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Home Journal Dog Owner Guides to Breaking Down Dog Food Labels

Whilst the ingredients in human food legally need to be individually listed, pet food makers are not required to spell out the exact contents of their dog food? For example, dog food can be advertised as Beef on the front of the bag, but only 4% of the meat needs to be Beef! Legally, the other 96% could be a combination of pork, rabbit or any other meat.

The term ‘complete’ is a legal definition set by the European Pet Food federation (FEDIAF). Complete means that the product contains all the nutrients your pet needs. Deficiencies can cause bone disease or heart conditions.

Most pet foods are made from a recipe using several ingredients. Looking at the ingredient label on the back of a bag, their composition is listed from high to low. For example, if corn is listed first and chicken second, there is more corn in the food than chicken.

You may also see terms such as animal derivatives and bone meal. This describes the meat which are by-products of the human food industry. They include organs inedible to humans (such as lung), tendons, carcass remains, feathers and bones. These are treated to high temperatures, dried and ground to a powder format. This animal protein powder is then added into the dog food mixture.

Cereals or grains are a group of ingredients that contain carbohydrates and are used in pet foods, including rice, wheat, barley, sorghum and corn. When used as a collective term, the cereal used can vary from batch to batch. This can allow some manufacturers to take advantage of market prices, using the cereal that is cheapest at the time.

Additives used in pet foods may include vitamins, flavourings, preservatives, antioxidants and colours.

Antioxidants or preservatives must be added to meat or bone meal during its production in order to prevent it from spoiling. These antioxidants can be natural (such as Vitamin E from vegetables and herbs) or artificial. Artificial preservatives give food a longer shelf life than natural antioxidants. However, the most commonly used artificial preservatives in meat and bone meal food are the controversial and potentially harmful chemicals BHA and BHT. By adding an artificial antioxidant to meat meal before it is processed, a manufacturer does not need to declare them on the label.

UK or USA?

It’s worth noting, there are differences between pet food legislation in Europe (including the UK) and the US.

What is the best food for my dog?

There are so many different dog foods, the choice is almost overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. The best dog food is: 1. Complete and balanced, using the highest quality ingredients you can afford 2. Suits their digestion, tummy and health 3. One your dog enjoys eating! This is often not one in the same. Some dog parents may wish to feed only the finest organic beef and bone marrow, but their dog and their tummy might have other ideas!

Lean dogs live longer

Research has shown time and time again, the single one thing that will have the biggest positive impact on your dog’s health is their weight. In a recent study , lean and healthy Yorkshire terriers lived on average 2.5 years longer, and dachshunds live 2.3 years longer than heavier Yorkies and daxis. That’s a long time in dog years! But did you know almost 50% of dogs in the UK are overweight and many are obese? If you don’t have an up-to-date weight for your dog, drop in to your local vet practice or pet shop. Most have weighing scales in their reception and are more than happy for you to use it. Each dog’s daily calorie needs will be different. A young and energetic dog will burn more calories than an older and less active dog. Start by looking at the back of your dog food packet to work out their feeding amounts. Your local vet or vet nurse will be able to advise a more accurate feeding programme.

If you would like to learn more about other dog foods, check out the independent review site All About Dog Food which analyses hundreds of different brands.

Top Image by Photographer Jess Bonham

Dog Owner Guides to Breaking Down Dog Food Labels