How to Read Pet Food Labels – Doggy Health Tips

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How to Read Pet Food Labels

When I got my first dog my family fed him table scraps and always kept his bowl full. Going to the pet store once a month usually meant finding the cheapest brand that had a healthy looking dog on the front of the bag. Imagine our dismay when the vet told us that our pup had become overweight as a result! Of course, we put him on a diet, and we know better now, but back then information wasn’t as readily available.

Now that I know how to read a pet food label, going to the store is an easy and fast process, and my dogs are happy and healthy!

Reading the label

We have all bought food and wondered, “What does it mean when it says 23% Daily Value of thiamin? Do I need more thiamin in my diet?”.  I was surprised how little I learned in school about proper nutrition. Luckily for me, I took a class at summer camp, one year, called healthy cooking. That class changed my life. I actually started thinking about what I was eating, and completely changed my personal diet. Which got me thinking, Could I be feeding my dogs better? The answer was yes, and so can you! With a proper introduction to food labels, you won’t find that long list of ingredients as daunting as I used to.

The first thing to read?

The Brand name

You may have seen commercials for brands such as Beneful, Kibbles n’ Bits, and Purina, where they show a bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables being tossed into a bowl. Suddenly the bowl isn’t full of vegetables anymore! Now you see a dog enjoying a nice meal of chunky, multicolored dog food. Maybe you are thinking to yourself “Whats wrong with that, aren’t fruits and vegetables good for you?”. Yes, a healthy balanced diet full of fresh grains and vegetables is great for humans. Don’t buy into the advertising, though, Dogs have a lesser need for fruits, vegetables, and grains than you might think

Try looking for a brand that uses all organic ingredients, such as Blue Buffalo. Be warned, some brands will say 100% organic on the front of the bag, but due to a lack of legal definition for organic, use sub-par food products when marketing their brand.

dog food label, pet store
Courtesy of

Main ingredients

Dogs are carnivores by nature, which means their digestive system is completely different than that of humans. They need a diet primarily composed of meat, that will give them the proper nutrients they need to stay healthy. An ingredients list should have plenty of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fatty acids to keep your dog’s teeth clean, digestive system healthy, and their coat shiny and soft.

What to look for

Here are some ingredients you will want to find in the first spot on the ingredients list:

  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Fish

On the second spot, you should be looking for any of the previous meats followed by the word, meal. Again, dogs are carnivorous by nature and require lots of meat in their diet.

For the third and fourth ingredients try to find pet food with some kind of vegetable. Make sure it is the actual name of the vegetable. (E.g peas, not processed pea byproduct.) You can go with a grain here, though I would avoid it if possible. Many dogs (including two of my own) are allergic to grains which can cause itching, skin problems, and ear infections.

What to avoid

Not all pet food is created equal. Some foods will have everything you want, while others will be a tradeoff between high-quality and low-quality ingredients. Then there are the terrible foods that you should never feed your dog. Here are a few ingredients to avoid when searching for high-quality dog food:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Artificial food coloring
  • Meat by-products
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Artificial preservatives

All dogs are different, and some will need a specially formulated diet. Always remember to consult with your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet.

Hopefully, this guide will help direct you on your way to becoming a more informed owner. Did you enjoy the article? Have a question? Please let me know! Any feedback is appreciated.





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