There has never been more emphasis on the ingredients in senior dog food than there is today. In the past, pet owners were more likely to feed their dogs leftovers than purchase pet food - that seemed more like a luxury than a necessity.
Those who did purchase dog food mainly had a choice between puppy food and adult food, and not the different formulas made to meet the nutritional needs for dogs of an older age and those that were overweight. Today, with all the choices out there, it is very important to know how to read a dog food label.
Today, a great deal more is known about the nutritional needs of dogs and the importance of what goes into their diet to keep them healthy and increase longevity. There are many brands of dog food available on the market, including those that come from the grocery store or pet store as well as those that are sold by your vet.
Add to that the different formulas offered by each brand, and making the best choice for your dog can be confusing.
If you know how to read them, dog food labels can provide important information about what you are feeding your dog and how many of the nutrients he is really getting. Dog food labels are a lot like those on people foods.
They include a list of ingredients that starts by listing the ingredients in order of weight - the ingredients that weigh the most are listed first, and the ingredients that weigh the least are listed last.
Instead of looking at the front of a product and taking what it says to heart, look to the list of ingredients to get a more realistic representation. When you purchase a loaf of bread that has “Contains Whole Grain” on the wrapper, you may think you are making the healthiest choice. But when you look at the label, you may find that the bread only contains 5% to 10% whole grain.
The same is true for dog food.
Meat as the First Ingredient
Knowing about the way the list of ingredients works according to weight makes dog food that has meat listed as the first ingredient sounds good to most pet owners. What you may not realize is that a lot of this weight is made up by the water content of the meat.
Food that lists meat meal as the first ingredient does not have the water and fat that other meat does so that there is more protein content and not just water weight.
What Are “Byproducts” Really?
A byproduct is something that is produced through the process of making something else. Meat byproducts include animal parts such as bone, stomachs, and brains while meat meal may contain some other animal parts that are classified as byproducts such as the heart or tongue.
Some experts warn about the dangers of buying pet food with byproducts or meat meal as part of the ingredients, but it is more important to consider the nutritional content. These types of ingredients might not sound appealing to humans but most dogs are more than happy to eat them.
Also, dog food companies are not allowed to use animal parts in making their products that could cause a risk of causing mad cow disease.
Additives and Preservatives
Preservatives and other additives including artificial colors and stabilizers must be FDA-approved or be recognized as being safe.
A lot of the chemical names that used to appear on dog food labels have been substituted with other ingredients that are safer and which may even add to the nutritional benefit of the food.
Since some dog foods still contain synthetic preservatives that may not be as safe for pets as owners would like, you should look for those that don’t have the following on the label:
· Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
· Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
While these ingredients are FDA-approved for the quantity used in pet foods, their safety has been questioned. Many pet owners prefer not to risk feeding pet food to their dogs that contain these questionable ingredients. Ethoxyquin, in particular, has been linked to serious illness in pets when fed at high levels.
Meeting AAFCO Standards
Many dog food labels will reference the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) relative to the nutrients in the pet food. These standards provide a guideline for giving dogs the nutrients they need to provide a balanced diet.
Dog food labels may include the percentage of different nutrients in the food, as well as a reference for what each nutrient contributes to a dog’s health.
Meeting Minimum Standards
All dog foods should meet the minimum standards in protein, fat, and other ingredients although different formulas will have more or less. For example, dog food should be a minimum of 10% protein, 5.5% fat, and 2.5% of crude fiber. However, some top brand foods have a lot more, while some may include more fiber and less fat to reduce calorie intake in overweight dogs.
The ‘Guaranteed Analysis’ and ingredients list will tell you everything you need to know about your dog food.
Wet vs Dry Dog Food
There are two reasons that pet owners often prefer dry food over wet food for their pets. One is that the dry food is usually a better value for the price, especially when you buy larger bags. Another is that pet owners have long believed that dry food helps clean tartar from their dog’s teeth.
Although the latter point is true to some degree, the large percentage of dogs that have dental disease goes to show that dry food is not completely effective at cleaning teeth. This is why there are also numerous products on the market designed specifically for that purpose.
While wet dog food can be more expensive than dried food, it also tends to have more nutrients and no synthetic preservatives because it is preserved through the canning process. One approach that dog owners may take is to give their dry dog food and supplement it with a complimentary wet food that has a different variety of nutrients for an even more balanced diet.
Putting the Information on the Dog Food Label to Work
Many pet owners are surprised to learn just how regulated the manufacturing of pet food really is. Learning whether dog food has the essential nutrients for a healthy diet for your dog is as simple as looking for the Guaranteed Analysis and comparing the nutrition to the minimal requirements set by the AAFCO.
Since the only real concerns about what shouldn’t be in pet food is that of synthetic preservatives, reading the list of ingredients will help with that as well.
Although pet food labels may tell you that one type of pet food has a little more to offer than another, it is important to realize that pet food was formulated to give dogs a well-balanced diet. Nothing else, including human food, will accomplish this as well.