Jun 10 2009

Reading Your Dog’s Food Label: Part II

In Part One of this series, we looked at why the name of your dog’s food is important, as well as what the AAFCO Statement means. Today we’ll examine the ingredients list and the Guaranteed Analysis so you can be sure you’re feeding your dog the best possible diet available.

1. The Ingredients List

Dog food labels list ingredients by weight. Look for “real” sounding ingredients near the top of the list: beef, rice, chicken, meal. A note about types: beef is meat, defined by the American Association of Feed Control Officials as muscle tissue. Beef meal is processed and rendered, with much of the fat and water removed. It may contain muscle tissue as well as organ meats. Remember that meat is about 75% water; an equal amount of meal will be denser in protein because it’s been dried. “Meal” isn’t a bad word in pet food.

If chemical preservatives worry you, look for tocopherol, a natural preservative. Because natural preservatives can shorten a food’s shelf life, be careful to check the sell-by date, and make sure food is stored according to the label’s recommendations.

2. Guaranteed Analysis

Manufacturers must include a breakdown of the dog food’s nutrients, including protein, fat, fiber, and vitamins. Consult your vet to see if your dog requires a special percentage of protein or fat. If so, read the Guaranteed Analysis carefully. Canned dog food has a lot of moisture, so it needs to be “converted” mathematically in order to fairly compare it to dry food. Multiply a canned food’s percentages by 4 to approximate the standard for the dry food. For example, if a canned food lists crude protein at 9%, that’s a dry food equivalent of 36%. Compared to a dry food with 21% protein, the canned food wins hands down.  

Remember that your veterinarian is the best resource on what and how much to feed your particular dog, especially if the dog has health issues. And be sure to get your vet’s recommendations for supplemental treats as well as food. The more information you have, the better your dog will dine.


Jun 1 2009

Reading Your Dog’s Food Label: Part I

Are you mystified by the lists and charts on that bag of dog food? Let’s break down Fido’s food label and figure out what’s what. The most important parts of the label include the following:

  • the name of the food
  • the AAFCO statement
  • ingredients list
  • Guaranteed Analysis

Today, in the first of two parts, we’ll discuss the food’s name and the AAFCO statement. Next time we’ll tackle the remainder of these mystery items.

1. What’s in a Name?

Pet food manufacturers create names to attract the consumer (that’s you, not your dog). But according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), they have to follow certain rules.

AAFCO requires that the food must include at least 25% of the name’s first ingredient. But while “Beef and Chicken Dinner Supreme” has plenty of beef, it may contain as little as 3% chicken. Most foods include a qualifier like “dinner,” “platter,” or “chow,” but if not, requirements are stricter. A simple food labeled “Lamb for Dogs” (not “Lamb Dinner for Dogs”) must contain at least 95% lamb.

A note about “beef flavored”: To earn the “flavored” label, the dog food must have enough of the ingredient to lend it flavor–and that may be only a little broth. No amount of actual meat is guaranteed.

2. The AAFCO Statement

The AAFCO has developed standards to determine how nutritious dog food is. Somewhere near the ingredients list, look for a clearly marked AAFCO Statement. Unless designated as a treat or supplemental food, the food should constitute “complete and balanced nutrition” for dogs. AAFCO tests food two ways: in a laboratory or by feeding the food to dogs over a six-month period to judge its nutritional quality. The statement will tell you which method was used. Both are reliable.

In Part II of this series, we’ll look at what goes into your dog’s food and why those ingredients matter.

Posted by Claire M. Caterer


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