Your dogs are a member of the family. Part of being a good pet owner is keeping your dog happy, active, and healthy. One of the biggest contributors to a healthy lifestyle is proper nutrition. When you walk into a pet store, there are literally hundreds of options to feed your dog. How do you know which is best? What ingredients should you look for? Which should you avoid? Here are a few tips on how to properly read a dog food label so you can choose the best option for your dog.
What to Look for In the Product’s Name
The first thing you will notice on a package of dog food is the name. The product name will give you your first clues about the main ingredients included in the food. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have established rules to help consumers decipher what exactly should be in a particular food.
How something is labeled can make a huge difference in what is included. For example, “Chicken Dog Food” must contain 95% chicken, or more than 70% when you count added water. However, if the product label says, “Dog Food with Beef” then only 3% of the food is required to include that ingredient. If the food states that it is “Fish Flavored” then no specific amount is required, just that it be detectable in the product itself and the “flavor” must appear the same size and type font as the main ingredient.
For more info about labeling, check out the FDA’s website on pet food labeling.
Check the Ingredients
There are state-specific regulations that govern what should minimally be included in dog food. The bag must label how much moisture, crude fiber, protein, fat, and water. If it is specialized dog food, like low-fat low-protein, or extra vitamins and minerals, then the percentage that is included in the bag must be guaranteed.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, listed individually, and by their common names. The AAFCO website has a detailed list of ingredients, what they are, and what they contain. Depending on your dog’s needs, you may want to choose a specific product that avoids an ingredient, like choosing grain-free dog food.
Know the Standards
While a dog food may claim to be “complete,” “balanced,” or “100% nutrition,” it doesn’t really make the product specialized. All these statements mean is they meet the minimum standards for nutrition, just like any other product on the market.
Organic, Natural, Grain-Free?
With so many varieties of dog food claiming to be “organic” or “natural,” what does that exactly mean? When a food claims to be organic, it simply means there are no artificial preservatives, colors, dyes, antibiotics or hormones, pesticides, and no fillers. Natural may only mean one or several of these characteristics, you will have to do a bit more research.
Grain-free dog food is a great choice for many dogs. They lack non-nutritional filler, are anti-inflammatory, and free of dangerous preservatives and chemicals. Many pet owners report improved health of their dogs when switching to a high-quality grain-free food.
The biggest thing to remember is that not every two dogs are alike. Some dogs do better with one type of food, while another may thrive on a different one. As a pet owner, the best thing you can do is do the research and choose a food that will help support your dog’s overall health.