Dogs have complex nutritional needs, individual calorie requirements and sometimes the need for specific dietary support for health conditions. You want to feed your dog the best food for her health and longevity. But with all the dog food options out there and all the marketing, advice, fad diets and contradictory recommendations, it's hard to choose. By understanding what pet food labels communicate and by working with your veterinarian or dog nutritionist to decide how best to feed your dog, you can compare options effectively and grade them to select the most appropriate products.
Consider only dog foods that contain the word "feeding" in their nutritional adequacy statements and that state they're nutritionally balanced for your dog's current life stage. Also, stick to products that specifically state they meet AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile guidelines. These are important indications that a food is an "A" choice for your pet.
Give points to dog foods with healthy, all-natural ingredients topping the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of prevalence by weight. Keep in mind, though, that this doesn't mean a food is made up primarily of the first ingredient; there's more of that ingredient than any other one, but the others taken together can outweigh the first. Look for the qualifications "100%" or "all" if you want a food that contains one ingredient.
Rate dog foods higher if they don't provide protein from byproducts or meal. While these ingredients can be a good source of protein, they aren't always; plus, they're made from some rather unappealing animal parts that aren't typically eaten by humans.
Examine the ingredient list on the label for butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), ethoxyquin or similar items. These are synthetic preservatives, and while they're accepted as safe at the quantities used, some are concerned about negative health effects. Give bonus points to dog foods that use natural preservatives.
Shy away from dog foods that claim they're "made with" an ingredient you want, as in "made with real chicken." This term is generally used as a marketing ploy to disguise low levels of natural food. Legally, a pet food need contain only 3 percent of an ingredient for the label to claim it is "made with" that ingredient.
Subtract points for use of the word "flavor" on dog food labels, as in "real beef flavor dogs love." This is another example of misleading terminology. The food probably contains only a small amount of byproduct.
Consider the calorie content in dog foods. To be an truly good food, a particular product should supply adequate balanced nutrition with the right number of calories. Your veterinarian should advise you on calorie intake. Even if a food is nutritionally balanced, it may still provide too many calories and lead to weight gain.
Confirm that any dog food you're considering doesn't contain any allergens or ingredients you prefer not to feed your pet, or that your veterinarian suggests avoiding. If a product will cause allergic reactions or exacerbate a medical condition, it obviously fails as a possible choice for your dog.
Award bonus points to any dog food that provides a phone number or email address for the manufacturer on the label. By law, the manufacturer must print its name and physical address on the label. Those that take the extra step to include more direct contact information are usually more receptive to interacting with their consumers. Also, you should have an easier time getting a reliable answer to any questions you may have about their products.