Many brands of dog and cat foods are specially labeled as “dinner.” But what’s so special about “Mighty Dog Hearty Beef Dinner” as compared to other types of dog food? Is it meant to be eaten by your dog at night? Is formal dinner attire required? Should you offer a wine pairing? Are you expected to check his coat?

Animal food labeling restrictions are decided by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Many states enforce these guidelines, and the FDA defers to the AAFCO when it comes to matters of syntax and wording. According to the FDA:

If the named ingredients comprise at least 25% of the product (not counting the water for processing), but less than 95%, the name must include a qualifying descriptive term, such as "Dinner" as in "Beef Dinner for Dogs."

Other terms, such as “nuggets,” “entree,” and “platter,” can also be used when referring to a product that contains at least 25 percent of whatever is listed in the product's name.

In order for a pet food to not feature these sorts of qualifiers in its name, it must consist of at least 95 percent of that main ingredient (not including water). So, for a product to be called “Beef Dog Food," its non-water composition must be at least 95 percent beef. However, if the word “with” is used in the food's name, the AAFCO states that it only has to contain at least 3 percent of that item (e.g. “Dog Food With Beef” would only need to be 3 percent beef).

That’s a lot to think about while you’re waiting for your dog to finish his dinner. Hopefully he’ll leave you a good tip.