How to Decode a Dog Food Label

Every pet parent wants to make an informed choice when shopping for dog food. Quality is important, and no one wants to think they are paying for nutritional and high-grade dog food when they are not. Decoding a pet food label is often confusing, leaving consumers quite unaware of what they are buying. Read on for tips on how to read a dog food label to be armed with knowledge as you shop.

What Type of Food Does my Dog Need?

Take a general view of the food type. Look for a 'Life Stage' diet, such as puppy, adult, or senior. Knowing that essential nutrients are provided based on the age and size of your dog is a valuable piece of information. It's a good idea to discuss with your vet what your dog's nutritional needs are based on their stage of life, how active they are, and whether they have a health condition. The right kind of dog food can mean the difference between a dog that feels good and one that does not. Being aware of how much to feed your canine buddy at each meal is crucial, too.

Compare Foods Using the Dry Matter Analysis

Canned foods are 75 - 80% water, while dry foods are around 15 - 20% water. The water content also varies between brands and flavors. This is relevant because it's misleading to directly compare the nutritional makeup of one food with another. To be accurate, you must always look at the dry matter analysis. This analysis has removed the water content, making the nutrients that remain a reliable comparison.

In addition to the water, you are looking at a comparison of the percentage of protein, fat, and fiber. Regulatory guidelines are set to determine the number of nutrients in manufactured food. The percentage of these ingredients is displayed on a dog food label and must be guaranteed. 

Decode the Ingredients

Certain ingredients outrank others when it comes to pet food. For example, meat tops meat meal, and animal protein outranks vegetable protein.  The ingredients listed are ranked according to their weight in the recipe. 

To understand this better, here are some foodstuffs decoded:

  • A named meat: Meat is included, but the percentage will vary depending on the formulation

  • Meat by-products: Consists of body parts excluding muscle, bone, and hoof.

  • Poultry by-products: Any part of the bird (excluding feathers)

  • Fish meal: Any part of the fish (as long as it's not decomposed)

  • Soy protein: A protein, but it is harder for a dog to process than meat.

  • Ground corn: The entire corn milled to a fine finish

  • Corn gluten meal: A corn byproduct that excludes the bran, germ, and starch

 So, for example, protein derived from a named meat tops protein derived from soy. Always aim for the best quality ingredients you can afford  And remember, always take the time to check the best before date to ensure the food is fresh and not rancid.

Tips for Selecting Food 

The take-home message when selecting food is to choose a food based on your pup's life stage. Then, compare brands based on a dry matter basis. Next, for a normal healthy dog, choose the food with the highest protein content. For instance, 25% protein beats 22% on a dry matter basis. But if your dog has a health problem, speak to your vet first to determine what ratio of protein to other ingredients is best for them.

Our top tip would be to look for a food with a "named meat" (such as lamb, rabbit or chicken) as the first and second ingredients. This isn't foolproof, but it helps eliminate lower quality foods.

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