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Understanding Dog Food Labels

Understanding dog food labels goes beyond the simple questions of wet or dry food, chicken or beef flavor. It is important to know what ingredients are being used in your dog’s food and what nutrients are being supplied. As with human food, the easier the label is to read and the more recognizable the ingredients, the healthier the food usually is.

Ingredients are listed on dog food labels the same way they are on human food labels: in order of weight. Therefore, you want to be sure that not only can you identify the items listed first on the ingredients, but also that these are things you want your dog to be eating. Be aware that some form of meat should always be the first item listed, and that “meat by-products” are not the same thing as meat. Meat by-products include intestines such as the lungs and spleen, as well as blood and bones of slaughtered animals. Fillers and meat by-products are not only not as healthy for your dog as meat, they are often less filling. Ideally, you want to be able to recognize the majority of the items listed on the ingredients. The fewer things with scary-sounding complex chemical names, the better the food will be for your dog.

Understanding dog food labels goes well beyond the ingredient list. You must also understand the guaranteed analysis, which provides you with information on the nutritional content of the food. The guaranteed analysis will list the minimum levels of crude protein and fat, as well as the maximum levels of crude fiber and moisture.

If you are comparing two or more dry dog foods, or two or more canned dog foods, you can do a straight comparison of these numbers. However, if you are trying to decide between a dry food and a canned food, you will need to crunch some numbers for an accurate comparison. If, for example, the dry food you are looking at contains 20% protein and the canned food contains 5% protein, it seems a simple matter to choose the dry food, right? However, the dry food contains 10% moisture, which means it must also contain 90% dry matter. If you divide the 20% protein by the 90% dry matter, you find that 22% of the dry matter is protein. Looking again at the canned food, it has 80% moisture, which means 20% dry matter. If you divide the 5% protein by the 20% dry matter, you will find the canned food has 25% protein on a dry matter basis. What seemed simple on the label becomes a bit more complex when comparing different types of food.

The ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis are important components of understanding dog food labels. In general, the easier the ingredients are to read, the healthier the food will be for your dog. When examining the guaranteed analysis, be sure you are making like comparisons before choosing food for your dog.

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