When you go to the grocery store and pick up any prepackaged item, you will find a nutrition label that goes over all of the basic ingredients and summarizes the basics of the nutrients found in the food. The same is true for dog food labels. The problem is that it can be quite confusing for people, especially if they don’t really understand what it all means. Here you will find some great information that will help you when it comes to deciphering dog food nutrition labels.
First, it is important to understand the importance of taking a look at the nutritional information on your dog’s food. There are many different brands of food on the market, and more often than not you can’t just tell them apart by the promises made by the manufacturer. It is important to compare the labels and choose a food that is going to best suit your dog’s dietary requirements.
Reading the List of Ingredients
When you first look at the nutrition label, the first thing that will get your attention is likely the ingredients list.
Much like foods that are packaged for human consumption, the ingredients that are found in your pet food are listed in order by their weight, starting with the one that makes up the biggest percentage of the food as a whole. Most people look for a food that has meat listed as the number one ingredient, but it is important to remember that a bulk of that weight from the meat will actually be water (somewhere around 75% of it actually).
However, if the meat that shows up at the top is listed as meat meal, it is different. This is a concentrated animal protein, with water and fat already removed from it. Many people shy away from the meat meals, but in all reality it may be packed with better nutrients.
When you are looking at the ingredients list, you may see that there are certain by-products contained in the food. Meat byproducts can be a mix of certain types of internal organs and other parts, including but not limited to liver, bone, stomach, brains, intestines and blood. There is a big debate that goes on about whether or not these by-products are good for your pet. The good news is that it is highly regulated, and the FDA doesn’t allow certain body parts- including those that have a positive screen for mad cow disease.
Preservatives and Other Chemicals
As you get further down in the list of ingredients, you may start to see names of ingredients that sound foreign to you. These are typically artificial colors, stabilizers or preservatives that are added to the food to give it a better shelf life. Typically, these preservatives are necessary to allow the food to last on the shelf, but they may not be the best for your dog. There are some dog foods that don’t contain these chemical preservatives and other additives, and it might be worth your while to look into a higher quality food that has more to offer, with fewer chemical additives.
When it comes to deciphering dog food nutrition labels, you will also want to check the food for nutritional adequacy. Most of the manufacturers of pet foods will follow the regulations that are set forth by the AAFCO. They have guidelines that show the nutrients that are required for a completely balanced diet. Look for a statement that says ‘100% complete and balanced for adult maintenance’, or something along those lines. There are different statements for each life stage, from puppies to seniors.
Another section on the dog food label that may catch your eye is the guaranteed analysis. This will list the minimum percentage of proteins and fats included in the food, along with the maximum percentages of moisture and fiber. Some may even list the percentages of minerals such as phosphorus and calcium. As a general rule of thumb, you want your dog’s diet to be made up of about 10% protein and 5.5% fat.
What About All Natural?
All natural or holistic foods will contain very few, if any, artificial ingredients. Be careful when you see a food that is labeled as all natural or holistic, and especially those that claim to be made with human grade ingredients. There are many promises made by the manufacturers, and it can be very confusing. Just because it says that something is human grade doesn’t mean that it could actually be sold for human food. In many cases, the meats that are used in dog foods have passed their best by date, making them unable to be sold for human consumption. This is just something you will want to be careful with. There are, however, some foods that are made with high quality, all natural ingredients. You just need to make sure that you do your research before you spend more on a food that claims to be natural or holistic.
These are a few of the basic parts of a dog food nutrition label. Whether you are choosing your dog’s food for the first time, or you are just looking to switch up, it is important to read the labels and compare the nutrients. As you delve deeper into the nutrition label, you will be able to determine a quality food from a mediocre food by simply glancing at the ingredients list for a moment.