There's lots of information out there teaching us human folk how to read our own nutrition labels. They can be a bit confusing if you aren't sure what to look for and what it all means. Canned pet food for your dog is no different. You want to give your dog wholesome food that supplies all the nutrients she requires to stay happy and healthy, but sometimes when you peruse the label information on commercially canned dog food, you're not entirely sure what you're looking at. Some basic guidelines help you determine whether a canned dog food is perfect for your pet.
Look for "all" or "100%" in reference to the canned dog food. The can's label can use these descriptors only if the food is entirely made of an ingredient, plus perhaps a small amount of water, decharacterizing agents, preservatives or flavoring agents. Keep in mind, though, that a diet comprised of only meat will be nutritionally deficient.
Confirm that the word "feeding" is used in the life stage claim, which is included in the nutritional adequacy statement on the can. This indicates the dog food was clinically demonstrated to be nutritionally sufficient for the age of dog it's labeled for.
Peruse the label to see whether the dog food you're considering says the product meets nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles. If so, the manufacturer has demonstrated that the food is nutritionally adequate per the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
Read through the list of ingredients, which are listed in order of predominance by weight. (In other words, there is more of the first listed ingredient than any other listed ingredient.) That doesn't mean the dog food is mostly made from from the first ingredient; subsequent ingredients, when added together, may make up more of the food than the first. Also, water adds to the weight of individual ingredients, which may earn them a higher spot on the list.
Search for the words "byproducts" and "meal" in the ingredients list if you prefer to feed your dog a diet without such inclusions. Byproducts haven't been heat-processed and may include organs, feet, heads and other animal parts not generally consumed by humans; byproducts often contain high-quality protein, though. "Meal" refers to byproducts that have been heat-processed.
Check the ingredients list for butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), ethoxyquin and "derivative" or similar terms. These indicate the use of synthetic preservatives, which you may want to avoid. They are generally accepted to be safe, but there is some controversy surrounding the health effects of some artificial preservatives, including ethoxyquin.
Review the dog food's guaranteed analysis, which breaks down the primary components by weight. Canned foods, which are wet, typically have a moisture content of around 75 percent. You'll also see the crude fat, crude protein and crude fiber content, and sometimes the percentages of other nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorus.
See whether the canned food is labeled a "dinner." If it is, it must contain at least 25 percent of the specified dinner ingredient(s) by weight.
Notice if the label says the food was made "with" an ingredient, as in, "Made with real beef." By law, a pet food need only contain a minimum of 3 percent of an ingredient by weight to be included in this way.
- Talk to your veterinarian about your dog's nutritional needs. Ask what nutrients she needs and how many calories she should be eating every day. If you're not entirely sure about your canned dog food selection, bring a can in to your vet for an opinion.
- Be wary of the term "flavor," as in "Real chicken flavor." It doesn't mean there's any actual chicken in the food, but only that some chicken byproduct was added in a sufficient way to "impart a distinctive characteristic."
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