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How to Read Nutrition Panels on Pet Foods

by Jane McDonald May 22, 2017

How to Read Nutrition Panels on Pet Foods

The nutrition panel on pet food and treats are intended to be a tool for consumers to compare products easily.  In reality, that text-packed box is often a source of confusion not clarity.  Even if you’ve mastered deciphering this information on human consumables, these products are for your dog.  What should you be looking for and what should you be avoiding? Isle of Dogs encourages you to read on to take the mystery out of dog food Nutritional Panels and how to break down this complex but important information.

What to Look For

  • Statement of Nutritional Adequacy: Many pet food makers model regulations set by the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that establish the minimum amount of nutrients needed to provide a complete and balanced diet.
  • Protein & Fat Content: According to the National Research Council at least 10% of your dog’s daily diet (by weight) should be protein and 5.5% should be fat.
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Indicates minimum or maximum levels (not exact) of nutrients such as protein, fat, fiber and moisture container in the product.
  • Ingredients vs. Nutrients: Ingredients are the vehicles that provide nutrients, while nutrients are food components that support life and are metabolically useful. For example, lamb is an ingredient that provides nutrients such as protein, fatty acids and vitamins.
  • Ingredients: These are listed in order of weight.  A good rule of thumb is to look for the first named source of fat in the ingredient list.  That, along with anything listed before it, make up the main portion of the food, other items are present in much smaller amounts to add flavor, function as preservatives or because of their dietary benefits (i.e. probiotics, vitamins and minerals).

    What to Avoid

      • Making Purchase Decisions on Marketing TermsAlone: Unfortunately, whether marketing claims on the package are true or not varies by brand, and their primary purpose is to entice consumers to buy. Be sure you understand the marketing claims on the packaging even if it means calling their customer service team.
      • Ingredients such as Propylene Glycol, Corn Syrup, and MSG:
        • Propylene GlycolUsed to reduce moisture and prevent bacteria growth, this ingredient can do more harm than good.  Just like humans, you dog needs intestinal bacteria and moisture to help absorb and digest food.  However this ingredient can decrease both good and bad bacteria and moisture.
        • Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is used to “sweeten” dog and human foods but can lead to weight gain, diabetes, hyperactivity, and even a change in mental behavior.Some studies also claim this is addictive, so the more your dog has, the more they will crave.  (Eek!)
        • MSG (Monosodium Glutamate): A common flavor additive meant to enhance low quality and flavor ingredients, this is a big no-no for human and pet consumables.  Look for these ambiguous ingredients as “MSG” will never be listed in ingredients:
          • Hydrolyzed protein, protein isolate, texturized protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extracts, soy extracts or concentrate, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, monopotassium glutamate, glutamate or glutanic acid, disodium inosinate or guaylate.
      • Products With Added Salt: Although necessary for human and canine digestion, high quality dog food ingredients will contain enough salt that it should not have to be added.

        Whew! While this info is a lot to digest, understanding your dog’s nutritional needs and how the food choices you make on their behalf size up is the first step to ensuring a healthy, beautiful life for your pet.

        Jane McDonald
        Jane McDonald


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