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Articles > Dogs

How To Read Dog Food Labels

Topic: Foods and Feeding

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Filed under Dogs
Tags: Feeding, Dog Food

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It is important to shop around and to find the right type of food for your dog, plus most people also have to keep cost in mind. Getting the best possible dog food for your money doesn't always mean buying the most expensive type of dog food. This is true regardless if you are buying kibble, canned or semi-moist. All dog food will typically meet the guidelines of two different agencies in the United States, the Center for Veterinary Medicine of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that is federal regulations and the state based regulations that fall under the Association of American Feed Control Officials guidelines. All pet food producers must follow the FDA rules and in most states the AAFCO rules must also be followed with regards to labeling and identifying the ingredients in the dog food. Other countries will also have similar agencies, usually federal, that monitor the labeling and ingredients that can or cannot be included in dog food.

There are rules as to what a particular dog food can be named. A manufacturer cannot name a specific ingredient in the name of the food without it being at least 95% of the total ingredient in the food. If there are two items listed then the two items combined must total to 95% of the total product weight before processing. This means that "XYZ Beef " must be 95% beef by weight of ingredient before cooking. Remember, this can be misleading as raw food has a lot of moisture which will disappear during heating and forming of the kibble.

Most foods, especially the lower priced items, will be called by the meat name plus will have the words dinner, platter, formula or feast. In these products the actual amount of the meat must be not less than 25%, but does not have to be anywhere near the 95%. Even before processing the actual meat will be found at least four or five ingredients down on the label. Dual named dinners will need to have at least 25% of the first ingredient and 3% of the second.

Finally there are small, trace amounts of a particular meat or product that can be advertised on the label providing they compromise at least 3% of the weight before processing. These items cannot be in the actual product name but can be on the bag following the word "with". So in the example above "XYZ Beef with Liver" would have 95% beef and 3% liver before processing.


The ingredients are listed in order of their pre-processing weight. This means that already dry ingredients will weigh less that wet ingredients. Often people mistakenly believe that since beef is the first ingredient there is more beef in the final product, when in fact the already dry grains and filler items will be significantly more in most of the cheaper products. Keep in mind that many raw meats have a 60-75% moisture content pre-processing.

Ingredients also may go by names that are challenging to figure out. The following are the industry accepted (FDA and AAFCO) definitions:

  • Meat - clean flesh of slaughtered animals including cattle, sheep, chickens, chickens, turkeys or lamb. This may also include striated muscle, fat and skin, heart and blood vessels as well as the esophagus.

  • Meat by-products - clean parts of slaughtered animals that are not meat which may include internal organs, stomach but not stomach contents, brain, bone and blood. Meat by-products may not include hair, hooves, horns or teeth. These are usually rendered down and processed before adding to the food.

  • Poultry by-products - all clean parts from poultry that are not meat. This includes the feet, heads and all internal organs. Feathers may not be included.

  • Fish meal - fresh fish that is whole or in part, with or without the oil.

  • Corn gluten meal - what is left after corn is processed into corn syrup or starch. There is no bran, germ or starch remaining in the product.

  • Ground Corn - whole kernels of corn finely ground

  • Brewers Rice - small particles of rice that are left over from refining of rice for consumption.

  • Brown Rice - the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.

  • Soybean meal - the remains of processing soybeans for oil.

  • Basically meal or by-products are not desirable whereas the whole grains and meats are highly desirable in most dog foods. In addition there will be preservatives such as BHA or butylated hydroxyanisole which prevents the fat from going rancid in the food. Tocopherols such as Vitamin E are found naturally in foods and act as preservatives as well as adding nutritional value.

    Guaranteed Analysis vs Ingredient List

    If your dog has a food allergy it is very important to read the ingredients list, however it is often not very insightful as to how nutritionally balanced the food really is. To find out if the food is right for you dog, it is most important to check the Guaranteed Analysis chart found on the product. All dog foods must list a Guaranteed Analysis before they can be marketed.

    The first line on the guaranteed analysis should list the minimum amount of crude protein. In dry kibble this should be between 21 and 26% depending on the age and stage of your dog's development. Following the crude protein the minimum fat amount will be shown and it should be about 15%. After that is listed the crude fiber amount which will be a number typically around 4% and should not exceed this amount. The water percentage in dry food should not be more than 10%, but in canned food it can be closer to 60%.

    Owners should be aware that the crude protein and crude fat percentages are not necessarily digestible protein and fat, and this is were it is important to look back over at the ingredients list to see what those fats and proteins are being derived from.

    Most vets and breeders can recommend a good, high quality feed that prevents owners from having to choose. If you are concerned about your dogs energy level, food intake or overall coat appearance and health after switching foods talk to your vet and have your dog in for an examination, it may be an issue with the food or it could be other health problems developing.

    Other articles under "Foods and Feeding"

    Article 1 - "Different Types of Foods"
    Article 2 - "BARF Diets"
    Article 3 - "How To Read Dog Food Labels"
    Article 4 - "Making Your Own Dog Food"
    Article 6 - "Specialized Diets"
    Article 7 - "Making Your Own Dog Treats"

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