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Doggie Diet, Part 1 – Understanding Pet Food & Pet Food Labels

Happy DogCommercial Dog food was first developed in the mid 1800’s and the pet food industry has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. With all the varieties, brands, and marketing messages being tossed around, it is sometimes difficult to know if you are selecting the right food for your pet. Selecting a quality pet food is essential for the health of your dog, and a balanced diet and regular exercise are the foundations for a healthy, happy pet. A quality diet can help prevent disease, alleviate allergies,

Knowing the Terminology

The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officers) is a non-government run agency that has its own set of regulations over pet food labels. These guidelines are used by many states and cover naming conventions, nutritional information, and the guaranteed analysis of pet foods. The first step in selecting a nutritious and wholesome food for your pet is to look on the label for an AAFCO statement that says

“XYZ Pet Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog/Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.”  Or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ABC Dog/Cat Food provides a complete and balanced nutrition”.

Sometimes it seems impossible to decipher what is actually in your pet’s food.  The AAFCO has certain guidelines on the naming conventions of dog food.

Percentage Rules – The True Meaning of a Label

Canned Dog Food95% Rule – Foods labeled with names such as Beef for dogs or Chicken Cat Food must contain at least 95% of the named ingredient.

25% Rule – AKA the ‘Dinner’ Rule – Foods with the word ‘dinner’ or similar phrase (example: Turkey dinner or Salmon formula) must contain at least 25% of the named ingredient.

3% Rule – AKA the ‘with’ rule – Foods that contain the word ‘with’ or ‘and’ must contain at least 3% of the named ingredient (Examples: Chicken and Rice Dinner contains 3% rice, 25% chicken, Dog Food with Beef only contains 3% beef, while Beef Dog Food contains 95% beef). Tricky, isn’t it?

The Marketing Terms

Flavored pet foods (such as Chicken Flavored Dog Food) do not contain any of the main ingredient that it is supposed to taste like. The terms “Gourmet”, “Premium”, “Super-Premium”, “Ultra-premium”,  and “Organic” have no specific guidelines or rules governing their use and are considered strictly marketing terminology. The word “Natural” is also not defined, but has to adhere to some guidelines (no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives).

Selecting a Better Quality Pet Food

Whole, raw chickens

Check the labels on your dog’s food!

The first thing you should do when you are getting ready to purchase a new brand of pet food is to check the ingredients on the label. The top five ingredients make up the majority of the food. If they are not quality ingredients then you should move on. Avoid foods that list corn, wheat, or any other starch as the first ingredient or as more than one of those five ingredients. These foods may not have enough natural protein in the food for a healthy, complete diet. If you really want to check the quality food of the food you are purchasing, consider all the ingredients that are listed before the first source of fat (canola oil, chicken fat, etc.). Make sure that there is a quality source of protein listed, preferably first on the list and different sources of proteins within those first few ingredients, as dogs require a diet high in protein and lower in carbohydrates.

While you are examining the labels, be sure to keep an eye out for potentially unsafe or nutrient depleted ingredients such as chemical preservatives (BHA, ethoxyquin, Glyceryl Monostearate and BHT), meat by products (which is kind of like mystery meat “parts” – there are higher quality protein sources available), wheat or corn gluten, brewer’s rice, & soy products.

Opt for foods that use natural preservatives such as Vitamins A and E, but be wary that dog food manufacturers can buy an ingredient that already contains preservatives or additives and they do not have to list them in the ingredients of the dog food.  It’s shady, but it’s not illegal.  In Part 2 we’ll talk about do-it-yourself dog food and ways to supplement your pet’s diet.

About hcrotsley

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Currently an owner of 3 dogs and 2 cats, I’ve gained a plethora of pet-related experience over the years. I strive to provide the best home I can for my little terrors, and you’ll read all about our trials and tribulations as I continue down the rewarding yet rocky road of pet parenthood.
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