Understanding the dog food label

Food, Fitness and how to keep them healthy.

Postby Jaime » January 20th, 2006, 2:16 pm


Understanding Dog Foods and Dog Food Labels
Much of the information on this page comes from the book
"The Consumer's Guide to Dog Food: What's in Dog Food, Why It's there and How to Choose the Best Food For Your Dog"
Liz Palika
You can purchase "The Consumers Guide to Dog Food" from
Reprinted with permission

Every dog food label must include specific information, which is usually divided into two parts:

1. Principal Display Panel
2. Information Panels

Let's start with the Principal Display Panel. This is very straightforward information like the following:

1. Brand Name (i.e., Iams, Purina, Kal-Kan, etc.)
2. Identity Statement which describes the contents of the food (i.e., Chicken Rice, Mushroom and Gravy, etc.)
3. Designator of what class the food is (i.e., Growth, Maintenance, Lite, etc.) and Category of dog (Puppy, Adult, Senior, etc.).
4. Quantity of contents identifies the weight of contents (i.e., 5 pounds, 20 pounds, 40 pounds)

In summary, the Principal Display Panel is like the name of your town. It identifies where you are, but it doesn't tell you how to get around. For a road map of the food, you need to get able to read the stuff on the Information Panel.

Now let's talk about the Information Panel. This tells you about the actual food content.

1. General analysis (shows the "as is" percentages of the food's constituents).
2. Ingredients list (shows ingredients in descending order, by weight).
3. Nutritional adequacy claim (identifies specific life stage for which food is intended and whether animal feeding tests based on AAFCO procedures were used).
4. Feeding instructions (how much of the food to give your dog).
The Guaranteed Analysis on the Information Panel of the dog food label lists the minimum levels of crude protein and fat and the maximum levels of fiber and water. "Crude" refers to the total protein content, not necessarily the amount of protein that is actually digestible. What this means is that this is ONLY a crude protein percentage, and fat amounts are rough guides. The actual amounts depend upon the ingredients and their quality.

The amount of moisture in a food is important, especially when you are comparing foods. A food containing 24% protein and 10% moisture would have the same protein per serving than a food with 24% protein listed on the label but only 6% moisture. The thing to consider here is that your are buying water instead of food. This is why it is important to consider the saturation point of the moisture.

The AAFCO guidelines are formulated on a dry matter basis, so that all foods can be compared equally.

can be compared equally.
Guaranteed analysis:- is only a very small part of the nutritional picture. It is also important to note that Phosphorus is directly related to the exacerbation of Renal Disease. Renal Disease is the #1 cause of death in dogs!

Ingredients are listed in descending order, by weight. However, the listings may be misleading. Suppose beef is listed as the first ingredient, causing you to think it is the primary ingredient. Look again. If it's followed by wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat middlings and so on, the combined wheat products may very well total much more than the beef.

Many of the artificial colorings used in dog foods have been associated with potential problems. FD&C red No. 40 is a possible carcinogen but is widely used to keep meat looking fresh. Blue No. 2 is thought to increase dogs' sensitivity to viruses. Another color that is commonly used but has not been fully tested is Yellow No. 5. Both Red No. 2 and Violet No. 1 were banned by the FDA in the mid-seventies as possible carcinogens but prior to that were widely used in pet foods.

Interesting as it may sound, the food color used in today's manufacture of foods is not for the dogs. It is to satisfy the dog's owner--YOU, THE CONSUMER!

There's More!

Sugar: is not an ingredient most people would expect to find in dog food, but many foods do, in fact, contain sugar, especially the semi-moist brands. In fact, some semi-moist foods contain as much as 15% sugar. The sugar adds palatability and moisture, and aids in bacterial contamination prevention. Dogs do not need this amount of sugar, which can stress the pancreas and adrenal glands, causing diabetes. Completely devoid of protein, vitamins and minerals, sugar is, literally, empty calories.

Salt: is added to many foods as a meat preservative. Too much salt can irritate the digestive system and can cause a mineral imbalance because the salt itself can upset the calcium / potassium balance in your dog's system. Too much salt can be life threatening for a dog.


The presence of some or all of the ingredients which are the most commonly used dog food ingredients, or an assortment of these ingredients, doesn't necessarily mean that your dog is going to be well nourished. The ingredients must be in the right combinations and of good quality--both before and after processing.

