Smart marketing is one of the basic tenets of any industry. In the case of the dog food industry, it’s all about caveat paw emptor: pet parent buyer beware. Working in the pet industry for close to a decade, there are things I’ve learned that every dog parent should know about dog food labels.
Turn that bag, can, or container around, ignore the dog running through a field at full speed on the front. Reading a label isn’t easy, but do pay close attention to this.
Keep in mind: Pet food labeling is one thing; pet food ingredients and facts are another. Labels are deceiving, and sadly there’s no one stopping dog food makers from continuing to fool us into our dogs must consume their product. Dog food labels are confusing. That’s why the emphasis seems to be on what is on the front of the bag. Ignore that. In fact, read a dog food label with a discriminating eye. You may need to supplement. Here are 10 secrets pet food manufacturers try to squeeze past you and hope you won’t notice.
Made With Human Grade Ingredients
There are some very interesting and startling facts about dog food labels. “Made with human grade ingredients” is a bunch of malarkey. Made with human-grade ingredients does NOT mean a finished product is actually legally, human grade. An ingredient might start off being fit for people to eat it, but once it is shipped to a pet food plant and processed according to regulations for feed grade products, the term “human grade” can no longer apply. By true definition, that ingredient is not human grade.
Feed grade refers to the quality of a finished product which is not suitable for consumption by humans according to FDA standards. It is only legally allowed to be served to animals because of the ingredients it contains or how it has been processed. Further, it may include by-products, chemicals, fillers, and parts from “4D” meats: animals which are dying, diseased, disabled, or deceased.
This means dead pets from shelters can end up in dog food. ID tags from euthanized dogs may end up in dog food. Does it happen? There is no mandate that dead pets must not be in pet food. The folks at DogFoodAdvisor.com are unable to locate any current regulation forbidding the use of euthanized pets in commercial dog food.
Organic is also a bunch of malarkey because there are no formal definitions for organic pet food. Fun times, right? Organic, according to the USDA, is food raised without chemical fertilizers and meet very stringent guidelines. The definition of organic in pet food is based on human standards. Those human standards may not apply to animals. The FDA’s website has this to say about organic labeling: “There are no official rules governing the labeling of organic foods for pets at this time.”
While on the topic, the term “natural” is often used on pet food labels, and the FDA says “that term does not have an official definition either.” What we do like about the FSA’s Animal Veterinary Resources with regard to pet food is this statement: “Do not be swayed by the many marketing gimmicks or eye-catching claims.”
If you see “made with” on a dog food label, it means that only three percent of something is included for the “made with” label to be applied. It could be real meat, organic meat, or some combination of who know what. Three percent.
Holistic Dog Food Labeling
There is zero legal requirement in order for something to be called ‘holistic’ on a dog food product. Holistic is slapped on dog food labels in an attempt to get dog parents to purchase: and it works.
First Ingredient Fooled Ya’
The first ingredient in a bag or can of dog food does not mean that is the primary ingredient. The moisture content of meat in a dog food is about 75 percent. That sounds fantastic, right? It would be if 75 percent of real safe meat went into your dog’s food. Food gets processed, dried, and the meat ends up being under 10 percent. Beef that starts out as 75 percent of the content in a dog food ends up at less than 10 percent when it goes into dry dog food. Sad!
The old yardstick by which to measure dog food of “real meat first” isn’t necessarily going to help use choose the best food any longer.
Glucosamine For Strong Joints
Glucosamine is anti-inflammatory in its properties and can help dogs with stiffness and arthritis. I know because my dog has been on a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement for many years, with great results. Glucosamine and chondroitin have taken a stronghold in the pet food additive arena. Buyer beware because glucosamine and chondroitin are considered nutraceuticals (not pharmaceuticals) and are not strictly controlled by the FDA. Even if a can or bag of dog food claims to be a ‘rich source of glucosamine,’ don’t be fooled. How much of the dog food would the dog need to eat to get benefit of the glucosamine? According to Dogs Naturally Magazine, a 50-pound dog would need to consume about 1,000 mg of glucosamine supplementation per day to reap the benefits. Your dog would have to eat over 20 cups of kibble in some cases to get this amount.
