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Vet in the City | Breaking Down Dog Food Labels

At the beginning of this year we hosted a Fetch & Follow Walk and Talk with our friends Butternut Box and Ciara from Vet in the City. We discussed all things diet related along with tips and ideas on how to feed your dog.

Ciara has been kind enough to share with us her guide on understanding pet food labels. Warning, some of it isn’t very appetising.

Breaking down dog food labels

Have you ever turned a bag of dog food around and looked at the label? If so, you may have felt you needed a degree in nutrition to decipher the ingredients! The terms are vague and confusing.

Did you know whilst the ingredients in human food and farm animal feeds legally need to be individually listed, pet food makers are not required to spell out the exact contents of their dog food? For example, a dog food can be advertised as a beef dish as long as it comprises at least 4% beef! Legally, the other 96% could be a combination of pork, rabbit or any other meat.

The term Complete is a legal definition set by the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF). Complete means that the product contains all the nutrients your pet needs to support its daily life. Complementary pet foods are also available. A complementary food means that other food must be added in order to provide nutritional balance.

Most pet foods are made from a recipe using several ingredients. These ingredients will be listed under Composition , in descending order of weight per moisture content.
E.g. If corn is listed first and poultry second, there is more corn in the food than poultry. Many processed dogs foods will not list a single named meat on the back of the package, despite what may be advertised on the front. This is because the meat is usually a combination of animals. This falls under the loose terms
animal derivatives or meat and bone meal .

Meat and animal derivatives describes animal based ingredients which are by-products of the human food industry. They are the parts of an animal not classed as ‘flesh’ or ‘meat’, and can include internal organs, beaks, feet and egg manufacturing waste.

Meat or bone meal are animal by-products that include organs inedible to humans (eg lung), tendons, carcass remains, feathers and bones. These are treated to high temperatures, dried and ground to a powder format. This animal protein powder is then added into the dog food mixture.

Cereals or grains are a group of ingredients that contain carbohydrates and are used in pet foods, including rice, wheat, barley, sorghum and corn (maize). When used as a collective term, the cereal used can vary from batch to batch. This can allow some manufacturers to take advantage of market prices, using the cereal that is cheapest at the time.

Crude ash or inorganic matter are also legal definitions which are understandably confusing. They are not added as an ingredients but are phrases that refer to the mineral content of the food.

A product can only be labelled as Organic if at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. Organic standards, which apply to both human and pet food ingredients include:
• Cleaning materials and pest control methods are restricted
• Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are strictly prohibited

• Flavourings must be either naturally or organically produced

The term Natural should be used only to describe those pet food ingredients to which nothing has been added and which have been subjected only to such physical processing as to make them suitable for pet food production and maintaining the natural composition. Additionally all pet foods marketed as natural must not contain any chemically synthesised ingredients.

Additives which can be used in pet foods may include vitamins, flavourings, preservatives, antioxidants and colours.

Antioxidants or preservatives must be added to meat meal during its production in order to prevent it from spoiling. These antioxidants can be natural (such as polyphenols and Vitamin E from from vegetables and herbs) or artificial. Artificial preservatives give food a longer shelf life than natural antioxidants. However the most commonly used artificial preservatives in meat and bone meal food stuffs are the controversial and potentially harmful chemicals BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole or E320) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene or E321). By adding an artificial antioxidant to meat meal before it is processed, a manufacturer does not need to declare them on the label.

UK or USA

It’s worth noting, there are differences between pet food legislation in Europe (including the UK) and the US. If reading online, it’s important to check that the source of information is relevant to the country you are based.

What is the best food for my dog?

There are so many different dog foods, the choice is almost overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. The best dog food is

  1. Is complete and balanced and the highest quality ingredients you can afford.

  2. Suits their digestion, tummy and health

  3. One your dog enjoys eating!

This is often not one in the same. Some dog parents may wish to feed only the finest organic beef and bone marrow but their dog and their tummy might have other ideas!

Lean dogs live longer.

Research has shown time and time again, the single one thing that will have the biggest positive impact on your dog’s health is their weight. In a recent study , lean and healthy Yorkshire Terriers lived on average 2.5 years longer, and Dachshunds live 2.3 years longer than heavier Yorkies and Daxis. That’s a long time in dog years!

But did you know almost 50% of dogs in the UK are overweight and many are obese. If you don’t have an up-to-date weight for your dog, drop into your local vet practice or pet shop. Most have a weighing scales in their reception and are more than happy for you to use it.
Each dogs daily calorie needs will be different. A young and energetic dog will burn more calories than an older and less active dog. Start by looking at the back of your dog food packet to work out their feeding amounts. Your local vet or vet nurse will be able to advise a more accurate feeding programme.
For more advice on weight loss in dogs, read Vet in the City’s blog
here .

If you would like to learn learn more about other dog foods, check out the independent review site All About Dog Food which analyses hundreds of different brands.

Warm woofs and wishes, Dr Ciara