Reading Dog Food Labels
First, all pet foods, by law, must have the following information: product name, manufacturer's name and address, weight, guaranteed analysis, ingredients, a nutritional adequacy statement and feeding directions. We'll focus on the last four.
The guaranteed analysis lists the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and water. Nutritional experts call this "as fed," meaning everything that's in the product. This includes the weight of non-caloric items such as water, fiber and ash. The standards for dog food set forth by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) require a minimum of 18% crude protein for adult dogs and 22% crude protein for puppies on a dry matter basis (that means with the water removed; canned foods should have more protein because they have more water). A dog food must also have a minimum of 5% crude fat for adults and 8% crude fat for puppies.
The guaranteed analysis doesn't give you any information about whether the protein and fat is of high quality. That is up to you to find out. One way is to read the ingredients. The ingredients list the most common item in the food first, and so on until you get to the least common item, which is listed last. A dog food that lists an animal protein source first, such as chicken or poultry meal, beef of beef by-products, is offering an excellent protein source. Other ingredients may include a carbohydrate source (rice, corn, barley), fat (chicken fat, lard, tallow), vitamins and minerals, preservatives (mixed tocopherols, ethoxyquin, BHA), fiber (beet pulp), and sometimes other additives purported to be healthy (glucosamine, yucca, etc). Some grocery store brands may add artificial colors, sugar and fillers.
Somewhere on the dog food package should be a nutritional adequacy statement saying that the dog food meets or exceeds the AAFCO nutritional guidelines. If the dog food doesn't meet AAFCO guidelines, it can't be considered complete and balanced, and can cause nutritional deficiencies if it is the only food your dog eats.
Finally, the dog food should have some kind of feeding directions. Usually these directions are more than the average dog needs, but it's a good guideline when starting out.
Next time you feed your dog, look at the label. There's lots of good information on it.
|Margaret Bonham is the co-author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Dog Health and Nutrition written with James M. Wingert, DVM, published by Alpha Books.|