The label on your dog’s food describes what’s inside, what’s in the food, its status as a complete and balanced meal, its target age, target size, its target breed, and its compliance with the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). It’s often the first thing we look at when we want to determine the best brand. Here’s what to look for when you want to make a few dog food comparisons of your own.
The Front Label
Here, you’ll find the brand name and the food’s manufacturer. You’ll also see the age and type of dog that the food is intended for (puppies, adult, senior, overweight, performance, expecting, etc.). With the assistance of a magnifying glass, you’ll find the manufacturer’s contact information.
The Back or Side Label
Here, you’ll find information about the food itself even though part of the surface may serve as a visual real estate for silly entertainment prose. The stuff that you’ll really be interested in addresses how the food meets AAFCO standards of nutrition. (If you find a bag that lacks AAFCO standards, don’t use the food.) What’s nutritionally balanced for one dog may not be nutritionally balanced for another. So you’ll want to check if the food is nutritionally balanced for your dog’s age and type. If your dog is pregnant, for example, you want to see that the food is nutritionally balanced for expectant females.
If you see the words, “100%, new, or improved” on the label, you can rest assured that the manufacturers have proven to the AAFCO that its product is indeed, “100%, new, or improved.” Manufactures prove this in one of three ways:
1. They satisfy nutrient requirements established by the AFFCO. Using its own Dog Nutrient Profile, the AAFCO outlines both minimum and maximum percentages for required vitamins, mineral, amino acids, linoleic acid, and fat. You won’t find these requirements on the food’s label. What you’ll find instead are the percentages of nutrients available in the food.
2. They run feeding trials that show a food’s competency.
3. They manufacture a product that differs from a product that has already satisfied AAFCO standards. The difference needn’t be dramatic, however. Manufactures only need to make a slight change to qualify a product as “new” or “improved.”
Since we’ve introduced nutrient percentages, you should know that the percentages you read on a label aren’t always precise. And you won’t know what percentage of a nutrient came from a particular source. A dog food product may indeed provide your pet with an impressive percentage of protein, fat, or fiber, but where did it come from? The label just doesn’t tell us. You can rightly assume that it came from one of the ingredients listed — you just won’t know which ingredient.
If you were to perform dog food comparisons via labels on kibble and canned food, you would find a significant difference. That’s because moisture is left out of the formula. At about 10% moisture, kibble is much dryer than canned food, which contains about 75%. To find out how much protein, fat, or fiber is in kibble and canned food, you have to subtract the food’s moisture percentage from 100. That will give you a dry weight percentage of the food’s content. Then divide the protein, fat, or fiber percentage by the dry weight percentage. Multiply the end result by 100. The answer gives you the dry-weight percentage of the entire food product.
So for example, if a canned food has 75% moisture, and 4% protein, its dry protein content would be:
4%/(100% – 75%) * 100% = (4%/25%) * 100% = 16%.
Looking at the dog food comparisons of kibble to canned, you’ll see that canned food has more protein than canned food, but kibble has more fiber than canned food. Depending on what your vet recommends, you should give your dog mostly kibble (for more fiber) or mostly canned food (for more protein).
Another label you should pay attention to is the expiration label. The date you find indicates the shelf life of unopened food. The problem is that this expiration label isn’t always visible. Sometimes you have to call the manufacturer to get it. A general rule to follow is to use opened dog food no longer than a month.
Every dog food product should offer a guarantee. It exists so that you can get your money back should a problem arise. Never hesitate to call a manufacturer to ask questions or complain. Your feedback helps ensure that the general public has access to quality dog food.