Are you wanting to learn more about choosing the right food for your dog? Not surprisingly, our dogs require a nutritionally balanced diet in order to live their best, and longest lives. However, trying to understand ingredients on dog food labels can be frustrating and misleading.
The promotional material can rarely be relied on, to give a true picture of the nutritional value of any dog food. That means it’s up to you to sort out fact from fiction, and make an informed choice on behalf of your dog. It’s a task that you’re up for, though. That’s why you’re here.
Budget dog foods are generally not the best nutritional value. This is a consistent and reliable fact. But it’s also true that some so-called ‘premium’ dog foods have been found to contain fillers and other poor-quality ingredients. In fact, many pet foods that are labelled as ‘premium’, ‘super-premium’, and ‘ultra-premium’ are not required to contain any higher quality ingredients than other dog foods available.
The bottom line is, you have to check the labels on your dog’s food. This is easier said than done. Labelling on most dog foods is a confusing, overwhelming list of ingredients, recommendations, percentages and many other obscure elements.
The ingredients in dog foods are listed in order of predominance by weight. These weights are measured before the food is cooked. Since most proteins (meat and meat products) contain water, this means that after cooking, this weight will be greatly reduced. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life when buying any food.
Check the ingredients are good quality, and look at the guaranteed analysis on the packaging. You need to look for the ‘dry matter basis’ totals for protein, fat, fiber and water.
As a rule of thumb, the following list of ingredients is a good guide to follow.
- Real meat (named) on top of the list.
- Meat meal (named) is also a good protein source
- Vegetables and fruit
- A healthy grain product
- No meat by-products
- No artificial dyes or sweeteners
- No added salt
- No corn or corn product
What Should Dogs Eat?
Dogs’ nutritional needs are best met by eating a combination plant and animal diet. Feeding dogs meat only, means they are missing out on essential nutrients. There are, of course, some foods your dogs should never eat, even in small quantities.
The six basic nutrients are water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.
There are innumerable dog foods on the market. Foods are targeted for:
- Senior Dogs
- Wet foods
- Dry foods
- Raw foods
- Fresh foods
- Freeze-dried foods
- Foods with grain
- Small breed food
- Large breed food
- Low fat foods
- High protein foods
- Foods for specific breeds
- Foods for specific health issues
Dog food is a highly competitive industry. Every company wants you to buy their product. The marketing departments of all the dog food companies are clever, and know how to sell their product to you. The mistake often made by consumers, is thinking that ‘specific’ recipes are formulated by experts in the field. This is rarely the case. There is usually no scientific evidence to back up the claims made by dog food companies. It’s vital to ignore the advertising, and take a deeper look at the food yourself.
If your dog has health or dietary issues, see your local vet. They can advise you on the best diet for your particular dog.
What are AAFCO Dog Nutrient Standards?
AAFCO is an acronym for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. In order for a dog food to be marketed as ‘complete and balanced’, it must meet the nutritional standards established by AAFCO.
AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify dog foods in any way. They have, through conducting feeding trials, established the nutritional standards for a pet food to be called ‘complete and balanced’. If the AAFCO standards are met, it will be stated on the packaging of your dog food.
AAFCO will expect certain aspects on labeling such as the product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements. This is all good information for your own comparisons.
It’s important to remember that AAFCO is just an industry watch-dog. They are not a scientific or research organization. Their role is to ensure no illegal or unethical practices are carried out by pet food manufacturers. This provides a safety net for you, but it doesn’t guarantee the food is right for your dog in the long-term.
Is Dog Food Labelling Regulated?
Labeling for dog food in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The minimum applicable standards for labelling need to include proper identification of the product, a net quantity statement, the manufacturer’s name and address, and proper listing of ingredients. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency is responsible for regulating food labelling.
Specific Dietary Needs for Your Dog
Dogs’ nutritional needs will vary, depending on several factors. Their age, size and activity levels are important considerations.
(Small to medium sized dogs up to 50lb)
- Puppy: 0-12 months
- Adult: 1-7 years
- Senior: 7 years +
(Large sized dogs 50 – 90lb and Extra-large breeds 90lb +)
- Puppy: 0-24 months
- Adult: 1-5 years
- Senior: 5 years +
There is a misconception that tiny dogs, and senior dogs need less protein. This is not correct. Little dogs tend to use a lot more energy than their larger counterparts. This means that they need more protein and calories.
Similarly, senior dogs require a high protein diet in order to stop muscle-wasting due to lower activity levels. They also need less calorie content to maintain a healthy weight, for the same reason.
Chat to your vet if you need guidance on what is best for your dog.
How To Decide Which Dog Food Is Best for Your Dog
Unless you require a specially prepared diet from your vet, this quick check-list should help you decide what food is best for your dog.
- The ingredient listed first is real meat, or meat meal. It should be specifically named. For example, beef, chicken, salmon, etc.
- The guaranteed analysis tells you how much protein, fat, fiber, and water the food contains. You can compare different foods, both wet and dry, using this information.
- The feeding instructions are recommendations only. Only you know your dog, and can see if the diet, and the amount fed, is suitable for them.
- If a product is ‘on special’, why?
- Feed your dog the highest-quality food you can afford.