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How to read commercial dog food labels

All commercial pet food is regulated by the AAFCO. This agency sets the standards and does the testing on the ingredients that pet food manufacturers use in their food products. Because of the number of different food products and ingredients used, these standards can be somewhat vague. This gives manufacturers much leeway in meeting up to these standards. So having the AAFCO stamp of approval on a dog food label does not mean that the ingredients used to make that product are good for our dogs.

How then are we as consumers going to know what is the best dog food to serve our pets? Dog food labels provide us with much information. Some of it can be misleading. So if we want to feed our dogs with a nutritious meal, it is important for us to gain some knowledge in how to read and interpret what a label is really telling us.

Many of us are loyal to certain brands of dog food mostly because of the many marketing programs we have been subjected to. We think that we are buying a good product. However, many of us don’t know that if a product name has an ingredient in its name (beef chow,) then 95% of that products weight must be of that ingredient, if it is a dry food or 70% if it is a wet food product. If the label mentions the word dinner or formula (chicken dinner,) then 25% of the weight of that product must be of that ingredient.

The ingredients of a particular dog food product are listed by weight in descending order. So if we were to read the ingredients of say a “chicken dinner” product, then by the percentages mentioned above, the chicken is only 1/4 of the product and therefore probably not the main ingredient. The main ingredients are more likely to be corn and bone meal. Both are undesirable as main ingredients and are mostly found in generic or discounted brands.

Many labels don’t mention an ingredient in the product name. Instead the word “flavored” will be used. In this case there is no amount requirement for a percentage of an ingredient in the product. The product, with whatever ingredients are used, is just flavored with the taste of say chicken. “Natural” dog food is another word found on labels. All that this is stating is that no artificial colors or ingredients, and preservatives are being used. “Premium” dog food is worth mentioning because products using this word in their labels follow the AAFCO standards to the fullest and their products provide good nutritional value.

One of the best ways to find a good quality dog food product when checking out the list of ingredients is to identify the first fat ingredient source. Many times we will see on the ingredient list items such as beef fat or chicken fat. The ingredients listed prior to the fat source are the product’s main ingredients. The more ingredients listed the lower quality of the food product. The items listed after the fat source are just fillers and flavorings used to enhance the product.

Not all dog food brands are bad. We can find the right commercial dog food for our dogs by just taking a little extra time in reading the labels more thoroughly. By knowing what is really in that can or bag can help us to maintain a healthier and more nutritious menu for our best friends.

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