How To Read The Nutrition Label On Your Dog’s Food

by Colleen Fernandez

in Canine Nutrition

nutrition fatcsIt’s extremely important for you to check the label of your dog’s food … it will help separate the good from the bad.

Check the guaranteed analysis of your dog’s food … this includes the amounts of protein, fat, carbs, fiber, and other nutrients. If your dog’s food contains preservatives, the manufacturer will have to make a note of it on the label. Look for anything that you think would be harmful to your pet.

Converting Dry Matter Basis

All pet foods have different levels of moisture. Canned food is usually about 80% moisture and dry food can be as little at 6% moisture. You need to be able to convert dog foods to a “dry matter basis” so you can give them a fair comparison.

Luckily, the conversion is quite simple. Say you’re evaluating protein levels … If your dry dog food is 10% moisture and 90% dry matter and 20% protein, you would take the 20/90 and get 22%. This means your dry dog food contains 22% protein on a dry matter basis.

The same can be done for canned food. Canned food is about 80% moisture and 20% dry matter. The label says it has 5% protein. Take the 5/20 and get 25% protein on a dry matter basis.

Soo … what can we conclude? The canned food has more protein/pound on a dry matter basis. You can draw these comparisons for all components of food … such as fat, fiber, carbohydrates, etc.

The Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis on the dog food label will list the minimum levels of crude protein and fat and maximum levels of fiber and water. Protein and fat are considered crude sources rather than digestible sources.

The digestibility of protein and fat can vary widely depending on their sources … which is a whole new topic altogether!

The guaranteed analysis is a good place to start in understanding the quality of your dog’s food, but you should be careful about relying on it too much. Dog food can have the “perfect” guaranteed analysis, yet still not be edible for a dog.

The Ingredient List

Ingredients are always listed by order of weight. So by paying attention to the order in which the ingredients are listed, you can get a pretty decent idea about the quality of the dog food. Here’s a list of some of the most common ingredients found in dog food:

• Meat: The meat found in your dog’s food is generally the clean flesh of a dead animal (chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc.). This includes: striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus, overlying fat and the skin, sinew, nerves and blood vessels are normally found with that flesh.

• Meat By-products: Meat by-products include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, stomach, and intestines. It shouldn’t include: hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.

• Poultry By-products: Poultry parts such as heads, feet, and internal organs (like heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, abdomen, and intestines).

Fish Meal: Fish meal is the clean ground tissue of non-decomposed fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.

• Beef Tallow: A fat derived from beef.

• Ground Corn: The entire corn kernel ground or chopped.

• Corn Gluten Meal: The by-product from the manufacture of corn syrup or starch.

• Brewers Rice: Small fragments of rice kernels that were separated from larger kernels of milled rice.

• Brown Rice: The unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.

Soybean Meal: A by-product of the production of soybean oil.

• BHA: Butylated hydroxyanisole, a fat preservative.

• Ethoxyquin: A chemical preservative that’s used to prevent dog food from spoiling.

• Tocopherols: Tocopherols (e.g., vitamin E) are naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives.

The AAFCO standards

I guess you could say the AAFCO is like the FDA of the pet world. The AAFCO- Association of American Feed Control Officials help develop guidelines for the production, labeling, and sale of animal foods. AAFCO approved foods will have one of the following statements on their product.

1. Formulated to meet AAFCO’s nutrient requirements.
This means the food was tested in the laboratory and was found to have the recommended amounts of protein, fat, etc.

2. Animal-feeding tests using AAFCO’s procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition.
This statement requires that the pet food be tested on animals for at least six months and shown to provide adequate nutrition. Side note: Generally speaking, 6 months of testing a product isn’t enough to determine if your dog is suffering from any deficiencies or other long term side effects.

Feeding Instructions

Most dog foods come with a set of feeding instructions. The manufacturer usually recommends a serving size based on your dog’s growth level and weight. Remember, these are “rough” guidelines though … every dog has a different metabolism and activity level. Other factors that should be taken into consideration are the breed, age, and environmental stresses that the dog may encounter. Whatever is listed on the manufacturer’s label should be used as a starting point. If your Boston is looking hungry or underweight, you need to increase your feeding guidelines. Just always use common sense! 😉

The Million Dollar Question

What’s the best dog food on the market? Drum roll please ….

The answer isn’t as cut and dry as I’m sure you had hoped. The answer is that there is no right answer. There are so many dog foods on the market, and in the end, it really just depends on your dog. Some dogs need higher fat and protein, some need special nutrients, and some need grain free.

Determine if your Boston has any special needs and feed accordingly. Try not to switch brands too often though; dogs can suffer from indigestion if you mess with their food too much. At the same time, don’t be afraid to switch brands until you find a food your dog does well on.

For additional information about feeding, visit:



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