How To Read A Dog Food Label
Undoubtedly, you’ve looked at a dog food label and seen many things that may not be so clear. What’s really in that food? There’s a lot of information on the label. You have to know where and how to look for it.
First, all pet foods, by law, must have the following information:
- Product name
- Manufacturer’s name and address
- Guaranteed analysis
- Nutritional adequacy statement
- Feeding directions
Here we’ll take a closer look at the last four.
1. Supported Analysis On A Dog Food Label
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 in the product, including 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. This crude protein amount is on a dry matter basis (that means with the water removed, canned foods should have more protein because they have more water). 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 are of high quality. That is up to you to find out. One way is to read the ingredients.
2. Ingredients Listed On A Dog Food Label
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 label that lists an animal protein source first, such as chicken or poultry meal, beef or beef by-products, offers 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.
However, amid growing interest among Americans in feeding their families and pets more “natural” foods, some dog food manufacturers are now using more natural — and recognizable — ingredients in foods they sell.
Natural Dog Food Ingredients May Include:
Chicken and Egg
The high-quality protein in these food items helps build and maintain healthy muscles.
They are high in beta-carotene that can be converted to vitamin A, which helps in vision. AAFCO requirements call for a minimum of 5,000 IU/kg in the canine diet.
Rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, which are antioxidants that can limit cell damage and promote a robust immune system.
These have antioxidants, including Vitamin E, which promote a robust immune system and limit cell damage. AAFCO requirements call for a minimum of 50 IU/kg in a healthy dog’s diet.
This leafy green vegetable has many essential vitamins and minerals — including vitamin A, manganese, riboflavin, calcium, and iron — that the AAFCO says a dog needs. Spinach is linked to a healthy heart, among other positive benefits.
Apples and Beets
Fruits and vegetables contain natural fiber that helps promote a healthy digestive system in canines.
Fish Oil and Flaxseed
Fish oil and flaxseed, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, contribute to skin health and coat shine.
Wholesome whole grains such as rice, sorghum, and barley provide a natural energy source and vitality to dogs.
Natural calcium promotes healthy teeth and bones, not only in humans but in canines, too.
Ingredients to Avoid In Dog Food
Your definition of “natural” foods for your family probably doesn’t include artificial colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives. Those may also be ingredients you want to avoid feeding your dog. Artificial colors can often be detected by a reference to a color with a number after it, such as Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5. When it comes to flavoring, it’s a good idea to look for a natural flavoring, such as natural chicken flavoring, instead of an animal digest, which is a cooked-down broth of unspecified animal parts. Some of the new natural foods promote the fact that they don’t use preservatives. Common preservatives used in dog foods include Ethoxyquin, BHA, or BHT.
In addition to bettering your dog’s health, going natural with the foods you feed your dog may give you more peace of mind. “As the human-animal bond has grown, marketing has lent itself towards what’s appealing to the person,” says Rebecca Rose, CVT, of Red Valley Rose Consulting, in Gunnison, Colo. “The balanced diet for the animal is the important part. As long as the animal is getting what it needs and maintaining its weight and coat, it’s fine.”
Our feeding of dogs is one of the reasons that they became domesticated in the first place. “That’s one of the reasons dogs selected humans to bond with — it was easier for them to please us and get food in return than it was to go out and hunt for it on their own,” Peterson says.
3. Nutritional Statement On A Dog Food Label
Somewhere on the dog food package should be a nutritional adequacy statement saying that it meets or exceeds the AAFCO dietary 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.
4. Feeding Directions On A Dog Food Label
Finally, dog food should have some feeding directions. Usually, these directions are more than the average dog needs, but it’s a good guideline when starting.
Next time you feed your dog, look at the label. There’s lots of useful 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.