What to Look for on Dog Food Nutrition Labels

Dog food nutrition is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for your pet. Many commercial foods and use fillers and by-products that offer little nutritional value. Knowing which ingredients to look for on dog food nutrition labels can help owners pick the best dog food for their pet.

Canine Nutrition Needs

There is not one dog food that is perfect for every dog; puppies and adults have different nutritional requirements while dogs with health issues will have their own dietary needs. It is always important to talk to your veterinarian before starting a new diet regimen to make sure your dog's diet contains the right nutrients for his lifestyle.

In general, adult dogs need protein in their diet. Look for a named meat source as one of the first items in the ingredient list on nutrition labels. Good sources of protein include chicken, lamb, beef and fish and any meals that name the source of protein, like chicken meal. Meat by-products should not be listed as a main ingredient. Also avoid food with non-specific meals like bone meal or chicken by-products meal as a main ingredient.

Carbohydrates are necessary ingredients in dry dog food and can be part of a healthy diet for your dog; however, carbs should never be the main ingredients in dog food. Look out for multiple listings of carbohydrate ingredients like corn meal, brewer's rice, corn gluten, wheat flour and rice bran. Whole grains like barley, rice and oats can be healthy ingredients but should be balanced by quality proteins and fats.

Fats should also come from named sources like chicken fat or sunflower oil as opposed to nonspecific ingredients like vegetable oil or animal fat.

Ingredients to Avoid

  • Unnamed sources of fat and protein like "animal meal" or "poultry fat"
  • Animal digests
  • Colorings
  • Preservatives like BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin, and sodium metabisulphite
  • Sweeteners

AAFCO Standards

Dog foods that are labeled with the phrase "complete and balanced" must meet the AAFCO, or Association of American Feed Control Officials, standards based on a nutrient profile or a feeding trial. According to the 2008 AAFCO dog nutrient profile, an adult dog needs a minimum of 18% protein in his diet. To calculate protein levels based on dog food nutrition labels, convert the guaranteed analysis to the dry matter basis used in the AAFCO nutrient profile by dividing the guaranteed analysis percentage by the dry matter percentage. If a dry dog food is 10% moisture, the dry matter percentage will be 90%. If the label lists the guaranteed analysis protein levels at 20%, divide this level by 90% to get a 22% dry matter basis of protein.

Feeding Instructions

Feeding instructions listed on dog food labels should only be understood as rough guidelines. Portions should depend on your dog's health, breed activity level and nutritional needs. Dogs that are given higher quality food will require smaller portions because they will receive the right amount of nutrition with less food. Talk with your veterinarian if you are concerned with your dog's nutrition and diet.