Biological Value - The biological values of the ingredients are a key to good nutrition. The biological value of a food is the measurement of the amino acid completeness of the proteins contained by the food. Eggs are considered a wonderful source of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids.

Eggs 100%
Fish Meal 92%
Other Meat's 78%
Milk 78%
Wheat 69%
Wheat Gluten 40%
Corn 54%

Neither wheat nor corn would be an adequate diet alone, but fed together with one or two meat-based proteins capable of supplying the missing amino acids, they could supply an adequate diet.

According to the definition in the 27th edition of "Dorland's Medical Dictionary" "Nutrition" is "the sum of processes involved in taking in nutrients and assimilating and utilizing them".

Nutrients are (Fat, Protein, Carbohydrates, Vitamins, Minerals, and Water) necessary for the growth, normal functioning and Maintaining of life. The two main points are:

So ingredients are only as important as the nutrients contain, how good they taste to the pet, and their digestibility.

Think of ingredients as a big truck and nutrients as produce the truck's carrying. If the truck is trying to go into a tunnel, but it won't fit ( not digestible), it's not going to be able to drop off its load, This would be a poor ingredient to put into a food.

If the truck goes through the tunnel, but only has lettuce in the bed when it could have fit valuable tomatoes, potatoes and onions, then it wasn't a very efficient load. This would be an example of how one pet food manage nutrients within one ingredient (truck).

If the truck isn't allowed into the tunnel because the person at the toll booth doesn't lie the drive, then it's all in vain. the ruck could have the best produce in the world, but it can't get in. This is an example of a dog or cat rejecting the food (palatability).

Digestibility of Food - Digestibility refers to the quantity of the food that is actually absorbed by the dog's system. This can be obtained by contacting the manufacture directly. If your selected manufacture does not have this information you can calculate it yourself. This is how you can figure it out. Weigh the amount of food that you feed and the weight of the stool for several days. Divide the weight of the food into the weight of the stool and you will have the percentage of digestibility. It is important to note here that the stool that you are going to use MUST be dried to the same moisture content as the food you feed if you want to be close. You will also need a little more math than just add, subtract, divide and multiply if you want to be close to an accurate answer. The more food fully metabolized, the higher the digestibility figure.

Quality Before Processing - Understanding the definition of an ingredient is not enough. Many grains grown in poor soil will lack needed vitamins and minerals, and, unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in the United States. Grains and vegetables can be polluted with fertilizer residues and pesticides of various kinds.

Ingredients can also be soiled with mold, mildew, and fungus. The quality of meat can also be suspect. We have all heard stories or had personal experiences of finding bits of hair and other unsavory additives in our hamburger, but the quality of meats used for dog foods is much lower. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said that there is non-mandatory federal inspection of ingredients used in pet food manufacturing.

However, some states do inspect manufacturing plants, especially those producing canned pet foods. In the majority of states it is legal (and common practice) for pet food manufactures to use what are known as "4-D" meat sources--animals that are dead, dying, diseased, or disabled when they arrive at the slaughterhouse. Dr. P. F. McGargle, a Veterinarian and a former federal meat inspector, believes that feeding slaughterhouse wastes to pet animals increases their chances of getting cancer and other degenerative diseases. He said, "Those wastes include moldy, rancid or spoiled processed meats, as well as tissues too severely riddled with cancer to be eaten by people."

In Summary - Dog food labels do contain a lot of information, and learning how to decipher them can take some time. However, the time to do that is not when you're in the aisle looking at all the foods available. Instead, study the labels at home so that you can look at them more thoroughly. Most dog food manufacturers provide pet stores and Veterinarians with boxes of dog food samples. These are yours for the asking. If you get a variety of samples from different companies, you can then study those labels at home, at your leisure.
As you study, keep in mind that there is also a lot of information not freely given on the label such as the quality of the ingredients used. As we know, that information can be difficult to come by and you may need to rely upon the recommendation of experts, including your Veterinarian. You have to consider the price, quality, and reputation of the manufacturer. Also remember that at the present time NO pet food manufacture makes a "Breed Specific" pet food.


Some of this information came off the dog food bags, cans, etc. No one company or distributor has compiled or produced a chart that I know of which compares the major brands of dog foods at this time and has made it FREE for you to use.

