How to Read a Label
To stay healthy, dogs and cats need to eat a balanced diet. If they don’t get enough of certain nutrients – or if they get too much – it can lead to health problems.
To be sure a dry food contains the balanced nutrition your pet needs, you have to know how to read the label.
If you’re in a hurry, you can find a quick dry dog food comparison here.
What to Look For on the Label
Three nutrient groups make up about 70% of a typical pet food formula: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates. A pet food label is broken down into two sections: the Guaranteed Analysis, which gives you the proportion (%) of the various nutrient groups, and the Ingredient List, which outlines the ingredients that make up the formula – in order of decreasing content.
Dogs and cats need specific percentages of all these nutrient groups, depending on their age, weight, activity, breed and overall health. Here are the norms for an average adult pet as set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO):
(All Natural Medium Breed Supreme)
|Crude protein min.||26.0%|
|Crude fat min.||16.0%|
|Crude fibre max.||4.5%|
Adult Dog minimum:
Protein: 18%; Fat: 5%; Phosphorous: 0.5%; Calcium: 0.6% + other vitamins/minerals in small proportions.
Protein: 22%; Fat: 8%; Phosphorous: 0.8%; Calcium: 1.0% + other vitamins/minerals in small proportions.
Adult Cat minimum:
Protein: 26%; Fat: 9%; Phosphorous: 0.5%; Calcium: 0.6% + other vitamins/minerals in small proportions.
Protein: 30%; Fat: 9%; Phosphorous: 0.8%; Calcium: 1.0% + other vitamins/minerals in small proportions.
As you may have noticed, carbohydrates are not listed in the Guaranteed Analysis, but are, nonetheless, very important as they provide the energy required by an active dog or cat. In the Nutrience described to the left, carbohydrates make up about 30% of the formula.
Ingredient List (All Natural Medium Breed Supreme)
Let’s now take a closer look at the specific ingredients that make up our nutrient profile, compared with that of a typical dog food:
Proteins: Instrumental for growing animals and used to build the body’s tissues, including strong muscles.
Fats: Functioning as a long-term energy source, fats also contribute to the health of skin and coat as well as adding flavour to the food.
Carbohydrates: Used to provide the daily energy your pet needs.
Antioxidants: Delay the effect of aging on the body’s cells and ultimately lower the risk of illness and disease.
Fruits & Vegetables: Added as a balanced source of carbohydrates, vitamins/minerals, antioxidants and fibre.
PLUS: Vitamins & Minerals
The Order of Ingredients
Ingredients appear on an ingredient list in order of weight, including their moisture. The first ingredient on the list has the greatest weight, and so on. So, the first ingredient makes up the biggest percentage of the food, right? Not always! Chicken is an ingredient that includes a great deal of moisture. Once this moisture disappears (during the cooking process), it ends up being only between 25% and 30% of its original weight. It is, nonetheless, listed using the original weight, including moisture, so you actually get very little chicken from this ingredient. Chicken meal, on the other hand, is simply the powdered form of chicken – therefore, no moisture, and plenty of chicken protein! If the term “chicken meal” appears first, you know chicken is a substantial portion of the formula. The 1st ingredient of most Nutrience formulas is chicken meal – an excellent, digestible protein source with plenty of nutrients.
Watch Out for Ingredient-Splitting
Ingredient-Splitting is a method some companies use to maintain a desired ingredient as number #1 on their ingredient list. For example, a typical dog food has a chicken protein source as its first ingredient, while three types of the same grain are listed second, third and fourth. This grain could be, for example, rice, white rice and ground rice – all essentially the same ingredient. These grains would typically make up around 10% each of the formula, for a total of 30%, compared to an average chicken protein of 25%. In the final analysis, the rice outweighs the chicken, but ends up lower on the list because of “ingredient-splitting”. Nutrience does not practise ingredient-splitting.
A Truly Balanced Diet is a Naturally Balanced Diet
Since dogs and cats eat meat in nature, some people believe they should eat a 100% meat diet. This is not accurate because in nature, other components enter their diets. The stomach contents of prey – grains, grasses and other components – balance an animal’s diet. But we have to do this for our pets with the food we choose for them.
That’s why a properly balanced pet diet includes fruits, vegetables and grains – to truly mimic nature. A carnivore prefers meat, but actually ends up consuming so much more, and is technically an omnivore. Your dog or cat needs fruits, vegetables and grains for a strong immune system and long life!
The quality of the various ingredients found in pet food formulas is important, as higher-end ingredients typically provide better nutrients and tend to positively contribute to overall health and well-being. There are several key words to look for: By-products, such as poultry or chicken by-products, are meat processing leftovers that are lower quality protein sources and are tougher to digest. Fillers, such as corn bran or soybean mill run, are food processing waste products that bulk up a food to satisfy your pet’s hunger, but contribute little to his nutrition. Glutens, such as corn gluten meal or wheat gluten, are a form of protein that bump up protein levels, but are of less nutritional value than better quality proteins like meats and meat meals. Nutrience contains no by-products, no fillers and no added glutens. No bad anything.