With so many dog foods out there, it can be hard to decide which one you want to feed your furry family. The labels are complicated, they’re full of jargon, and understanding them can be difficult. So, where do you start?
There are two main factors you should be considering: how the food is structured (crude analytics), and the ingredients list.
Crude Analytics (a.k.a Analytical Constituents)
This section of your dog food label gives you an overview of what’s in your dog’s food. It’s generally found just under the ingredients list, and will look something like:
Protein 30%, Fat 15%, Fibre 4%, Ash 7%
But what does this mean? To understand it, you first need to know what the ideal amounts of each nutrient are.
Protein is essential for good muscle growth and maintenance, as well as a slow-burning energy source. A good food should have at least a crude protein content of at least 26%, with an active dog benefitting from a content of around 30%.
Fat is the other key energy source for our dogs, and is essential for keeping their nerves healthy. It also helps keep their hearts strong, and their immune systems working well. Ideally, your dog’s food should have around 20% crude fat content, and definitely more than 15%.
Fibre keeps the gut ticking over, and too much or too little can lead to irregular poos and a dodgy tummy. It also helps to give your dog a feeling of fullness, so that they’re not left hungry after a meal. A good dog food should have a crude fibre content of around 5%, although individual dogs may need slightly more or less.
Ash is also known as inorganic matter, and refers to the mineral content of the food. Generally, dog foods have about 8% crude ash in them, but this can vary quite a lot.
NFE stands for Nitrogen-Free Extracts, and is the soluble carbohydrate of the food. It generally isn’t included in the label breakdown, as it is just whatever is left unaccounted for (so if everything else on the label adds up to 56%, as in the example above, the NFE would be 44%). This component of the food is generally quite starchy, and gives quick-release energy. Whilst this is certainly useful, you don’t want too much of it in your dog’s food: anything over about 40% can lead to a toddler-esque manic moment, followed by an over-tired, grumpy puppy as their blood sugar crashes back down to normal.
Beware the moisture content!
Some foods include a percentage of moisture content in their crude analytics. This makes it more difficult to compare foods, as the moisture content impacts the other percentages, but holds no nutrition value itself.
You always want to account for this, so you should recalculate the numbers without the water content. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, get in touch and we’ll be happy to do the maths for you so you can find the best fit for your dog.
Ingredients: Quality AND Quantity is important
Now you (hopefully) understand how much of each nutrient your dog needs in their food, it’s time to consider the quality of each of these. The quality is hugely important as it determines just how much of each nutrient your dog can actually absorb and make use of – a poor quality ingredient means your dog won’t really benefit from it much at all, rendering it useless.
Meat is generally the main source of protein in our dog’s food, and the quality can vary hugely between brands. As a general rule, fresh, whole meat sources, which are named (e.g. chicken, turkey, venison, beef, etc) are much better than unspecified meals (i.e. poultry meal).
This is for two reasons. First, using a generic umbrella term, such as poultry, means that the source used in the food can legally change between each batch. This makes it dangerous if you suspect your dog has an allergy, but it also dramatically changes the contents of the food each time you get a new bag, which can upset our dog’s tummies in the short-term.
Secondly, a meat meal has been cooked at very high temperatures, of about 150 degrees Celsius, which changes the structure of the proteins. This means your dog will struggle to absorb all of the nutrition from them, meaning your dog is getting a lot less protein than the label promises.
Ideally, you want fresh ingredients, which have been gently baked or steamed at lower temperatures. A great example of this is in Eden foods, who gently steam all of their ingredients to avoid damaging their quality.
Cereals or grains are another element to consider. Whilst grain-free foods have become very popular recently, grains are not as bad as we’ve been led to believe.
Grains such as barley, brown rice, and oats, are actually highly digestible, and great sources of fibre, vitamins, and minerals, so having them in your dog’s food is no bad thing (as long as it’s not too much!). However, grains such as wheat, maize (a.k.a. corn), and white rice are not so good, and are best avoided. This is because wheat and maize are much harder for dogs to digest, and many dogs develop intolerances or allergies to them. White rice is problematic because of what it lacks – it is brown rice that has had the outer bit removed, and the outer husk is where all of the nutrients come from. Take that away, and the rice becomes just starch that will lead to energy crashes and issues with blood sugar later in life. If your dog food says it contains ‘rice’, with no details about if it’s brown or white, it’s probably white rice and you should consider changing foods.
Another important factor to think about is potato. This has become a really popular ingredient in dog food, as grain-free foods became so popular, and this was an easy, cheap, workaround for a lot of manufacturers. However, white potato is not that great. It’s a very starchy food, and it’s a source of quick-release energy. This means that your dog will probably have a surge of energy shortly after eating, but then come crashing down a couple of hours later. This is what will give you those grumpy puppy moments we mentioned above!
So, what should you look for instead? Sweet potato! Sweet potato is a completely different thing from white potato. It allows the energy to be released gradually, over a much longer time, meaning your dog has much more stable blood sugar. This will make them easier for you to manage behaviourally, and also reduce their chances of developing diseases like diabetes later in life.
In summary, you should be trying to feed your dog a food that has approximately:
- 30% crude protein
- 20% crude fat
- 5% crude fibre
- 8% crude ash
- Less than 40% NFE
Avoid ingredients like meat meals, wheat, maize, and generic rice, opting instead for fresh meats (gently cooked), lots of vegetables, and sweet potato.
Has this helped you to understand what you’re feeding your dog? Maybe you’ve realised your dog food isn’t as good as you thought it was?
If you’re left wondering where to go from here, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to help.
Don’t forget, we offer FREE 10-minute food consultations to help you give your dog the BEST.
Want to know where this information is from? Check out these sources:
Jackson, P. (n.d.) All About Dog Food. www.allaboutdogfood.com
Case, L.P., Daristotle, L., Hayek, M.G., and Foess-Raasch, M. (2011) Canine and Feline Nutrition (3rd edn). Missouri, U.S.A: Elsevier Inc.
Case, L.P. (2014) Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices. Washington, U.S.A: Dogwise Publishing