The Key To Reading Dog Food Labels

Last Updated on August 8, 2023 by Denise Leo. Post first published on November 23, 2015.

Reading Dog Food LabelsIf you understand how to properly read labels on dog food, you’re a step ahead in your goal to feeding your dog a high quality commercial diet.

I’m a person who carefully analyses human food labels to work out what I’m eating so it’s logical that I would do the same for my dogs.

While it may sound easy, trying to find the ideal food may take a lifetime of analysing labels on a full time basis, a luxury nobody can afford.

I know my dogs would be healthier and happier if I could feed them a high quality diet that was economical and simple to serve up. So I started reading all labels to learn what manufacturers of dog food put on labels.

This article covers kibble, the dry food that we feed our dogs.

There are a minimum of seven parts of the label you need to study when choosing the best options.

Guaranteed Analysis.

This is the part that lists the minimum amounts of fat and protein and maximum amounts of fibre and moisture. However, it’s complicated when you try comparing different food types such as tinned food and kibble. Fat and protein levels are listed on an “as-is” basis and this also includes water.

Every dog food may have different amounts of moisture and that affects how much nutrition is actually in the food if dry-weighed. Comparing these two labels needs a little math:

1. Find the % of the nutrient (e.g. protein) on the label.
2. Find the % of moisture on the label.
3. Subtract the % of moisture from 100 to get the % of dry.
4. Divide the number from number 1 by the number in 3 and multiple by 100.

For example: A bag of dry kibble for puppies:Reading Dog Food Labels

Crude Protein – 27.0%.
Crude Fat – 16.0%.
Crude Fibre – 4.0%.
Moisture – 10.0%.

I subtract 10% from 100 and I get 90% dry. I divide 27 by 90 and multiple by 100 to get 30% protein on a dry basis.

Food for adult dogs shouldn’t have under 18% protein and, for puppies, the figure is at least 22%. In our example, the amount of 30% is obviously higher than the minimum needed.

Ingredient List.

As with human food, manufacturers of dog food must list all ingredients in the food in a descending order based on dry weight.

This may prove tricky in some cases. Manufacturers have sneaky methods for avoiding this requirement which means they can give the false impression that the food is more nutritious and more visually appealing than what’s listed on the label.

As an example, if corn was the principle ingredient in a dog food, the manufacturer might list it as corn bran, corn flour, corn middlings or corn germ meal. If chicken is the main ingredient. If chicken is in the food, it may be listed as chicken by-products or chicken as the first on the list. High quality food will usually list two different sources of animal protein among the first few ingredients.

Just to make everything more complicated, manufacturers of dog food have their own peculiar jargon. Here are just a few of the most common terms listed on labels of dog foods:

Animal by-product meal – This is any part of the rendered animal. It can be any animal that won’t fit another category. However, it can’t include hooves, horns, hide, hair, manure or contents of intestines.
Reading Dog Food Labels
By-products – These are any non-human grade forms of protein that come from the carcass of the animal. This is where your imagination can go crazy. By-products aren’t always bad. Prior to dogs becoming domesticated, the animal was killed and all of it was eaten. However, in a dog food that’s high quality, the main form of protein must be real, not “leftovers” that usually get thrown away when foods go through processing for people to consume.

Meat – This is much simpler to understand. It’s the clean flesh from slaughtered mammals such as cattle, swine, sheet or goat. It comes from the tongue, diaphragm, oesophagus, muscle or heart.

Meat Meal – This is the rendered meal made from the tissues of animals. However, it’s forbidden to have intestinal contents, horns, hooves, hide trimmings, blood, hair or manure. It can’t have over 14% of indigestible scraps. While this may not sound pleasant for humans, it actually has more minerals than meat.

Meat by-products – This is the non-rendered, fresh clean parts of the animal once it has been slaughtered. It doesn’t include meat but it does include blood, brains, spleens, kidneys, livers, stomachs, fat, bones, lungs and intestines. It’s not allowed to have hooves, hair, teeth or horns.

Meat and Bone Meal – This one is similar to the meat meal but bones can also be added.Reading Dog Food Labels

Poultry, chicken or turkey by-product meal – This is made from the clean, rendered, ground bits of the poultry carcass. If it’s only chicken, it’s only made from chicken bits. It can have feet, intestines, undeveloped eggs and necks. Feathers and beaks aren’t permitted.

Poultry, chicken or turkey by-products – This is all non-rendered parts of turkey, chicken or poultry but can’t have foreign or faecal matter.

Product Names.

Here are more words and definitions to assist you in understanding labels on dog food packaging. Some of the manufacturers use words including: premium, ultra-premium, super premium, gourmet and holistic.

There aren’t any guidelines when it comes to dog food labels. Consumers need to know that labels such as those listed above don’t actually mean the food is better than any of its competitors. It’s just a marketing trick.

If a food is organic, it must be legally certified as such and must be created and processed without the use of synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, antibiotics or hormones.

If it’s claimed that the food is “natural,” it shouldn’t have chemical additives and food colourings.

There’s a 95% rule that states that all products must have 95% of the named ingredient. This doesn’t count “condiments” and water. For example, if it’s said to be chicken dog food, 95% of its weight has to be chicken. If it lists two main ingredients, the combination must be 95% of the weight.

Guidelines for Feeding Your Dog.

Guidelines on labels of dog food advise owners how much to feed their dog based on its weight. A significant difference between high and low quality food is how easy it is to digest. This is the quantity of the ingredients the dog can break down properly and readily absorb.Reading Dog Food Labels

If a food is easy to digest, the dog doesn’t need as much to eat to get the same amount of nutrients. If food is difficult to digest, the dog must eat more of it to guarantee the same quantity of nutrients. Because of these points, high quality food that’s more expensive may actually be more economical in the long run because less is needed per feed. The old adage is applicable here as well. What goes in must come out. So if less is going in, there’s less mess to clear up later.

Net Weight.

The net weight of products is a vital factor when it comes to choosing the best foods for your dog and comparing similar foods. Because manufacturers tend to use various forms of trickery such as filling a bag with extra air instead of product so it still looks full. Always compare the net weight listed on the labels.

Weights may alter over time so it’s vital to know how much dog food you’re purchasing. In recent years, a trend is appearing where people are buying smaller bags than ever before.

Manufacturer’s Information.

All dog food labels must have the name, address and phone number of the manufacturer. Many also add a website and email address which they also add to the label.

There are lots of dog foods sitting on supermarket shelves that are not made by the company or brand doing the selling. A statement appearing on the label will reveal the manufacturer of the food so you’ll know which company to be doing your research.

Always try to buy food manufactured in your home country. Avoid buying products that have had recalls if possible.

Expiry date – Last but not least, is the expiry date on the food. Most dry foods expire one year after it has been made. However, the date won’t say if the ingredients were stored properly or not, before being turned into dog food.

Even after the food has been made, the nutrients may not be as good as possible if the food has been kept in a humid, warm environment. You only know when the food was made and then you have to make your own decision.

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