When I first adopted my loveable Roscoe, I was completely shocked when I went to buy food for him. There I was, standing in the dog food aisle of my local pet supply store with tons and tons of options to choose from, but I had no idea what to pick!
Of course, his health is of utmost importance to me, so I wanted to choose highly nutritious food, but when I looked at the labels on all of the bags and cans, I was totally shocked! It was like reading a foreign language! I couldn’t even pronounce the ingredients on a lot of the labels, and the ones that I could read, I had no idea if they were good for him or not.
I bought a bag of kibble that only had ingredients that I could read on it to hold Roscoe over, and then I went home and did some research to find out how to read dog food labels. Here’s what I found out:
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires all dog food manufacturers in the US to provide a definitive analysis of what’s actually in the food. This includes an ingredient list, a statement regarding the nutritional value and feeding guidelines. Additionally, the food must clearly state where it was made (whether in the US or another country.) You only want to purchase dog food that was made in the US, as other countries don’t adhere to the same rigid quality control guidelines.
Ingredients are listed by weight
Just like packaged food for people, the ingredients used in dog food must be listed by weight. It’s important to keep in mind that the weights are listed include any water that has been added to them. So, for example, if the first ingredient is chicken, a good portion of the weight of that chicken contains water. If it were based on the dry weight of the meat, it would probably be lower on the list of ingredients.
What are “by-products”?
By-products are the non-rendered parts of an animal other than the meat. It can include everything from the lungs to the brain, and even the blood and stomach. By-products do not contain things that cannot be consumed, such as teeth, hoofs or hair. While humans may find by-products gross, dogs actually couldn’t care less. Think about it: in the wild, dogs consume pretty much the entirety of the animals that they hunt. Meat by-products are actually full of healthy nutrients for dogs (even though you might find them less than appealing.)
What is “meat meal”?
If you have a sensitive stomach, hold onto it, because when you find out what meat meals are, your stomach might turn. According to AAFCO, meet meal refers to the products that are rendered from mammal tissues, excluding blood, hoof, stomach and other less-than desirable parts of an animal. Also, meat meals may not come from the mammals that you would expect them to come from, like cows, pigs, goats or sheep. They could, in fact, come from other mammals, and a description of the animal it comes from is not necessary; unless the ingredient states that it is ‘sheep meal,’ in which case it has to come from a sheep, you might want to steer clear of foods that contain meat meals.
What are those foreign-sounding names?
You will likely come across some odd looking words that are difficult to pronounce on a dog food label. These ingredients are the preservatives, artificial colors and other additives that are added to dog food recipes. They must be approved by the FDA or at least be recognized as safe to consume.
Both natural and synthetic additives can be used in dog food. I only choose natural additives, because the safety of synthetic additives has been called into question on many different occasions by both scientists and consumers. Though the FDA says that synthetic additives are safe for dogs, I don’t trust them.
Reading a dog food label can be a bit tricky. To find the healthiest option, look for high amounts of natural meat and vegetables that are free from additives; at least that’s what I do, and my Roscoe is very healthy and very happy.