Reading nutrition labels is essential when choosing dog food. PetsCareTip demonstrates how.
The dog food nutrition label, like the nutrition facts box on packaged foods for people, is designed to assist you to compare products and to learn more about the food. But it could be a bit hard to decipher. We’ve put together helpful information to the label to assist you understand how exactly to use it.
- How do I read the performg food ingredient list?
Like packaged food for people, pet food must list ingredients by weight, starting with the heaviest. But if the first ingredient is a type of meat, take into account that meat is about 75% water, according to the FDA.
Without that water weight, the meat probably would fall lower on the ingredient list.
Meat meals, such as chicken meal or meat and bone meal, are different; the majority of the water and fat have been removed, which concentrates the animal protein.
- What are byproducts, and should I avoid dog foods that contain them?
Veterinarians say that’s a matter of personal choice. Any pet food labeled as “complete and balanced” should meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
Liver, which is a byproduct, will be thebundant with nutrients such as vitamin A. Meat byproducts can also contain blood, bone, brains, stomachs, udders, and cleaned intestines, based on the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Byproducts don't include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves, although an exception is allowed for amounts that occur unavoidably during processing.
Meat meal also may contain animal parts that many people consider to be byproducts. An ingredient listed as “chicken” or “beef” may include the heart, esophagus, tongue, and diaphragm. However the FDA says they’re safe at the particular level used in canine food. So don’t necessarily balk in the event that you see byproducts in the elements list.
Federal rules to protect against the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) ban some previously allowed cattle and buffalo parts in animal feed, including pet food. The FDA rule bans the inclusion of areas of the body from any animal that has tested positive for mad cow disease, and also brains and spinal cords from older pets, as they are considered to be at higher threat of the disease.
- What are all those chemical-sounding names lower on the ingredient list?
Preservatives, artificial colors, and stabilizers in pet food should be either approved by the FDA or be generally recognized as safe, a categor eveny which includes everything from high fructose corn syrup to benzoyl peroxide, used to bleach flours and cheese. Manufacturers must list the preservatives they add, however they do not always list preservatives in ingredients such as fish meal or chicken which are processed elsewhere.
Some pet owners don't want to buy food that contains the synthetic preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), or ethoxyquin. These preservatives stop fats from turning rancid and may keep dry dog food fresh for approximately a year, but their safety has been questioned by some consumers and scientists. Although all these ingredients may sound unpalatable for you, your dog would probably disagree.
“There is a debate about whether there is really a have to avoid artificial ingredients like these, as conventional safety testing says they’re fine,” says Susan Wynn, DVM, AHG, a nutritionist for Georgia Veterinary Specialists in the Atlanta area and a clinical resident in small animal nutrition with the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. “I wouldn’t want them in my own diet every day though, and I stay away from them in my dog’s daily food diet.”
Ethoxyquin came under scrutiny in the 1990s after complawithints of skin allergies, reproductive problems, cancer, and organ failure in a few dogs given food with this preservative. In 1997, the FDA asked dog food makers to halve the maximum allowed amount of ethoxyquin after tests conducted by manufacturer Monsanto Company showed possible liver damage in dogs fed high degrees of the preservative.
Some manufacturers no longer use ethoxyquin, BHA, or BHT, instead using natural preservatives such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and extracts of various plants, such as for example rosemary. Those also keep food fresh, but for a shorter period. Make sure to check a food’s “best by” date on the label before buying or feeding it to your dog.
“If you want shelf life, it’s better to have chemical preservatives,” says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “They’re added at amounts that won’t harm your dog, and it creates a far more stable fat.
How can I make sure the meals meets my dog’s needs?
Look for a statement of nutritional adequacy on the label.
Many pet food makers follow model regulations set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that establish the minimum amount of nutrients needed to provide a complete and balanced diet. The statement may say the meals is formulated to meet AAFCO standards or that it's been tested in feeding trials and found to supply complete nutrition.
The AAFCO statement also should say what life stage the food is appropriate for. For puppies, search for a food suitable for growth or all life stages. For adult dogs, search for adult maintenance or all life stages. Nutritional needs for senior dogs may differ, based on health conditions, and there is no AAFCO standard for senior meals.
- What is the guaranteed analysis?
All dog food labels must list the minimum amount of protein and fat in the foods and the maximum percentage of fiber and moisture.
Some dog food labels also list the percentage of other ingredients, such as calcium and phosphorous.
Low-fat dog foods often contain less body fat and much more fiber, to fill up a dog without adding calories.
At least 10% of the daily diet, by weight, should be protein, and 5.5% ought to be fat, according to the National Research Council, a scientific research unit of the non-profit Nationwide Academies. Dog foods typically contain higher amounts than those, because dogs might not be in a position to digest all the nutrients in a food. Rancid fat could cause liver enzymes to go up, and diarrhea.
- What do “natural” and “holistic” labels mean?
Legally, not much. Food called natural should contain few, if any, synthetic ingredients. Holistic, alongside premium and super-high quality, are marketing terms and there is absolutely no rule that controls how they’re used. Look out for marketing conditions like “human-grade substances” or “manufactured in an USDA-inspected facility,” too.
“It’s difficult to confirm those claims are truly accurate,” says Teresa Crenshaw, interim chair of AAFCO’s pet food committee. Although pet food could be made in an USDA-inspected plant, it may happen when there is no inspector present, Crenshaw says. Meat once considered safe for humans may have spoiled and been diverted to pet food, she says. Neither claim means the meals is safe for humans to consume.
- What is organic pet food?
There is no official definition for this. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, which sets rules for utilizing an "organic" label, is reviewing the problem.