Reading Dog Food Labels: Keep Your Dog Healthy With Proper Nutrition

Unless you learn how to read dogs food labels, it can be difficult to make sense of what is written there.  However, it’s important that you do learn how to interpret a label to make sure the food is appropriate for your dog.

The front label should tell you what age group and activity level that the food is designed for. So, if your dog is a couch potato, don’t choose a food for active dogs. It will contain too much energy for him, and his waistline will expand very quickly! Similarly, if you own a young pup, avoid foods for senior pets because they won’t contain the right amount of nutrients for growth.

On the back of your dog food can or packet, there is a smaller label that lists the ingredients in the food, as well as the nutrient analysis. What do you need to look for here?

The ingredients are listed on a dogs food label in descending order of quantity. More expensive foods will have meat or meat by products at the top of the list. Cereals don’t cost as much as meat, so you can expect cheaper kibble to have rice, corn or sorghum as their number one ingredient.

There is a difference between meat and meat by-products. Meat specifically refers to lean muscle meat such as the type we’d eat ourselves. Meat by-products can include any meat that is left on the carcass after the cuts for human consumption are removed, as well as other body parts including lungs, kidneys, clean intestines, blood, bone and fatty tissues.   Although they may not sound very savory to us, our dogs enjoy them and they are a more affordable protein source than lean meat.

The remainder of the ingredient list will include vitamins and minerals, amino acids and preservatives which are necessary to make the dog food nutritionally balanced, and to prevent spoiling.

The next thing to do when you read a dogs food label is to look at the fat and protein content. Unlike people, dogs use fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The higher the fat content, the more energy in a food. This should be taken into account when you are choosing a food for your canine companion. Foods with fat levels of up to 7% are a good option for weight loss. Puppy foods often have up to 16% fat and over 25% protein, to provide enough energy and building blocks for their rapid rate of growth and muscle development. Adult dogs do well on a diet with 12-14% fat and up to 20% protein.

The last part of the label on your dog food is a feeding guide, which tells you how much of the food you should feed your dog per day. This may or may not be appropriate for your dog, and should really only be used as a starting point. The best way to work out how much to feed your dog is to look at his condition. If he is too lean, feed him more. If he’s developing a generous waistline, cut back on how much you put in his dinner bowl.

Next time you are feeding your dog, spend a few moments reading what’s written on the bag of kibble, or on the back of the can.

  • Don’t be fooled by dog food labels which say all natural. Currently there are no clear guidelines or specifications about natural food for dogs.
  • If a dog food label mentions ingredients such as meat meal, bone meal, by-products and potato products, it is better to avoid it.  This is important because if the food label mentions by- products it can be any part of the animal, which can include bones, feet, head or anything else.  In addition, if the food label mentions meat meal or beef meal it signifies that it is not whole meat.
  • Always look for dog food, which mentions whole meat such as beef, liver, chicken and lamb.
  • Look for whole vegetables in the dog food label. Vegetables such as peas and carrots are good for your dog’s health.
  • Generally, all dog food labels will list the preservatives used. Select dog foods which have Rosemary, Sage, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tocopherols, Ascorbic acid and other forms of Vitamin C.
  • Avoid purchasing food where the label lists strange ingredients in high concentration

If you can learn to read dogs food labels, you’ll be able to choose the right food for your dog.


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