because the dog food is cheap. It is because they assume that the people who buy the dog food are not putting more money than they have to out for their pet. Hence, they may not even have up to date shots or other medical needs met, which would remove any responsibility the dog food manufacturer has for the health of your pet.

About The Author:

Michelle holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University and has worked in marketing at Bank of America, Mattel and Hanes. She is the proud co-founder of Canine Journal and a dog lover through and through. Since the day she was born, she has lived in a home full of dogs. Her adult home is no exception where she and her husband live with Bella and Lily, their two adorable rescue pups. In addition to her love for snuggling with dogs, she also has enjoyed working professionally in the canine field since 1999 when she started her first dog-related job at a dog bakery.

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Pet owners should do the same for their dogs as they would for themselves. Reading the food labels can help keep your pet healthier without a question.


It doesn't surprise me that the government would have dog food regulations. However, it also doesn't surprise me that they are rarely enforced. The simple truth is we can't even rely on the government to keep human food safe, which means we certainly can't rely on them to keep our pets safe. In other words, these regulations are all for show. They want pet owners to be appeased, but in reality think their time is best spent elsewhere. Which leads us to the question, how do we keep our pets safe?

The best thing you can do for your pet can also be the worst thing you do. While a proper homemade diet can be very beneficial for dogs, many pet owners don't know how to prepare a meal that has all the nutrients dogs need to be healthy. Even some veterinarians aren't skilled enough to give good advice on this manner. What does this mean for the pet owner? Lots and lots of research.

You need to research the types of nutrients your dog needs based on breed, age, lifestyle, and other criteria. This can take a long time, but can result in the healthiest food your dog has ever eaten.


I had no clue that dog food was federally regulated, but I am glad that it is. The government seems to have put a lot of thought and precaution in place to protect dogs against businesses who are just in it to make a profit and do not necessarily care about dog welfare. I had heard about the dog food recalls several years ago and the new rounds of voluntary recalls that were underway, but I did not know exactly why that was being done (I guess I never questioned it).

I hope this serves as a stern warning for pet parents everywhere to both check the food they have for recalls and to keep pets updated on shots and veterinary care. And do not buy cheap, low-quality food for your cherished pet!


I'm so glad that you covered this topic.  I was always wondering if the government did this.  I am glad that they at least do something.  I've seen some pretty inexpensive dog food products in the store, and have wondered  if those are really healthy for the dogs that wind up eating them. 

I always read the ingredients from my dog's food.  I think a lot of owners just trust that if they are buying some dog food that it's going to be okay for their dog.  They never read the ingredients.  Some also feel that if they are paying enough money that they don't have to worry about what's in the food and they don't have to read the ingredients, but we all know that a pretty label does not necessarily mean that a product is good.  I know for a fact that some of the expensive creams and lotions at department stores are made by the same companies that make the cheap stuff.  The only difference between products sometimes is just the label.  I know many of people don't realize this and buy products with the same ingredients as something cheaper.


In all honesty, if we can't count on our government to regulate human food properly (*coughs* HFCS *coughs*), how can we begin to trust them to regulate dog food properly? While it would be nice to think that the government cares about the welfare of our pets, I'm not that naive. I believe the government does care about something and that something is money. I'm sure health-officials have been willing to turn their head for the right amount of money. Which leaves us with the question, how do we ensure that our pets get healthy food?

Sadly, the only way we can really ensure that we're doing the best we can is to make homemade food. This requires speaking with your vet about the age of your dog as well as the breed. Your vet will be able to offer a custom recipe so that you can cook a healthy meal that is right for your dog. The only problem is that this can become time-consuming. You will need to prepare fresh food every day and it can also be expensive. However, most pet owners will tell you that it's well worth the expense to know that you're doing the best thing for your pet.