Don’t Kill Your Dog: Understand The Dog Food Ingredients He’s Eating

By Kelly Marshall

It is often confusing when you go to buy dog food to try to identify what is important on the label and why some foods are priced so much higher or so much lower than the rest. It is important to buy a good quality food that meets your dog’s needs, but the quality of the food is not always guaranteed by the price. Many of the very high priced dog foods or ‘gourmet’ foods are no more nutritionally balanced than the premium foods offered by large or small dog food companies. Typically the very low priced dog foods should be avoided as they are largely made up of filler type ingredients and little protein and very little nutritional value.

What’s On The Label?

The ingredient portion of the label must list all the food items and additives that are contained in the food. In most developed countries the items in dog food are controlled by a federal agency to ensure they are appropriate for consumption and are not a danger to the animals. The substances in dog food must by generally recognized as safe, or GRAS. No diseased meat, improperly processed meat or vegetable material or other items may be used in the food.

The items listed on the ingredient portion are listed by natural weight at time of processing, starting with the heaviest item and working down. That means that the meat is weighed in its moist, natural state just like the soy meal or ground wheat will be listed in their natural dry state on the ingredient list. Since processing removes most of the water, especially in dry food, the first ingredient on the list may not be the predominant ingredient in the final dry kibble. In reality most dry foods will list beef, chicken or meat as the first ingredient but on full analysis of the final dry ingredient there will be far more of the wheat fillers in each kibble. Avoid dog foods that list animal or meat by-products as the main ingredients as these have almost no nutritional value for the dog.


Since there is almost no way to know how much of the original ingredient is in the final result the information on the ingredient label is not as useful as it may seem. The better information that is provided on the label is the actual analysis of the feed, which is based on the final product and its actual breakdown.

The analysis will list the crude protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. Generally a dog should have between 21 and 26% protein in the diet depending on their age and level of activity. The more active a dog is the more protein they will need to sustain energy levels. Puppies and senior dogs should not be fed high protein diets as it can cause problems in puppies with bone growth and may cause excessive weight gain in older, more sedate dogs.

How much to feed?

If you are feeding a good quality premium dry dog food it is important to follow the feeding recommendations. Poor quality foods will have you feed more and will lead to increased mess to clean up. Premium dry foods usually are fed by current body weight of the dog as well as the growth stage of the dog. Be sure to feed the correct food for the correct growth stage to optimize the benefits to the dog.

If you are in doubt about the correct feeding amounts or are concerned that your dog may be gaining or losing weight due to the food immediately seek the advice of your vet. Often rapid weight loss or gain has nothing to do with the food but may be a serious health concern or even a genetic condition.

About the Author: Vets also recommend feeding your dog from an elevated dog feeder to reduce the amount of air ingested when eating.


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