How to Read Dog Food Labels

The first step to understanding what is actually in the foods you are feeding your Shih Tzu is to understand how to read the labels. The labels on commercial dog food products will actually help you better understand what it is you are buying and the nutritious values. Below are some of the more important things you should know and understand when purchasing commercial dog foods.

Manufacturer’s Information

Pay close attention to the manufacturer information. Some of the products may not be made by the brand name. The statement “manufactured by…” is the party responsible for the quality and safety of the product. Whereas, “distributed by…” means the food was manufactured by an outside manufacturer.

Product Name

The product name is the first thing consumers look at and is a key factor in ones buying decision. If the dog food is specifically named “Beef Dog Food” then according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) the named ingredient “Beef” must not be less than 95% of the total weight providing the water required for processing is excluded. Otherwise the named ingredient “Beef” must not be less than 70%.

Some product names may use the word “with”. As an example, if the product name is “Beef Dog Food with Chicken” chicken must make up at least 3% of the food. A product name “Beef Dog Food” is quite different then a product name “Dog Food with Beef”. The first example has 95% beef and the second example has 3% beef. The wording can sometimes be tricky so read the labels carefully.

Ingredient List

Ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight (which is the weight before processing). This means that the most prevalent ingredients are listed first followed by all other ingredients by weight. So, if your dog needs a diet high in protein look for foods that list meat products within the first two ingredients. However, be aware some manufacturers will try and disguise some of the less desirable ingredients by breaking them down into smaller parts. As an example, if the ingredients list chicken, corn bran, corn gluten, ground corn, wheat flour, etc. Once you group all the corn ingredients together you may actually find that the product contains more corn than chicken. As a result, you must read all ingredients carefully to truly understand the quantity and quality of the food you are feeding your dog.

Guaranteed Analysis

This section lists the minimum levels of crude protein and fat, and the maximum levels of fiber and water. The term “crude” refers to the method of testing the product, not the quality of the nutrients or the digestible source. Digestible source is a measure of the content of food that is retained in the body after the food is eaten. While the guaranteed analysis is a good start in understanding the quality of the food, don’t depend on it too much. As an example, a manufacturer may claim 10% protein, 6.5% fat and 2.4% fiber. However, you may not necessarily know which sources these ingredients are coming from.

Things You Should Know When Choosing the Right Dog Food

  • Make sure the source of the product name is listed as the first ingredient. As an example, if the product name is listed “Beef Dog Food” then ‘Beef’ should be the first ingredient listed.
  • Ensure protein sources are listed as the first two ingredients.
  • Look for foods that contain main protein sources such as lamb, beef, turkey, and chicken.
  • Watch out for words like “meat” or the name of an organ like “liver” when they appear by themselves. The word “meat” is not a specified source, so there is no way of knowing which animal it came from.
  • Avoid ingredients that end in “Meal”. Meat sources such as lamb meal, turkey meal and chicken meal are often of less quality and have low nutritional value.
  • Make sure vegetables and whole grain sources like brown rice are listed as the third and forth ingredients.
  • Look for foods that contain quality essential fatty acids such as chicken fat, flax seed oil, fish oils, and sunflower oils because they are all rich in nutrients.
  • Avoid artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners.
  • Avoid ingredients you cannot pronounce.  This is a definite red flag.

Now that you know the ingredients to look for, you need to understand the dog food ingredients to avoid.