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Understanding Dog Food Labels

With ingredients viewed side by side, understanding dog food labels isn't rocket science. Can you spot which dog food is best between these two formulas of extreme opposite quality?

Large image of two dog food labels comparing good quality ingredients to a poor quality dry kibble formula.

To Compare Dog Food

Our common sense is often skewed by creative packaging, beautifully designed bags of kibble with fresh chicken, turkey, cuts of beef, fruits & vegetables prominently displayed as color coordinated eye candy. Understanding dog food labels and deciding which dog food is best just became not-so-clear!

The trick to compare dog food and in selecting a quality brand is looking at everything in black an white. Don't be fooled by creative packaging aimed at luring you in! We'll break it all down here and you can follow up on good and bad dog food ingredients by clicking through to those excellent, revealing articles.

Understanding Dog Food Labels Made Simple

The First Five Ingredients:
The 5 ingredients listed first on the label are a dead give away and indicator if the kibble is even worth considering. The first 3 ingredients actually reveal primary protein sources. Dog food ingredients are listed in order of weight, so the closer to the front of the ingredients panel, the greater that ingredient in the mixture. Dogs are not corn eaters and can't thrive on grains alone! It's pretty critical that the first ingredient is a defined meat, or, defined meat meal.

Compare dog food labels in our top image. Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal & Turkey Meal, VERSUS Ground Yellow Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal. Now we're on to something!

Since all pet foods labels must list ingredients present, and they're shown in order of weight, we should have this licked. But there's a little more to it. Be careful, some manufacturers will break up lower quality ingredients to shuffle them farther down on the ingredients panel. This is misleading and often done with corn & grain related ingredients such as corn gluten meal, ground corn and corn bran as an example. Dog's aren't corn eaters remember? Of course, no wonder why they do this!

So far so good.. Understanding dog food labels is a cinch, right? Not quite yet, there are a few additional tricks to compare dog food and deciding which dog food is best..

Guaranteed Analysis

In a nut shell, guaranteed analysis on any pet food label tells the amount of protein, fat, fiber, moisture contend, and often, essential fatty acids relative to volume. Some quality kibble manufacturers will even do one better and list additional ingrdients like clacium, phosporus, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate plus other vitamins and minerals.

The trick here with dry dog food is the moisture content. Don't take printed values at face value, you must multiply each percentage value to convert to dry matter basis. If the label states moisture content is 12%, that leaves 88% dry matter. We'll use this 88% value to figure out the actual content.

Here's how. Take the percentage for anything listed on the guaranteed analysis panel and divide it by the dry matter, in this example 88%. So on this particular bag, if listed guaranteed protein of 32% is divided by 88% dry matter, we have a true protein level of 36%.

While calculating the guaranteed analysis of dry kibble dog food does not make or break any specific brand, this info may be useful for those feeding giant breed puppies, or who have a dog with specific nutritional needs.

Feeding Guidelines & Instructions

You may notice something listed as "Kcal" on any given bag of kibble. Kcal is the equivalent of "calories" and as of 2013, required by the AAFCO to be printed on all pet food. Just like calories, Kcal indicates the amount of energy available in a specific dog food and is typically listed "per cup".

Most bags of kibble will also provide a recommended "Kcal per day" for specific weight and energy level that's customarily illustrated by a chart or graph printed on the bag. These guideline are only a rough estimate, but it's safe to begin a new food offering serving size indicated. Increasing or decreasing amount fed based on your dog's weight and energy level is common. These recommendations will not fit every dog, every breed, and every activity level.

TIP: For more specific dietary requirements on your dog breed, visit our homepage or our main site navigation menu:)

Understanding dog food labels, as you can see, can actually be easy. We enjoy flipping bags of kibble every time we're in a pet store just to see what they're putting in this stuff! For additional information on ingredients, good and bad, look no further than the link to our next article below.

Next Article.. Dog Food Analysis - Ingredients Good & Bad

Or select an article from our Dry Dog Food main page.