Reading dog food labels: A quick lesson

There are two components of the dog food label that I’m going to focus on here – the AAFCO nutritional statement and the ingredients. While the guaranteed analysis is another important component, I have found that it doesn’t vary all that much from brand to brand and just isn’t that important to the average consumer.

1. The AAFCO nutritional statement – AAFCO is the non-governmental, non-regulatory body that provides guidelines for assessing food. Diets evaluated under AAFCO are tested for the required nutrients and that those nutrients are presented in the proper amounts.

There are 4 possible statements that you will find on dog food:

– Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Diet X provides complete and balanced nutrition for ____ life stage (put through testing and passed).

– Diet X is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Dog food Nutrient Profiles for ____ life stage (means diet either failed or wasn’t actually put through testing).

– Diet X provides complete and balanced nutrition for ____ life stage and is comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product that has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests (means diet either failed or wasn’t actually put through testing).

– This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only (should not be your dog’s main meal).

2. The ingredients – A good rule of thumb is look at the first 5 ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the bulk of most foods are in the top 5-7. You want to see whole meat or meat meal, but not by-products, and not a lot of grains. Byproducts are questionable and can contain feet, necks, undeveloped eggs and intestines, though by AAFCO definition does not include feathers or heads.

If there are grains in the top ingredients, look for whole grains (rice, oats, barley) vs. corn gluten or soybean meals. You want to see fruits and vegetables, too, though these will probably be further down the list.

As far as oils and fats go, look for specifically named fats and oils vs. “animal fat”, mineral oil, or vegetable oil.

There will also be some preservatives with long, strange names. Look for Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E) and Asorbic Acid (Vitamin C). Not many foods still have these in them, but you should definitely avoid products with BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin.

Here are some examples, which one do you think is the best nutritionally?

Merrick Real Chicken Brown Rice + Green Pea Recipe