These charts are meant to give you some idea as to what goes into the food we feed our pets. These charts are NOT meant to tell you what to buy or feed your pet. Their purpose is to show you what goes into dog food, and that is all. Only you can determine what to feed your pet!!
(These are the terms used in the Dog Food Comparison Charts)

Grains Amaranth - Is considered to be the father to all grains that are currently grown. It is considered to be a superior source of carbohydraes, minerals and rich flavor
Corn Gluten Meal - The by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch which is the dried residue after the removal of the bran, germ, and starch.
Alfalfa Meal - The finely ground product of the alfalfa plant.
Semolina - The endosperm of durum wheat is called semolina, high protein used in fine pasta.

Barley - At least 80% good quality barley; no more than 3% heat damaged kernels, 6 percent foreign material, 20% other grains or 10% wild oats.
Barley Flour - The soft finely ground barley meal obtained from the milling of barley.
Ground Corn (also called Corn Meal or Corn Chop) - The entire corn kernel ground or chopped. It must contain no more than 4% foreign material.
Brewer's Rice - The small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice.
Brown Rice - The unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.
Soybean Meal - By-product of the production of soybean oil.
Grain Sorghum - Sorghum is a member of the Grass family. There are many different varieties. They can be clasified into 4 groups.
Grain Sorghums
Grass Sorghums
Sweet Sorghums
Broomcorn is grown for the brush or brances of the seed cluster. The fibers are used in the manufacture of brooms.
Sweet Sorghums of sorgos, have a sweet juicy stem. These are used to produce sorghum syrup. Animal Feeds and silage can also be made for the sweet sorghums.
Grass Sorghums are grown for green feed and hay but can be found in Kansas fields of weeds. Two types are Sudan and Johnson grass.
Grain Sorghums are grown especially for the rounded, starchy seeds. The grain Serves as A substitue for corn in feeding animals. Some grain sorghums grow as much as 15 feet high. The entire plant can be used to make silage. World wide, common grain sorghums include milo, durra and kafir.

Ground Grain Sorghum
- Made by grinding grains of sorghum.
Cereal Food Fines - The by-product of breakfast cereal production which consists of particles of the foods.
Flaxseed - Is also known as Linseed. It is very high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Once a container of this is open it will spoil rapidly. It is best to keep it under refrigeration.
Linseed Meal - The residue of flaxseed oil production, ground into a meal.
Mesquite Bean Meal- This is full of essential nutrients, helps regulate blood sugar, and is an excellent source of carbohydrates.
Oatmeal - Is a heart smart food that is an excellent fiber source and is clinically proven to lower cholesterol.

Meats and Meat by-Products
Meat or Meat Based - Meat is the clean flesh of slaughtered cattle, swine, sheep or goats. The flesh can include striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heskeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart or esophagus, overlying fat, and the portions of skin, sinew, nerves, and blood vessels normally found with that flesh. This is what some people would call on the hoof or "wet - state". This applies equal to all livestock whether it be Beef, Chicken, Lamb, etc.,,,. After processing these meats can loose up to 80% of their weight. Thus when looking at the ingredients list you might find it as number one but in truly reality after processing it will fall between 4, 5 or even 6 on a ture ingredients list.
Meat Meal - Rendered meal made from animal tissue. It cannot contain hair, hoof, blood, horn, hide trimmings, stomach or rumen (the first stomach) contents, or manure except for amounts that may not be avoided during processing. It cannot contain any added foreimay not be avoided during processing. It cannot contain any added foreign matter and may not contain more than 14% indigestible materials. Indigestible crude protein in the meal cannot be more than 11%. Meals are also use after processing and give a more ture actual weight on the list of ingredients for placement over whole meats or "wet - state" meats.
Meat By-Product - Clean parts of slaughtered animals, not including meat. These parts include lungs, kidneys, brain, spleen, liver, bone, blood, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue, stomach, and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, teeth, hooves or horns. Only 14% may be indigestible residue and no more than 11% indigestible crude protein.
Chicken Liver - Organic meat , highly usable protein source containing vitamins A , K and Foliate. It also contains minerals Phosphorus and potassium. Many Amino Acids are also found in Chicken Liver.
Poultry By-Product - Clean parts of slaughtered poultry, such as heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, feet, abdomen, intestines, and heads and must not contain feces or foreign matter except that which is unavoidable and then only in trace amounts.
Poultry By-Product Meal - Made up of ground, rendered, and clean parts of slaughtered poultry, such as undeveloped eggs, necks, feet, and intestines. It does not contain feathers except those which are unavoidable during processing.
Dehydrated Eggs - Whole poultry eggs which are dried.
Meat and Bone Meal - Rendered from meat and bone, but it does not include hair, blood, horn, hoof, manure, hide trimmings, stomach, or rumen contents except that which is unavoidable during processing. It does not include any foreign matter. Like meat meal, only 14% may be indigestible residue and no more than 11% indigestible crude protein.
Whole Fresh eggs - This is the Highest rated source of usable Protein, and rates above all meats and meat products. Shells are a great source of Calcium Carbonate good for strong healthy teeth.
Beef Tallow - This is the Very Hard white fatty substance which is rock hard and looks like a bone. Most dogs have great difficulty in digesting this substance.
Animal By-Product Meal - Consists of rendered animal tissue which does not fit in any of the other categories. It cannot contain hoof, hide trimmings, extra hair, horn, stomach or rumen contents, manure or any foreign matter.
Animal Digest - A powder or liquid made by taking clean under-composed animal tissue and breaking it down using chemical and or emblematic hydrolysis. It does not contain horn, teeth, hair, hooves, or feathers except in trace amounts which are unavoidable, Digest names must be descriptive of their contents....that is, chicken digest must be made from chicken and beef digest made from beef.
Fish Meal - Clean, dried, and ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings which may or may not have the oil removed. It is also considered an excelent source for Omega 3 fatty acids.
Salmon - Excellent source of protein and fatty acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6.