Carbs Are Not Required On Dog Food Labels
It’s not easy to find the carbohydrate content in dog food because it isn’t required on the label. You read that right. It is not required. To roughly calculate the percentage of carbohydrate in a dog food, look at the guaranteed analysis on the label, and subtract the amount of protein, fat, moisture, and ash from 100 percent; the carb content is what’s left over. (You may have to contact the company to get the food’s ash content; it’s not required on the label, either.) Not all carbs are bad and we could write a mini novel on the topic. Bottom line: the “ideal” carbohydrate amount a dog should consume varies by dog. Just like people! Carbs are not an enemy, but everything in moderation. Dogs with cancer should not be consuming large amounts of carbs or sugar, so there’s that.
What we do know is this: Fresh, whole food is good for dogs. Kibble loaded with corn and other fillers/sugars can lead to problems in a dog.
Holistic veterinarian, Dr. Laurie Coger, founder of the Healthy Dog Workshop says the starch/carbohydrate content in most kibble is a problem for many dogs.
“Given the dog has no dietary requirement for starches/carbs, it seems illogical from a nutritional perspective for them to be included,” she shares. “However, from a manufacturing standpoint you need them.”
Chubby Dog Syndrome
Dr. Coger reminds us that dogs eating fresh food diets as opposed to kibble are usually not chubby, as their carbohydrate intake is lower. They also tend to have better muscle tone, less dental tartar, and better skin and coat quality with no “doggy odor.”
“One thing pet owners often tell me when they switch to a fresh food diet is that their dog doesn’t smell anymore,” Coger reports. “And their stool doesn’t smell either, and is smaller.”
As a dog mom who feeds a whole fresh diet of foods to her dog, I can attest to this first hand.
Does AAFCO Matter?
AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a non-government body comprised of federal and state employees. Note the key word ‘feed’ and not ‘food’ in their name. AAFCO does not approve pet foods to market and they do not regulate pet food. So animals eat feed, people eat food. Feed can contain dying and diseased animals and all sorts of contaminants and pesticides on animals. Food cannot. Ack!
A dog’s food should meet AAFCO nutrient profile requirements for sure. That said, Whole Dog Journal points out, “The organization is painfully slow to adopt changes that reflect newer research; the current guidelines date back to 1995! They have been arguing over and delaying implementation of changes based on the 2006 NRC updates for more than eight years now.”
How to Read a Dog Food Label
If you use your favorite search engine and type in, ‘how to read a dog food label,’ you’ll see results on pages one and two that are written by big brand pet food companies. It’s not that the information is amazing; it’s that they know how to properly SEO optimize a post. Meaning, the right words in the right place targeting the right people at the right time. SEO is search engine optimized. Those results get there because they are big companies, they know what they are doing, but you want your information from an objective source that isn’t associated with the pet food brands.
If you want to really go down a rabbit hole, try searching for “lies about pet food” in your favorite web browser. Check out the credible sources and reports there.
Consider the source is my mantra. What about the FDA? While the FDA does check food labels, they only check to see whether or not the Nutrition Facts panel is present, rather than whether or not it is true and accurate.
In Linda Case’s book, Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices, the author talks about the wording “no fillers” on labels. All that means is well, nothing, nada, zero.
You aren’t a bad person if you feed your dog kibble. You aren’t a bad person if you feed your dog kibble that you can afford. Dogs do have special nutritional needs. Their bodies do react to the food and supplements, vaccines and topicals we put on them and in them. Is it any wonder that cancer and other diseases are on the rise in the canine world?
What you can do is understand your dog’s nutritional requirements. What you feed a 10-pound Yorkie will vary from what you feed an 80-pound Rottweiler. No two people are alike in their dietary requirements and the same goes for dogs. Oh, and you don’t have to feed a raw diet for a dog to thrive. I don’t, but if that is your thing and it works for your dog, more power to you. I am not anti-anything unless it lies and/or can harm a dog.
Further Reading on Dog Food
Don’t stop now, read these selections from our archives to help guide your dog food decision making. Remember, truth over marketing. Insist on truth, demand it. A fi-dose of reality is what you and your dog both deserve.
What are you feeding your dog and how can we help you with your dog food questions? Let us know in the comments below.