How to Read a Dog Food Label
Buying dog food, for many dog owners, is so confusing. You stand there in the store and look at the wall of brightly colored bags of dog food and think of all those dog food commercials you’ve seen, with the dogs playing in the lush green grass and wonder, which one is really good? Dog food companies spend zillions on advertising and promoting their brand, so you need to learn to read the labels in order to really know what is in them. I feel that if I am expecting a working dog to do its job, then it needs to have the best fuel in its system to do that job. It takes a lot of time and effort to train a working dog, and you want that dog to live a long, healthy life; so feed your dog the best food you can afford. Personally, I feed a combination of raw food and dry kibble.
By law, all dog food companies must have an ingredients list on the bag. If there is not an ingredients list, don’t buy that food. This is how you read the ingredients label on a bag of dry food: The first four ingredients listed on the bag are the most important items. Like human food, ingredients are listed by volume. In other words, the first ingredient listed is the largest amount of that item in the bag. The 2nd would be the 2nd largest amount; and so on down the line.
Now, what is important to know is how the meat is classified. There are basically 3 ways that meat is put in dog food. I will use chicken as an example, but this applies to all meats. Meats will be listed as either chicken meat (whole chicken), chicken by- product, or chicken meal. When the ingredients in dog food is listed on the label, it is measured by volume before it is processed. This can make for even more confusion. For example, chicken is mostly water (about 60-70%), so if the label says CHICKEN MEAT (whole chicken) as the first ingredient, then that ingredient will cook down to a much lower percent. Essentially, you will have CHICKEN. This is good, but it will process down due to water in the meat. CHICKEN BY-PRODUCT-this is the worst of the meat labels because it includes everything: organs, beaks, claws, and all. CHICKEN MEAL-this is the best because it is the good parts of the chicken and is already cooked down and dehydrated. OK; now, I hope you have a better understanding of the difference between meat, meat by-product and meat meal.
Another thing to check is the level of moisture. Dog food is priced by the pound; and when you buy dog food that has a high percentage of water such as 80%, then you are only getting 20% dog food. If a dog food ingredient label lists corn or corn meal in the first 4 ingredients, it is dog food with a lot of filler. It will be inexpensive to purchase, but you will be feeding huge volumes of it, which also means lots of “dog piles” to clean up. Look at the recommended serving amount on the label. The better the dog food; generally, the less amount you will need to feed your dog. Look at the list of ingredients, glucosamine, omega 3&6 are also good things to see on the label.
Probiotics is the buzz word in dog food, but what are they? To put it simply, probiotics are good bacteria enzymes that assist the bacteria and good bugs in the dog’s stomach to break down the meat, digest it, and get the most from it. A dog’s stomach has bacteria and basically good bugs in it. This is why dogs can eat raw meat and “rotten stuff” and do not get sick. If your dog food does not have probiotics, you can have this added to the food as a supplement. Yogurt, with “live and active cultures,” is a probiotic. Check the yogurt label. If your dog is on antibiotics, this will counteract the probiotics, so don’t give them together.