Updated: Nov 30
How to read dog food labels properly?
It's essential to learn how to discern high-quality ingredients from inferior ones for dogs. You can do this by reading the dog food labels and reaching out to your veterinarian if you don't understand something.
Most people assume that the most expensive dog food is automatically the best.
However, this isn't always true! As a result, it can be challenging determining which dog foods are good and which ones are not so great!
Many pet parents will want to feed their senior dogs a specific brand because they have heard good things about it or because it's on sale.
Here are some tips to help you determine what food is best for your dog:
1. Manufacturers of low-quality dog foods will use the term "animal digest" in their ingredient lists, but it can be hard to decipher what this means. Animal digest is produced by the chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean animal tissue that has not undergone decomposition.
Rendering begins by cooking whole dead animals over a very high temperature and under tremendous pressure, which often results in the breakdown of tissues into smaller particles - this process is called hydrolysis.
Hydrolysis does not require the presence of heat to break down protein or fat molecules. This means that meat can be cooked at lower temperatures and processed into protein and fat particles.
2. Another term to look out for is "meat byproduct." This vague term can refer to any part of an animal that can be used, including the feet, intestine, spleen, etc.
3. The TGA mandates that all ingredients are be declared according to weight before mixing during the manufacturing process. Therefore, the most significant ingredient will be listed first and so on in descending order of weight. Ingredients are listed by weight from greatest to least. So if a dog food lists chicken meal as its primary protein source, followed by rice or maise, there is more chicken meal than rice/maise in the food.
4. Look for whole meat as one of the first ingredients in your dog's food. Ingredients are listed by weight. For example, if natural beef appears as one of the first ingredients, there will be more whole meat than any other ingredient in the food.
5. The terms "forage" or "plant material" are sometimes used on dog food labels to denote fibrous plant material such as cereal byproducts and vegetables. This type of ingredient is more challenging to digest and can cause intestinal upset in some dogs.
6. Avoid the term "bone meal." Bone meal is a rendered product that consists of ground-up bones, which are typically sprayed with mercury-based chemicals before being sterilised by cooking.
7. Dog food manufacturers LOVE to put fruits, vegetables, or other plants on their ingredient lists. This is great for marketing but not necessarily good for the dog! Some fruits are toxic and may cause diarrhoea, vomiting or kidney failure.
8. Avoid food that includes corn, wheat, or soy as the main ingredient, even if it's maise. These ingredients are problematic for many dogs to digest and can cause allergies or intolerance.
9. When reading a label, look at the order in which ingredients are listed. Ingredients must be listed with the heaviest ingredients first and so on in descending order of weight. Manufacturers often use meal products as their main protein source. The meal is a dry rendered product typically made from animal tissue or plant material.
10. The carbohydrate content of dog food is often placed near the end of an ingredient list to trick the consumer into thinking that this food does not contain any carbohydrates. However, some manufacturers will include their fibre source (beet pulp or chicory root extract) within the first five ingredients. Others will consist of their carbohydrate content within the first five ingredients.
11. Note that the carbohydrate source is included in the ingredient list as well - some manufacturers will separate their fibre content from their carbohydrates. In contrast, others will divide them up equally amongst each other.
12. Manufacturers aren't required to disclose any of the minerals and vitamins they use, but they can use a nutrient that is then turned into a vitamin or mineral in the body. For example, brewers' yeast contains Vitamin B, but manufacturers are only required to list "brewers yeast" on their ingredient label - not the actual vitamins and minerals.
13. Note that many ingredients included in pet food (glycerin, whey, lecithin) may come from animals. So if you're a vegetarian, be careful when reading pet food labels!
14. Manufacturers are not required to provide the caloric content or any other nutritional information on their labels for those who wish to make our homemade diets.
Feeding your senior dog a high-quality diet specific to your dog's life stage allows for balanced nutrition. In addition, supplementing their health regimen and keeping an eye on your dog's teeth and gums can help keep your senior safe throughout their later years.
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