Nutrition labels on packaged dog food can be just as challenging to decipher as those on food manufactured for human consumption. In many countries, manufacturing companies are mandated by law to disclose what ingredients are included in the food they are eating. However, decoding what all those big words, values, and percentages mean can require some research and practice, especially for most fur parents.
Take note of the following tips before you visit your local supply shop or take advantage of a dog food delivery service to buy your pet’s supply of quality food.
1. Inspect the heaviest component
Ingredients on a pack of dog food are arranged much in the same way as they are in food labels for people. That means the most substantial ingredients are listed first. Ideally, meat should be at the top of this list, but you also need to check what type of meat is inside the pack.
Experts say that fleshy cow, chicken or fish meat contains 75 percent water. However, this is different from meat and bone meal, or chicken meal. With such ingredients, the water content is lower.
Meat meal is derived from internal organs and animal body parts, which excludes blood, manure, stomach contents, hoof, hair, and horn, among others. During the cooking process, the tissues lose some of the water content.
Meat meals and animal by-products such as the spleen and kidneys can raise the animal protein content in the food but are generally not of the same quality as chicken, beef, or salmon.
2. Check the wording
When you buy pet accessories such as dog tags online, one of the first things you look at may be the design or size. With pet food, most owners are not aware of how the packaging can affect their impressions.
Companies know that fur parents look for specific ingredients in pet food. You may see specific components highlighted to emphasize their presence in the canned dog food or kibble. However, the way the element is worded can give you an idea of the quality and type inside each serving.
Specific organizations and groups have rules in place to protect the general public from confusing terms. For instance, in the US, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has strict guidelines on when specific terms can be used.
Take the 95 Percent Rule. In a can of “Beef Dog Food,” 95 percent of the contents must be made of beef before it can be labeled as such. With the water or gravy included, the meat content requirement is lowered to 70 percent. However, if the label says “Dog Food With Beef,” the beef only needs to be at least 3 percent of the total content.
As you can see, the wording on the packaging can determine what the main ingredient is in the food. This is why you need to pay extra attention to the label to determine which ones contain quality ingredients.
3. Look closely at the protein content
Protein is an essential nutrient for keeping your dog healthy and active. It is responsible for providing energy, maintaining the good condition of a dog’s muscles, skin, nails and fur, and creating crucial elements of the immune system.
You need to check the label on your pet food for:
a. The type or protein it contains
b. The amount of protein it contains
Type of Protein
Avoid grabbing just any bag of dog food for your pet. Commercial dog foods offer different sources or combinations of protein, and one may be more suitable for your dog than the other.
The common wholesome protein sources are:
There’s no single protein source that is best for dogs, so dog food products containing any of these sources will generally be nutritious for your pet. However, you will need to be mindful of choosing food that contains a specific protein or two if your dog has protein allergies or sensitivities. Talk to your vet about finding a dog food brand that contains a good protein source for your dog.
Amount of Protein
The amount of protein your dog needs will depend on a few factors: his age, his energy or activity level, and his reproductive and overall health.
How will you know if your dog is getting the sufficient amount of protein? It helps to inspect the nutritional guidelines on the label of his commercial pet food.
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials or AAFCO, the standard protein requirements for dogs, “…on a dry matter basis, are 22.5% for growth and reproduction, and 18% for adult maintenance.”
In addition, the European Pet Food Industry or FEDIAF recommends specific minimal amounts of protein (per 100 grams dry matter) for adult dogs based on how much energy they take in, as well as for reproduction and young puppies over 14 weeks of age. It’s best to consult your vet regarding the interpretation of these recommendations so that they can determine the correct protein amounts for your dog’s unique needs.
4. Count the calories
If your furry pal is overweight or obese, your veterinarian may recommend putting your pet on a low-calorie diet. You can find brands that tout low-calorie dog food options. However, it is not enough to look for low-calorie brands or to count the calories.
More important than calorie counting is determining what is contributing to the caloric count. Your dog needs foods rich in calories so he can gain the energy he needs to stay active. On the other hand, some low-calorie foods contain substandard ingredients that are difficult to digest; as a result, your dog may have more difficulty shedding the pounds.
Knowing how to read the label is an essential skill for any fur parent to have and learn. With this skill, you are in a better position to determine which brands and types of food are better for your pet’s health. Follow the recommendations stated here to find the most suitable food for your dog today.
Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Orijen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.
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