Fruits and Veggies
Turnip Greens
- Contains some calcium, Omega-3 and vitamin A & C.
Tomatoes - Abundant in carotenoids, beta-carotene, and vitamins A & C. They are also an acidifier and a fiber source.
Peas and Carrots - Are used as an excellent source of vitamins and minerals they also provide a flavor that both dogs and cats love.
Oranges - Contain the pure Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) good for immune support, reduces cholesterol, powerful anti-cancer tool. A natural preservative and a digestive cleanser, The peel contains oils that stimulate the immune system ( used in cancer treatment.)
Grapefruit - Has calcium, high in vitamin C & A, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K, carbohydrates, and increases the effectiveness of nutrient absorption and potency of other fruits and vegetables when combined. It acts as a preservative and lowers cholesterol. Combines with orange to form and effective cancer fighting tool.
Beet Pulp - The dried residue from production of sugar from sugar beets.

Misc Biotin - Vitamin essential to cellular metabolism, it helps metabolize fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Biotin prevents anemia, muscular pain, and skin disorders. It also helps prevent heart disease. Is a concentrated, non-processed natural food source of active enzymes, probiotics cultures, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and various other micronutrient.
Dried Whey - The thin part of milk separated from the curd, or thicker part, when milk coagulates. Dried whey is this milk part, dried, and is not less than 11% protein or less than 61% other grains or 10% wild oats.
Probiotics and Probiotics - This is the natural micro-flora like enzymes and friendly bacteria that help in the digestive process. They provide for more efficient utilization of food. It is important to note that they are also heat sensitive.
Peanut Hulls - The outer hull of the peanut shell.
Dried Kelp or Dried Seaweed - The maximum percentage of salt and minimum percentage of potassium and iodine must be declared.
Ginkgo Biloba - This is a rejuvenating herb that helps with memoryh and mental functions of older animals by increasing blood flow to the brain. It is also believed to help improve hearing and equilibrium.
Glucosamine - This is made up of sugars (glucose) and amino acids (glutamine). It is the general believed that it also help in the treatment of osteoarthritis by helping to develop health bones and cartilage.
Fossil Mineral Flour - Finely ground Coral and Fossilized rock. These tiny crystals are eaten by parasites in the intestinal tract and lead to their expulsion from the body. It is one of natures ways of eliminating parasites. Another is Garlic
Lecithin - A Rich Nutrient that lowers Blood Cholesterol levels. It is believed to that it strengthens arteries thus controlling blood pressure. It also helps to reduce the fat content within arterial walls.
Blue-Green Algae - Humectant, Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, High in B-12, all essential amino acids, sulfonolipids and glycolipids, diverse spectrum of vitamins, contains a 95% usable protein complex, 17 bata-carotenoids, thousands of enzymes, and a vast mineral array.
Olive Oil - Is monounsaturated, one of the finest sources of fat and lowers blood cholesterol especially the most harmful variety. The useful fat in olive oil helps carry important vitamins through your pet's body like A, D, E and K.
Apple Cider Vinegar - Contains cholesterol-reducing pectin and the perfect balance of 19 minerals. It contains 93 different components that can help regulate blood pressure, fight off infections, relieve arthritis pains, promote healthy digestion, and improve metabolism. Cleans out toxins from tissues and joints.
Shark Cartilage - This is an excellent source of Calcium and it is also believed that it will help strengthen bones and prevent osteoarthritis.
Sodium Bentonite - Sodium Bentonite is basicly a small amount of inert clay which is used as a binder to aid in the formulation of small pellets of food. Side advantage of this ingredient is that it is said to aid in the digestive process.

