Reading Dog Food Labels

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The following is an excerpt from’s The Adopted Dog Bible

Reading dog food labels


Pet food labels must list the minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and water in the food. Ingredients are listed by weight, so if chicken is listed first, it is the largest ingredient in that product.

It’s important to note that some pet food manufacturers engage in a practice called splitting, which is a way to disguise the true contents of their food. For example, if a food is comprised mostly of corn products, but the manufacturer wants the consumer to believe it contains mostly meat, it will divide the corn into two small categories, such as ground corn and corn gluten meal, so they can list the meat first, making it appear that the food is mostly meat when, in fact, it’s mostly corn.

The following list will help you decipher the ingredient list on a typical dog food label. Where possible, avoid foods that contain animal by-products, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, growth hormones, factory farmed and rendered meat, and meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics.

Animal fat is a by-product of meat processing and is obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial process of rendering or extracting.

Animal meat (turkey, chicken, beef, fish, etc.) is the clean flesh derived from the slaughtered animal.

Animal meat meal and by-product meal is the clean, rendered remainder of a slaughtered animal once the meat has been removed. Often includes necks, feet, blood, bones, intestines, and tissue.

Animal meat by-products are the clean, nonrendered remains after the meat and meat by-product meal has been removed. Often includes bones, beaks, and viscera.

Artificial flavors and colors are used to enhance the look and taste of food. There is no nutritional quality in artificial flavors and, since they are not regulated by the FDA, many could actually be harmful to your dog’s health.

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is an antioxidant good for normal metabolism.

Beef and bone meal is a by-product made from beef tissues, including bone, but exclusive of any blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, and entrails.

Beet pulp is the dried residue from sugar beet. It is added for fiber, but it is high in sugar.

BHA/BHT, or Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) respectively, are chemical preservatives which are used to protect dietary fats from rancidity. They are also included in human foods in the United States, though they have been banned from human consumption in many countries. Toxicity studies have shown that BHA and BHT at high levels can be detrimental to an animal’s health in various ways, promoting or contributing to dry skin, dental disease, stomach and urinary carcinogenesis, and kidney and liver impairment.

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin, nitrogen-containing acid essential for growth and well-being in animals and some microorganisms. Eggs are a common source of biotin.

Brewer’s dried yeast is a by-product of the brewing of beer and ale. Although brewer’s yeast is a good source of vitamin B, it is a potential allergen for some dogs.

Calcium pantothenate is a source of pantothenic acid, a B vitamin known as vitamin B3. It acts as a catalyst in the production of fats, cholesterol, bile, vitamin D, red blood cells, and some neurotransmitters and hormones.

Choline chloride is source of choline, a member of the B-complex group of water-soluble vitamins (vitamin B4).

Copper is an essential trace mineral. The metabolism and functions of copper are closely tied to those of iron. Copper is necessary for normal absorption and transport of dietary iron.

Corn bran is the outer coating of the corn kernel, with little or no nutritional value.

Corn gluten meal is the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ. While small amounts can be used as a source of protein, corn gluten meal, like other protein sources, is a potential allergen for some dogs.

D-Activated animal sterol is a source of vitamin D3.

Dried whey is the product obtained by removing water from whey (the watery part of milk) and is a protein source.

Folic acid is a vitamin of the B-complex that is water-soluble and essential in animal metabolism.

Gelatin is a colorless or slightly yellow substance that is nearly tasteless and odorless. It is created by prolonged boiling of animal skin, connective tissue, or bones.

Glucosamine hydrochloride is a compound that occurs naturally in the cartilage cushioning the joints and may play a role in preventing or treating osteoarthritis.

Inositol is a source of vitamin B8.

Iodine is an essential mineral element and is required by the body for the production of the hormones needed by the thyroid gland.

Lecithin is essential for normal fatty acid transport within cells.

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid found in fats and oils and helps promote healthy skin and a shiny coat.

Manganese is a micromineral and is necessary for normal bone development and reproduction.

Natural flavors are minimally processed flavor ingredients that do not contain artificial or synthetic components.

Potassium is an essential mineral that plays various roles in metabolism and body functions and assists in the regulation of the acid-base balance and water balance in the blood and the body tissue.

Rice gluten meal is the dried residue from rice after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ. Rice gluten is an option for a dog who is allergic to wheat or corn.

Sodium selenite is an essential trace mineral and an important antioxidant nutrient.