Need To Know Information About Dog Food Nutrition Labels
If you’re like a lot of pet parents, you’re concerned about nutrition. You’re specifically concerned that your dog gets the right type of nutrition. After all, good health starts with eating well and your pet relies on you.
You go to the pet store to find a high quality pet food and you’ll be amazed – and perhaps a little bewildered – at the array of choices. There’s puppy food, senior food, special kibble for Shi Tzu’s, special kibble for Great Danes and a lot more! Mix in the grain free varieties and the on-going debate about carbohydrates and it’s no wonder you will get confused.
What’s crude protein? How much fat does your dog need anyway?
And you’re not alone in wondering. Veterinarians say, the question of “what should I feed my dog?” is the one they’re asked most frequently.
Your Dog Thrives on a Balanced Diet
Let’s review the dog’s genetic makeup. You already know dogs descended from wolves and they love meat.
However, they’re not true carnivores meaning they can (or should) only eat meat. Rather, their digestive track makes them omnivores which mean they can eat both plants and animals.
Further pet nutrition research has found that healthy dogs need a well-balanced diet that includes the right mix of minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids (from protein) and essential fatty acids (like omega 3’s.)
The “right mix” depends on your pet’s stage of life and activity level. For example, puppies require more protein and fats than adult dogs because they’re still growing.
Let’s Look at the “Guaranteed Analysis” in Dry Pet Food
If you look on your pet’s food, you’ll see a label for ingredients and one for “Guaranteed Analysis.” This label is required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) who administers the testing methods for nutritional guidelines in multiple countries including Australia.
It all gets a bit complex especially when you see terms like “crude protein.”
You probably realize that dry kibble is sold by weight and the larger the bag is, the more kibble you’re getting. What you may not realize is that dry foods vary widely in their moisture content. Some have as little as 6% moisture in them while others have 10% or more.
That moisture level affects the food’s nutritional content.
Here’s an example, if you look at the guaranteed analysis and see what the minimum moisture content is. If it’s 10%, then the food is 90% dry. Next, look at the protein section and see its percentage and divide by 90.
If the dog food label lists protein as 20%, you divide that by 90% and get 22%. That’s the protein level. By the way, that’s pretty good for healthy adult dogs.
You can do the same with fiber, fats, etc.
But the story doesn’t end there. That would be far too simple. First, let’s define what is “crude protein.”
The definition of “crude protein” is a chemical analysis that relates to the amount of nitrogen present in the protein. And if you remember high school chemistry, you may remember nitrogen is present in animal sources, however, nitrogen is also present in non-animal sources.
One famous example is the melamine scare of 2007 where a plastic-like material called melamine “looked” like protein to the analysis equipment. The unlucky animals who ate it sickened and many have died.
In plain language, “crude protein” has little to do with protein (meat) and a lot to do with making pet parents think they’re buying meat based kibble.
That means you want to pay extra attention to the actual ingredients on the label.
Does Your Ingredient List Start With Chicken?
Or salmon, or beef or another identified protein source you’d recognize on the street? Traditionally, ingredient labels are arranged in order by weight. That means that the heaviest ingredient will be listed first and since meat is full of moisture you know it’s the heaviest. So that’s the first thing you will see.
Within 2 or 3 ingredients, you also want to see a “meal” to back up your meat source. This should also be identified – salmon meal, chicken meal, etc.
Meal is a substance left over after the cooking process. Essentially, you cook out all the moisture and what’s left over is a protein rich powder.
Chicken meal (and other meals) will have more protein for an ounce than fresh meat, simply because they’re dried protein.
When you pair a named meal with a fresh protein source in the first ingredients, you can feel you’re on the right track with your pet’s food because it is protein rich.
So what SHOULD a label contain?
Of course, your pet also needs vitamins and minerals available in fresh fruits and vegetables. Does the food list those? Carrots, sweet potatoes, apples are good nutrition sources.
You’ll also want to see if it includes essential omega 3 fatty acids. These come from olive oil, fish, kangaroo and flaxseeds and they’re great for your dog’s skin, coat and even brain and heart health.
So, your ingredient list should show a good protein source, fresh veggies, fruits and omega 3’s and you’re definitely on the right track.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to a bag of kibble than you thought.
When you take the time to review the labels (and understand what they mean!) you’ll be in a far more powerful place to ensure your pet is getting the best nutrition possible.
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