(These terms are also used in the Dog Food Comparison Charts)
Brine - Is a pickling solution. Poured off after pickling leaving only a minimal salt residue.
Brown Sugar - Used as a pickling agent, moisture stabilizer, and a source of minerals.
Calcium Propionate -This chemical has been around for a long time.
BHA and BHT - These are both preservatives. BHA is butylated hydroxyanisole. BHT is butyhlated hydroxytoluene. Both BHA and BHT have been associated with liver damage, fetal abnormalities, and metabolic stress. They also have a questionable relationship to cancer.
Ethoxyquin - This preservative has been the most highly debated item in dog foods for the last several years. It is a chemical preservative that has been widely used to prevent spoilage in dog foods and some human foods as well. It is alleged that ethoxyquin has caused cancer, liver, kidney and thyroid dysfunctions, reproductive failure, and more, although the allegations have not been proven in tests to date, it is highly suspect.

Potassium Sorbate
- This chemical has been around for a long time.

Propylene Glycol - This chemical preservative was designed for use in antifreeze, oil and waxes. It causes irregularities in the red blood cells of cats. Dogs and Cats can become addicted to it. It can cause skin problems, hair loss, dull coat, diarrhea, overweight and even death in both dogs and cats.
Sodium Nitrate - Used both as a food coloring (RED) and as a preservative. When used as a preservative, it produces carcinogenic substances called nitrosamines. NOTE: Accidental ingestion of sodium nitrate by people can be fatal.

Tocopherols (Vitamins C and E) - Naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives. Tocopherols function as antioxidants, preventing the oxidation of fatty acids, vitamins, and some other nutrients. These are being used more frequently as preservatives, as many dog owners are more concerned about chemical preservatives. Tocopherols have a very short shelf life, especially once the bag of food has been opened.


User avatar
Hyper Adolescent Bully
Posts: 250
Location: Massachusetts

Postby mnp13 » January 20th, 2006, 2:46 pm

Good article.

I would like to add that another misleading item in an ingredient list is 'fresh' or 'raw' meat. Meat is mostly water, so if fresh meat is the first ingredient, once it is cooked and processed it will move down quite a but in the ingredient list.

Inside me is a thin woman trying to get out. I usually shut the bitch up with a martini.
User avatar
Evil Overlord
Posts: 17234
Location: Rochester, NY

Postby Romanwild » January 20th, 2006, 4:58 pm

I've always loved this chart. They are not a dog food company.

User avatar
I live here
Posts: 2931
Location: Watertown NY

Postby Jaime » January 20th, 2006, 5:23 pm

excellent info on this site as well
User avatar
Hyper Adolescent Bully
Posts: 250
Location: Massachusetts

Postby turtle » January 22nd, 2006, 3:13 am

mnp13 wrote:
I would like to add that another misleading item in an ingredient list is 'fresh' or 'raw' meat. Meat is mostly water, so if fresh meat is the first ingredient, once it is cooked and processed it will move down quite a but in the ingredient list.

Yes, actually "meat meal" has much more meat in it than the fresh meat. Fresh raw meat is about 70% moisture so once it's cooked down into meal, it has far more meat by weight.

Meat by products on the other hand... :puke: and "animal digest" is even worse!
User avatar
Loyally Bully
Posts: 690

Postby cheekymunkee » January 22nd, 2006, 6:24 pm

Too confusing!! Just hand them a turkey leg! :rock:
There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.

User avatar
I Have Your Grass
Posts: 28540
Location: Dallas

Return to Nutrition & Health

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users