Tips To Understanding Ingredients in Dog Food

Let's be honest, dog food labels are no fun to read. They are way too long, and even if they weren't, it would still be tough to decipher all of the ingredients in dog food. (Personally, I believe the dog food label has contributed to one of the most damaging myths related to the care of our pets, and that is, that nutrition is a complex subject. But that's for another article.) In this article, I thought it might be helpful to enumerate the top 3 principles to help make sense of the ingredients in dog food.

IMPORTANT: Before I begin, I must tell you that I am very skeptical of the quality of most processed pet food. My main focus in the articles I write is to get you to switch over to a diet of homemade dog food recipes for your pet. However, if you are going to stick to kibble or manufactured dog food, then you owe it to yourself to become an informed consumer. The following are the best tips for understanding ingredients in dog food.

The first 5 ingredients on the label are the most important. The ingredients on a label are ordered according to weight. Thus, within the first five ingredients, you pretty much know what is contained in the food.

Because your dog is a wonderfully wild carnivore, you are looking for meat ingredients (chicken, beef, fish, pork, duck, etc.) first and grain ingredients last. Example: chicken meal, ground corn, brown rice, corn gluten meal, lamb meal. Notice that three of the top 5 ingredients are grains. This is not a good scenario since we honestly don't know what percentage of the whole is meat (it should be 60-70%) and what percentage is grain.

Ingredients are listed by order of weight (PRIOR to cooking). This is a critically important tip. It is best illustrated by looking at the top 5 ingredients of brand X: Example is lamb meal, chicken, brown rice, ground corn, corn gluten meal.

Here, if we were to take our first tip, it would appear that we are in good shape. There are two meat sources at the top. The problem is that the "chicken" is weighed prior to cooking (i.e. 80% of chicken weight is water). Thus, once the moisture is removed to make kibble it is likely that this ingredient, which appears first in this list, would drop down to number 3, 4 or even 5.

Yikes! What looks like a meat-heavy meal has now turned into a grain-heavy meal, which again is not good for your dog.

Be careful with respect to "splitting". Splitting is where a manufacturer takes an ingredient and splits it into several component parts to make it appear as if there is less of that ingredient. Example: chicken meal, brown rice, corn gluten meal, lamb meal, ground corn.

Notice here that there are two corn products in the top 5, the sum of which could possibly exceed the chicken meal ingredient. (This is aside from the fact that dog food should contain no corn products. They are difficult for your dog to digest, are a major cause of allergies for many dogs and their nutritional value is questionable.)

Now you see why I am highly suspicious of most processed pet foods. It is a profit game, not a nutrition exercise. Many of these brands routinely appear in the top 10 list of highly rated dog foods, and yet, in these simple examples, I have demonstrated that the claims of great nutrition maybe readily be questioned.

Conclusion: Dog food labels and ingredients are a constant source of confusion for consumers. Your best bet is to begin educating yourself and taking control of the food you are feeding your pet. When you do, you will find tons of recipes that you can make for your dog where you will not have to worry about the ingredients that are contained in it.

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