Pet Food Labels Part 1
Let’s face it, choosing the best food for your best friend can be a real nightmare. With hundreds of different dog food brands on the market and every one insisting that it is the best thing since sliced bread, even working out where to start can seem like an impossible task. Well fear not dear friends! We’re here to show you that with just a little knowhow, you’ll soon be able to tell exactly which foods are worth giving your attention and which are worth giving a very wide berth.
Ignore (almost) everything…
When you first pick up any pack of dog food or visit a dog food manufacturer’s website, you’ll almost always be bombarded by health claims, buzzwords and slogans that will make the food sound incredible but it’s important to realise that very few of these are at all relevant.
For example, a lot of brands like to make a big fuss over how their foods contain ‘human grade ingredients’. Sounds great until you realise that all foods sold in the UK are required by law to only incorporate human grade meat so the claim is, in fact, meaningless. Similarly, a food labelled as ‘Vet approved’ may seem attractive but in reality, it’s really not that hard to find a vet who’s willing to approve just about any food if the price is right. Free run chickens are just regular barn hens but with a nicer name. A food claiming to be made ‘with lamb’ need only contain 4% lamb and ‘lamb flavour’ foods need not contain any lamb at all. And, sadly, words like hypoallergenic, holistic, bio-appropriate, sensitive and even natural have very little grounding in science or law so can be used almost indiscriminately by manufacturers.
‘No artificial additives’
One term that is worth looking out for, though, is:
No added artificial additives / preservatives or colours OR, EVEN BETTER, Guaranteed free from artificial additives / preservatives and colours This is because artificial additives like these do not legally have to be declared at all by manufacturers so only with statements like those above can you have any peace of mind. Unfortunately, the first declaration still allows for additives that were added by the ingredient suppliers so the latter one is much more desirable.
…Except the ingredient list
Unlike the rest of the packaging, the brand’s website and their other promotional materials, the ingredients list is subject to some fairly stringent laws which makes it your one true window into the nature of your dog’s diet.
The ingredients list must be factual but the level of detail manufacturers are required to go into is really up to them. This means that a company could choose to declare each and every ingredient in the food or choose to just name the ingredient categories instead. The term ‘derivatives of vegetable origin’, for example, could refer to anything from highly nutritious broccoli and kale to bread factory floor sweepings. For this reason it is always best to look for as much clarity in the ingredients list as possible. Every ingredient should be individually named. Terms like the one above and ‘meat and animal derivatives’, ‘fish and fish derivatives’, ‘cereals’, ‘oils and fats’, ‘special ingredients’ and so on should be avoided.
By law, manufacturers have to list their ingredients in descending order of their percentage so the first ingredient has the highest percentage, the second has the next highest percentage and so on. The first few ingredients therefore generally represent the bulk of the food so it’s particularly important that these ingredients are beneficial for your dog.
Typically, you’ll want meat to appear right at the top of the list meaning that it is the main ingredient in the food.
Also try to look for foods where at least the first few ingredients are accompanied by percentages. This will ensure that you know exactly how much of each ingredient is in the food and will give the manufacturer less wiggle-room for changing the formula between batches.
There are a huge array of ingredients out there, many of which you’ll be familiar with, others you may not. The All About Dog Food ingredients glossary (https://www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk/dog- food-ingredient-glossary) has plenty of information about most pet food ingredients you’ll come across as well as which ones are going to be beneficial for your dog and which are best avoided.
Just by following this brief guide, you’ll already have many of the tools needed to properly compare different dog foods. Unfortunately though, pet food manufacturers are a cunning lot and they have found plenty of ways to muddy the waters for us. Make sure you tune in next time when we’ll be examining some of their favourite tricks and how to see through them
Author: David Jackson, All About Dog Food