A Guide to Understanding Dog Food Labels
Understanding dog food labels can be tricky and getting to the bottom of what we are actually feeding our dogs can need some nifty detective work.
To start with all dog food should be complete and balanced and must meet the minimum nutritional levels established by European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) UK & Europe and AAFCO for the USA.
But this doesn’t guarantee that all food that is listed as complete and balanced is the same quality. Ingredients vary within these guidelines. It can be difficult to decipher what is contained in the food you are buying and price is no guarantee of quality.
As consumers, we take our cues from the front of the packet and manufactures know this. Wording, images and colour pallet are designed to give us ideas about the food, from scientific looking to wholesome and hand produced. But it is the ingredients that are the main event, this is what is going to affect the wellbeing of your dog.
7 Key Points to Look For
When you are reading down the list of ingredients the order things appear in are important.
#1 Ingredients are listed in order of their weight, so the main ingredient should be listed first.
#2 If the packet displays a juicy chicken on the front then the percentage of that ingredient must be shown.
#3 If an ingredient is listed as chicken or rabbit for example then it must be chicken or rabbit flesh (and some bone).
#4 If it is listed as ‘chicken meal’ (reconstituted meat from rendering). It also must have been chicken flesh. There is some debate over the quality of meat meal as a protein source. Some manufactures make a point of not using it, but some dietitians suggest it is perfectly acceptable.
#5 If listed as meat & animal derivatives it might give the percentage of the main event meat for example rabbit 5%, but you will not know what the remain meat is or what part of the animal it was.
#6 For vegetables & grains, if they are listed as their names then they must be the actual product and not a by-product. (for by-product assume left-over). For example, wheat and not wheat husks.
#7 If the term cereal is used it can cover a broad selection of products or their by-products, wheat husks or vegetable by-products. However, in the interest of balance ‘allaboutdogfood.co.uk suggest that the words ‘cereal’ could be used to hide a secret recipe and may not indicate low grade products.
But Kate Bendix ‘myitchydog.com’ is not so forgiving and makes the point that owners who are trying to avoid wheat for their dogs would not be able to work out what the actual ingredients are and this could be aggravating allergies.
Understanding what is in your dog food is a complicated issue and this is done on purpose. This post is only a basic introduction to understanding dog food labels. But beware some of the ‘high end’ dry dog foods that you would expect to be able to trust can be the worst culprits for low grade ingredients.
Choose food where:
#1 The meat (protein) is specific and form the major part of the ingredients. In general, you would expect the meat content to be around 60-70%
#2 You should be able to see from the ingredient list what the grains and vegetables are. Go for no grains.
#3 Oils and fats should give you a source and minerals should give you a quantity.
#4 Sugars are not required and additional protein is better if meat based. Not soy.
I hope this quick guide gives you some help choosing good dog food. Always look at the back of the packet regardless of who is selling it to you. A lot of pet shop instore training about nutrition is provided by the dog food manufacture and therefore going to be bias to products. Vets are a business and sell products and some of the worst dry kibbles is on sale at the vets.
As consumers, we need to savvy up and have the confidence to understand what we are looking at and make good choices for our dogs.
- The Dog Diet Greg Martinez
- Top Dog Kate Bendix