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With so many dog food brands on the market it is hard to tell which one is the healthiest for your dog. You can pour through online dog food reviews, read about the top 10 dog foods, and study dog food comparison charts but these can just leave you more confused. Ultimately, the best way to ensure you are feeding your dog the healthiest food is to read the dog food nutrition label. Dog food nutrition labels come in three sections: The guaranteed analysis, ingredients, and feeding instructions. There are specific things to look for on each section that can help you make an informed choice on which food to buy.
Assess Your Dog’s Needs
Before you begin you need to understand what your dog’s nutritional needs are. These needs are determined by age, lifestyle, and breed. They can vary greatly so you want to make sure you are purchasing a food that will improve your dog’s health. The best way to learn about these needs is to consult with your veterinarian, that way you know what to look for when reading the labels. Once you know this you can begin comparing different foods and finding the right one for your pup.
The Guaranteed Analysis
Dog food is regulated by the government so dog foods have required minimum nutrients. Crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture are required to be listed in the guaranteed analysis. The term “crude” refers to the testing method that measures the percentage of the nutrient in the food. Crude does not measure the quality or determine the source of the nutrient. So the guaranteed analysis is best for simply gauging content.
Protein, fat, and fiber needs vary greatly from dog to dog. Some dogs, like puppies, race dogs, and working dogs, need higher protein than older dogs, sedentary dogs, and dogs with certain digestive issues. Fat is essential for a shiny coat and for dogs that are nursing, but too much fat can make your dog gain weight. Fiber is also essential to keeping your dog regular but too much fiber can cause stomach issues and nutrient loss. So make sure the food you are buying meets the needs suggested by your veterinarian.
The vitamins and minerals are also noted on the guaranteed analysis. These vary greatly between dog food brands depending on the ingredients. Certain health issues can be caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example if your dog is low energy, they may need more vitamin B or pantothenic acid. If they are losing too much weight they may have a choline or folic acid deficiency. Using the guaranteed analysis portion of the nutritional label can help you find a dog food with a nutritional profile that matches your dog’s needs.
The Ingredients List
The ingredients list is exactly that, a list of the ingredients contained in the dog food. The ingredients list is a little easier to navigate when comparing dog food brands. You want to make sure the first ingredient is always a type of meat, otherwise you may be buying a dog food with a lot of filler. You want to make sure that the ingredients are whole foods with minimal processing. If you see the words “by-products,” “processed,” “meal,” or any unfamiliar chemical names it is probably not the best quality dog food, so you should avoid buying that brand.
The ingredients list is also where you should look for any specific intolerances or allergies. You can also look for things that might exacerbate any pre-existing health conditions. For example, if your dog is diabetic you need to avoid things with simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates like white rice or syrup can increase blood sugar production causing a myriad of damaging side effects for diabetic dogs.
An often overlooked area of the nutrition label is the feeding instructions panel. The most important thing to look for on the dog food panel is the food measurement to the nutrient value. If the measurements seems a little high, then your dog is not going to get adequate nutrition from a healthy amount of food. Also when you do find one with a good balance, if you are not feeding your dog the recommended amount they may end up either overweight or malnourished. These recommendations should also include things about the dog’s size, age, and lifestyle. If they do not, it is not a quality dog brand. So do not overlook this important section of the nutrition label.
Don’t Be Fooled By Labeling
One more important part of labeling is in the words “natural”, “healthy”, “holistic,” and “organic.” The only one of these labels that is regulated is organic and even then it needs to be labeled as certified organic by a trusted organic oversight group. Dog food manufacturers have to meet certain requirements to be certified organic, however they do not to be labeled as holistic, natural, or healthy. Manufacturers can use the labels freely and so unless you are reading the nutritional label, you cannot be guaranteed any of these things.
Knowing how to read the nutritional label of your dog’s food is the best way to guarantee you are getting the best quality food for them. If you work with your veterinarian to learn the specific health needs of your dog and then use your label reading skills to conduct a thorough dog food analysis, you will find a great option for your dog. As always though, if you are changing your dog’s food, introduce the food slowly and make sure to monitor them for any changes in health and behavior.