What’s Really in Your Dog’s Food?
The Importance of Clean Ingredients
A dog’s diet should be filled with clean, high-quality ingredients that are wholesome and nutritious, which can sometimes be difficult to find in commercial dog food. With that in mind, it's important to closely examine your dog's food to make sure you're providing them with the best possible nutrition they deserve. The health of your dog can greatly depend on what they're eating!
Pet food marketing claims vs. reality
Product names are more than clever marketing. This will give you the first clue about the ingredients in the product. Many pet owners make their buying decisions based on a certain ingredient, so brands try to display that ingredient most prominently in the product name. The wording matters, however. Association of American Feed Control Officials has four rules:
- The 95% Rule: When ingredients are named, the product must contain at least 95% of the ingredient. For example, “Beef for Dogs” must include 95% beef. Further, this ingredient must make up at least 70% of the product when including added water.
- The 25% Rule: If the specified ingredient makes up at least 25% of the product, but not quite 95%, the product name must have a qualifying term alongside it, such as platter, entrée, or dinner. E.g., “Chicken Dinner for Dogs” or “Carrot Entrée”
- The “With” Rule: The “with” ingredient named in the title only needs to make up 3% of the product. For example, “Doggie Dinner with Chicken” only needs to have 3% chicken.
- The Flavor Rule: For products that include flavor, such as “Fish Flavor Dog Food,” then the percentage of that ingredient is not specified, and just must be detectable.
How Real is ‘Real Meat’ in Pet Foods?
Many pet food companies rely on cheaper alternatives to meat, such as poultry by-product meal and corn gluten meal, which are less expensive and more abundant than real meat. These fillers are made up of animal offal and other parts not typically used for human consumption.
Look at the core four: protein, fat, fiber, and water
The health of your dog is vitally important, and it's important that you know what you're feeding them. There are many factors to consider when choosing a dog food, and the type of ingredients used can have a big impact on the overall quality. For example, the use of artificial preservatives can lead to health problems like hyperactivity, weight gain, skin allergies or intestinal inflammation. Artificial colors often contain azo dyes which are linked to cancer. Compare this with a meat-based diet which does not contain any artificial additives and provides essential nutrients for your dog without any harmful side effects.
There are regulations that require a certain minimum of nutrients included in pet food, as well as a certain maximum of crude fiber and moisture. As a result, dog food labels display the percentage of crude protein, fat, fiber, and water in the product. Look at those percentages to compare products and make sure your furry friend is getting proper nutrients.
How to read a Dog Food Label
Terms like “complete and balanced” or “100 percent nutritious” aren’t just marketing terms. Phrases like these mean that the product has met certain government standards to provide a balanced and complete nutrition for adult dogs. The nutritional adequacy statement identifies the life stage the food is intended for. These stages are recognized by the AAFCO as: Gestation/Lactation, Growth, Maintenance, and All life stages.
Other terms to look out for:
Organic: Currently, there are no official regulations to qualify organic labels on pet foods, although they are in the works through the USDA. It’s important to look for organic indicators in products, however, including: no artificial preservatives, flavoring or coloring, no antibiotics in meat and meat by-products, and no or little fillers.
Grain-free: Grains are an important part of dog diets. That being said, certain products should not have high grain content, and certainly should not be listed first in the ingredient list. While the veterinary science behind grain-free dog food is limited, there is a possibility that high-grain diets can have led to an increase in a heart disease called cardiomyopathy.
Human-Grade dog food: This terminology is highly regulated by the FDA and USDA. In order to be human edible according to the AAFCO, all ingredients must be manufactured and held to the standard of federal regulations outlined in the Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food.
Ingredients: Ingredients in food products are listed in order of highest proportion within the product. Look at the ingredient list of products to ensure the ingredient you’re looking for is listed first. Further, you should be able to read the ingredient list with ease, anything you can’t pronounce is a red flag. Lastly, you should be able to count the core ingredients on your hands. Too many ingredients are a bad indicator. Being made in the USA also is a good indicator of product quality, as the USA is held to higher standards of quality and transparency for both the manufacturing and sourcing of products.
Cheat Sheet for Dog Food Shopping
Consumers are often left to their own devices when it comes to choosing dog food and nutrition for their pets, but this is not the best way to make sure your pup is eating a nutritious diet. Most pet owners don’t have the time to go through and research every product offered in their local pet store. We’re here to help make that process easier for you. Below is a checklist to follow to help you find clean dog food.
Checklist of indicators for clean dog food and treats:
- Main ingredient in the product name
- No artificial preservatives, coloring, or flavoring
- Natural ingredients you can pronounce and count on your hands
- Made in the USA