How to Read and Understand Dog Food Labels

Updated on March 6, 2019
stuff4kids profile image

Amanda was raised with dogs and has kept dogs all her life. "Dogs aren't just pets," she says, "They're workmates, friends, and family."

Not all dog foods are created equal. But the list of ingredients and nutrition labels can be hard to understand. Learn to read and understand these labels to make sure you're dog's food is the best for his needs
Not all dog foods are created equal. But the list of ingredients and nutrition labels can be hard to understand. Learn to read and understand these labels to make sure you're dog's food is the best for his needs | Source

Decoding Your Dog's Diet

As a responsible dog owner you'll be keen to make sure your canine companion gets a full, balanced, healthy, and nutritious diet. But have you ever picked up a can or sack of dog food to read the nutrition table and list of ingredients only to find that you're none the wiser after you've read it? Then this article is for you!

Your dog's diet is the foundation of his health and happiness. It is essential to choose the right dog food to give him all the nutrients he needs. Most commercially produced foods have nutritional information printed on the packaging.

But decoding these labels can be tricky if you don't understand the terminology and abbreviations. The following guidelines should help you know the nutritional value of dog foods, so you make the best choice for your pet.

Dog food labels are required by law to list ingredients and the percentage proportions of key nutrients
Dog food labels are required by law to list ingredients and the percentage proportions of key nutrients | Source

How to Understand the List of Ingredients

Dog food labels must have a list of ingredients. The ingredients, listed by volume, begin with the heaviest at the top and the lightest at the bottom. But if meat is at the top, it doesn't necessarily mean there's more protein than anything else in the food.

Up to 75% of the mass of meat can be water and fat. The meat content, sometimes listed in the form of "meat meal," "bone meal" or "chicken meal," indicates that most of the water and fat content were removed to form concentrated animal-derived protein.

List of Common Dog Food Ingredients

Ingredient
Ground whole corn
Animal fat
Beet pulp
Ground whole wheat
Meat and bone meal
Vegetable oil
Brewer's rice
Corn and gluten meal
Table showing a list of the most common ingredients in commercially prepared dog food

Are "By-Products" Harmful to My Dog?

All dog foods certified by the Association of American Feed Controls as complete and balanced should provide all your dog's nutritional needs. They should be safe for him to eat. But some dog owners are alarmed when they see "by-products" listed in the ingredients.

However, the animal-derived by-products in dog food include only pig, cattle, and buffalo liver, heart, blood, brain, intestines, the esophagus, stomach lining, and udders. There should be no hard or indigestible parts such as horns, hooves, teeth or hair. By law, all by-products included in food must come from healthy, disease-free animals under a given age.

They are labeled as by-products only because many people don't want to eat them, but your dog won't mind at all!

Are the Chemicals in Dog Food Harmful?

As with many foods designed for human consumption, dog food also has added chemicals such as preservatives, emulsifiers, colorings, and stabilizers. All these ingredients are tested and passed as safe for use by the Food and Drug Administration Federal Agency. Manufacturers are obliged by law to list all added ingredients on the label.

Controversy about including butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin preservatives in food has caused alarm among the public. The chemicals help to stop fat becoming rancid and keep food fresh for longer. But after obliging manufacturers to reduce the amounts they use, health and safety officials say the small quantities now present in dog foods are harmless to pets.

If you're still not happy, look for vitamins E and C, and plant-derived preservatives listed on the label. While these natural preservatives won't keep the food as fresh for as long, they work in the short-term and are harmless. Always check the "best before" date on dog food packaging before feeding your dog.

The vast array of dog food brands and types can be confusing. Whichever you choose, the important thing is to read and understand the ingredients and nutrition label to make sure your dog is getting everything he needs from his diet
The vast array of dog food brands and types can be confusing. Whichever you choose, the important thing is to read and understand the ingredients and nutrition label to make sure your dog is getting everything he needs from his diet | Source

Common Additives in Dog Food and What They Do

Additive
What It Does
Antioxidants
Stop foods from deteriorating due to oxidation
Preservatives
Help protect dog food from harmful bacteria
Vitamins
Ensure full nutrition for optimum health
Trace elements
Help avoid nutritional deficiencies which could lead to ill-health
Coloring
Naturally derived colors make the food more attractive even after processing
Flavoring
Enhance the appeal of processed and packaged food

Which Dog Foods Are Complete and Balanced?

The Association of American Feed Control has official guidelines for the nutrients in dog food needed for a diet to be considered "complete and balanced." The guidelines are based on extensive research and testing and approved by veterinarians. Manufacturers who follow the guidelines display the AAFC certification on their packaging.

Ultimately, the quality of dog food in the USA is controlled by the Food and Drug Administration
Ultimately, the quality of dog food in the USA is controlled by the Food and Drug Administration | Source

What Does "Guaranteed Analysis" Mean on Dog Food Labels?

The "guaranteed analysis" part of a dog food label shows the relative percentages of different ingredients and nutrients in the food, often including micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Manufacturers may include or exclude specific elements from the label, but by law, they must show how much protein, fat, fiber, and moisture the food contains.

Vets recommend that your dog's diet should include at least 10% protein and 6% fat. The rest of the contents comprise carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals from grains, vegetables, and fruit. But as dogs don't digest everything they eat, the quantities of commercially produced food are higher to make sure they get enough nutrition.

Are "Natural," "Organic," "Holistic," and "Premium" Dog Foods Better?

While any food labeled "natural" might have fewer synthetic ingredients, no official guidelines exist to decide what is and isn't "natural" in dog food. The same applies to "organic." "Holistic" and "premium" are also meaningless terms used solely as marketing tactics. Other specifications you might find on labeling such as "human-grade" and "USDA inspected" are unregulated and do not mean much regarding the quality and nutritional value of the food the packaging contains.

Making Sense of Dog Food Labeling

With so many dog foods to choose from, it's essential you understand what the different brands have in them to make sure your dog gets a proper diet including all the calories and nutrients he needs for a healthy and happy life. While the information on dog food packaging isn't always crystal clear, these guidelines should help you understand it. If in doubt, always look for the manufacturer's statement that the food complies with the official nutritional recommendations of the AAFCO.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn

Comments

Submit a Comment
  • stuff4kids profile imageAUTHOR

    Amanda Littlejohn 

    7 months ago

    Hi Shelley,

    Not all marketers! But yes, there's reason to be vigilant and make sure you fully understand the messages on dog food labels as they can be misleading. I'm sure the same principle applies to cat food, too.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    7 months ago from USA

    So marketers are being even more deceptive than with products intended for humans when it comes to organic, premium, USDA inspected, natural, and other terms? (At least USDA inspected means something with human food and there’s a grading system). I guess that’s why we need regulations! People can’t always be trusted where money is involved. I learned a lot from this and assume some of the same ideas translate to cat food. Bummer.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)