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How to Read Pet Food Packages And Ingredients

How to Read Pet Food Packages


There are a number of essentials that your dog needs to stay healthy: a comfortable, pet-safe home, a cozy dog bed, dog clothes for winter, fun dog toys … and of course, healthy dog food.  Shopping for dog food isn’t easy, though, particularly if you are a new pet owner.  It is hard enough to read the labels on human food and know what you are getting!  Reading the labels and ingredients lists on pet food can be even more confusing.  Should you buy the box that says “chicken dog food” or the package that says “chicken dinner for dogs?”   


When it comes to un-riddling pet food and buying your dog healthy, recognizable foods, happily there are a few rules that you can follow.  Once you get used to these rules, you will have a much easier time picking out wholesome food at the store.  What rules are they?  They’re the ones set by the AAFCO.  The AAFCO standards require manufacturers of animal feed to label their packages according to certain guidelines.  Learn those guidelines, and you will save a lot of time at the store.


  • “(Type of Food) Dog Food.” This format tells you that at least 95% of the product you are buying is actually made out of the relevant food.  For example, “Beef Dog Food” must actually consist of 95% real beef.  “Chicken Dog Food” is at least 95% chicken.  The format may also read “(Type of Food) for Dogs,” so “Red Meat for Dogs,” would be at least 95% red meat, generally beef.


  • “Dog Food with (Type of Food).” When you see a label on a package of dog food that contains the word “with,” the type of food following the “with” must be present, but only in amounts of 3% or more.  So whereas “Beef Dog Food” must contain 95% beef or more, “Dog Food with Beef” only needs to contain 3% beef.  The rest of the ingredients could be anything; you would have to turn over the package to find out what it is. 


  • “Dinner, Entrée, Platter, Formula, Chunks,” etc. These foods fall somewhere in the middle in terms of their contents.  A “Beef Dinner for Dogs,” or “Beef Chunks for Dogs” package contains at least 25% beef.  So it has more beef than the “with” package, but significantly less than the “Beef Dog Food.”  This is the biggest category of dog foods.  These foods may be high in quality, but check their primary ingredient to make sure it is something your pet can eat.


  • “(Type of Food) Flavor.” Just as human foods which contain a certain “flavor” listed on the package do not necessarily contain the real thing at all, the same goes for pet foods.  “Beef Flavor” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with beef; it might, it might not.  There is no minimum requirement.  These packages often deceptively contain images of the ingredient they may or may not contain; just because you see a flank of steak on the picture does not mean that actual beef is present in the product at all! 


You can see how just knowing these guidelines can save you a huge amount of time grocery shopping.  You can just bypass products with the word “flavor” or “with” altogether and skip right to those with descriptive words like “dinner” or products actually labeled “(Type of Food) Dog Food.”  Always check all ingredients included in any food you buy before you feed it to your dog, even if you are sure you are getting a healthy product.  That way you can be sure there aren’t any allergens included in the formula.  It is well worth it to take some extra time to learn about pet foods and carefully review ingredients while you are shopping.  There are few easier ways to keep your furry pal healthy and happy over the course of his lifetime! 





How to Read Pet Food Ingredients


In our most recent article, I talked about how learning AAFCO regulations for dog food can help you to skim the names of different pet foods and identify the best and worst options at a glance.  The basic rules are these:


  • A name like “Chicken Dog Food” or “Beef Dog Food” must contain at least 95% of the type of food in the name. 


  • A name that includes a word like “formula,” “dinner” or “chunks” must contain at least 25% of the type of food in the name.


  • A name like “Dog Food with Chicken” or “Dog Food with Beef” need only contain 3% of the given ingredient.


  • A name with “flavor” does not need to contain the relevant ingredient at all.  Dog Food with Chicken Flavor” may not have chicken in it at all.


No matter what type of dog food you end up deciding to buy, you do need to flip the box over and skim the ingredients list before you make your purchase.  Why?  Even if you are going with a relatively pure dog food with a name like “Beef Dog Food,” you still want to make sure there are no allergens included.  Plus, most healthy dog foods fall under the 25% rule, not the 95% rule, so there may be a number of other ingredients to investigate.  Some of those ingredients have rather strange and confusing names.  Here are some common ones to know:


  • Beef.  This refers to muscle tissue, but may also refer to any other random bits that went along for the ride


  • Chicken.  This is any part of the chicken that isn’t feathers and is considered a “normal” chicken component.


  • Beef by-products.  Organ meat, blood, and bone all fall under this category.  Horns, hooves, hair, and teeth are not included.


  • Chicken by-products.  This can include feet, organ meat, heads, feet, and so on, but not feathers.


  • Meat and bone meal (MBM) or beef and bone meal.  These are other names for by-products as listed above.  Keep in mind that organs are actually quite nutritious, so “by-products” or “MBM” are not necessarily negatives!


  • Meal, or “meat with the water removed.”  These are dried ingredients which have been ground up for inclusion in the pet food.  These ingredients are high in protein, and finding them high on the ingredients list is typically a plus.


  • Digest.  Ingredients listed as “digest” have been broken down with enzymes or chemicals. 


  • BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin.  These are chemical preservatives.  You generally want to avoid them, especially now that many dog food companies are switching over to natural preservatives like Naturox, vitamin E or vitamin C. 


  • Glyceryl monostearate, phosphoric acid, propylene glycol.  These are all common additives, none of which are necessary in dog food.


  • Corn gluten and wheat gluten.  These binders are not bad for your dog, but they have little nutritional value, so you want to avoid dog foods that contain large percentages of them.


  • Cane molasses, corn syrup, fructose, sorbitol, sugar.  These are all sweeteners, and are largely unnecessary.  Fructose is arguably nutritious in small quantities, but the rest should be avoided in large quantities.  Too much sugar can lead to hyperactivity, nervousness, tooth and gum decay, obesity, and other health problems. 


Now you should have an easier time understanding what you are looking at when you go shopping for dog food!  Always check the ingredients list before you purchase any new dog food.  The ingredients which are listed at the top are present in the highest amounts, while those on the bottom are present in lower quantities.  Wholesome dog food is essential for a healthy pet.  Just taking care to feed your pet healthy food is one of the biggest single steps you can take to protect your dog’s health now and over the long run!


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