The nutrition facts box on packaged foods for people, is designed to help you compare products and to learn more about the food. But it can be a bit hard to decipher. We’ve put together a guide to the label to help you understand how to use it.
1. How do I read the dog 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, keep in mind that meat is about 75% water.
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 most of the water and fat have been removed which concentrates the animal protein.
2. 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, is rich in nutrients such as vitamin A. Meat byproducts also can contain blood, bone, brains, stomachs, udders, and cleaned intestines
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. Although all these ingredients may sound unpalatable to you, your dog would probably disagree. So don’t necessarily balk if you see byproducts in the ingredients list.
Federal rules to guard against the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) ban some previously allowed cattle and buffalo parts in animal feed, including pet food. as well as brains and spinal cords from older animals, as these are considered to be at higher risk of the disease.
3. What are all those chemical-sounding names lower on the ingredient list?
Manufacturers must list the preservatives they add, but they do not always list preservatives in ingredients such as fish meal or chicken that are processed elsewhere.
Some pet owners don’t want to buy food that contains the synthetic preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxy anisole), BHT (butylated hydroxy toluene), or ethoxyquin. These preservatives stop fats from turning rancid and can keep dry dog food fresh for about a year, but their safety has been questioned by some consumers and scientists.
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 rosemary. Those also keep food fresh, but for a shorter period. Be sure to check a food’s “best by” date on the label before buying or feeding it to your pet.
“If you want shelf life, it’s better to have chemical preservatives,” says Joseph Washrag, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “They’re added at amounts that won’t harm the dog, and it creates a more stable fat. Rancid fat can cause liver enzymes to go up, and diarrhea.”
4. How can I make sure the food 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 food is formulated to meet AAFCO standards or that it has been tested in feeding trials and found to provide complete nutrition.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials instatement also should say what life stage the food is appropriate for. For puppies, look for a food suitable for growth or all life stages. For adult dogs, look for adult maintenance or all life stages. Nutritional needs for senior dogs can vary, depending on health conditions, and there is no Association of American Feed Control Officials standard for senior food.
5. What is the guaranteed analysis?
All dog food labels must list the minimum amount of protein and fat in the food 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 fat and 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% should be fat, according to the National Research Council, a scientific research unit of the nonprofit National Academies. Dog foods typically contain higher amounts than those, because dogs may not be able to digest all of the nutrients in a food.
6. “natural” and “holistic” labels mean?
if any, synthetic ingredients. Holistic, along with premium and super-premium, are marketing terms and there is no rule that controls how they’re used.
“It’s difficult to confirm those claims are truly accurate,” says Teresa Crenshaw, interim chair of AAFCO’s pet food committee. Although pet food can be made in a 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 food is safe for humans to eat.
7. Organic pet food?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, which sets rules for using an “organic” label, is reviewing the issue.