It is clear that when choosing food and treats for their dogs buyers of dog food closely study the ingredients labels– far more than people study the labels on human food.
What we have tried to do here is to provide some advice on
what to look for and to explain some of the more confusing terminology
What does complete mean: It means the food contains all of the
essential nutrients, except water, to meet the dog’s daily requirements as defined by FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation). The term complementary food is used for treats and mixers and means that it does not meet all of the nutritional requirements so a dog cannot be solely fed on a complementary food.
Whilst there are many Complete foods on the market some are better than others – so how can you use the ingredients labelling to rate a food.
Protein the number 1 priority:
The single most important thing to look for is high quantities of high
quality protein. Proteins can come from
meat and fish but also from vegetables.
Vegetable based proteins are often cheaper, but of much lower
nutritional quality to dogs and cats, as their amino acid balance is less
suited. So make sure that there is a
high percentage of meat or fish in the product.
The ingredients are listed in order of inclusion with the most plentiful
first. So the meat or fish content should
be first in the list.
You should be looking for single source proteins with a description that makes it clear where it comes from, such as “Salmon” or “Chicken”. If you see it described using a generic term like “meat meal” or using the term “animal derivatives” then be wary.
Whilst we are talking about protein it is worth explaining what meal is. In our food we use a mix of wet fish and Salmon meal. We often receive comments that we use meal because it is cheaper. That isn’t true – the salmon meal is a lot more expensive than the wet fish. Salmon meal is made from drying the fish and grinding it into a fine powder. Because there is very little moisture left in the meal it provides a very concentrated form of protein – we use it to get higher protein levels than we could from using wet fish alone.
Look to the type of Carbohydrate:
It is not possible to produce a
kibble type food without using carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are needed to create the biscuit like texture of
kibble. It is also worth noting that
carbohydrate provides an excellent source of energy for the dogs. However grain free products are less inclined
to cause an allergic or food intolerance response so look for foods that use
carbohydrates other than grain such as pea, potato, sweet potato or cassava
What the different sections mean.
Analytical Constituents: This refers to the levels of nutrient in the food. These cover protein, fat, fibre and ash. The use of the word “Crude” refers to the technique used for measuring the figures
Crude protein figures are obtained
by a chemical analysis of the nitrogen levels which are used to estimate the
amount of protein in the food
Crude fat is measured by dissolving the
ingredients in a solvent, evaporating the solvent and analysing what remains to
provide an estimate of the level of fat in the food
Crude fibre measurements are obtained diluting
the food with acid and alkali to dissolve many of the contents and then
measuring what remains
Ash: This does not mean ash has been added but is a measure of the minerals. The food is incinerated at very high temperatures burning off all except the inorganic matter – the remaining inorganic matter is called the ash. It can also be described as ‘incinerated residue' or 'inorganic matter'
Composition: Simply put this is the ingredients
list. These are listed in order of
inclusion with the most plentiful first.
Generally speaking the first 5 listed will be the vast majority of the product. It is only compulsory to show the percentage
level of ingredients mentioned elsewhere on the pack. Some brands claim they do not show percentages
in order to prevent competitors copying their food. That may or may not be true but if a product
is not showing percentages, at least for the main ingredients, then we would
worry that they may be trying to hide low levels of inclusion. If you have high quantities of good quality ingredients
then why would you not want to shout about that?
Whilst this may sound bad – why add stuff – additives are not necessarily bad. Vitamins and minerals added to the food are classed as additives and are essential nutrients. However other additives are used to add flavour or colourings, and that is generally less good – if you are using good levels of high quality protein then flavourings should not be needed – as for colourings why – dogs don’t eat with their eyes and the colourings are rarely natural.
Trace elements: A sub section of the additives, trace elements are minerals needed by the body in very small quantities. Ideally look for chelated minerals – these are bound to an organic molecule improving the body’s ability to absorb them.
Allergies and Food Intolerances
Given the levels of discussion of allergy / food intolerance it is worth briefly discussing these. Allergies and Food intolerances are often lumped together but they are different. An allergy is the result of a response by the body’s immune system. Food intolerances are more common and are a response from the digestive system. Food is often seen as the primary source of allergic responses in dogs and it is often the case. However the most common cause of allergic response are a reaction to fleas, followed by allergic reactions to inhaled substances and thirdly reaction to foods.
reading of the ingredients listed will be essential in managing the elimination
diet. And if in doubt about any
ingredient – contact the company, they will know and any decent company will be
happy to answer your questions