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Guide to Reading Dog Food Labels

Updated on October 12, 2010

As a dog owner it is important to be able to read and have a basic understanding of the labels on dog food. The quality of dog food can vary quite widely across different brands and prices, so it is important to be able to recognise the difference.

Just as with our food, some labels can be misleading and may not be telling the full story about what you are feeding your dog. This hub aims to try and explain what you should be looking out for, and why, on dog food labels.

Reading dog food labels will ensure your dog is happy at dinnertime
Reading dog food labels will ensure your dog is happy at dinnertime

List of Ingredients

Check the ingredients list on the label to ensure you are feeding your dog a wholesome and nutritious food. Dogs get their nutrition from only a few, or possibly one source, each day so it is important that they get a complete and balanced meal from their food.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. However the weight of the ingredient includes moisture, making it difficult to tell its true weight. Chicken may be the first ingredient in the list, however this may 70% water making the list deceiving. Chicken may end up being the 3rd or 4th ingredient in the list when judged on its solid weight.

Avoid ingredients that end in By-product or Meal such as Beef By-product and Beef Meal. And opt instead for ingredients just listing Beef or Chicken. This will ensure you are getting whole meat and not a by- product such as feet or bones.

Avoid food with a high content of Soy, Corn or Wheat. Protein such as Chicken, Beef or Lamb should be first on the ingredients list. Also be careful how many times an ingredient is mentioned. Soy ingredients could be listed 3+ times in the full list. This when added together may weight more than the protein source at the top of the list. Once again this is deceiving as Soy is really the predominant ingredient.

Avoid food with a long list of ingredients you cannot pronounce or have not heard of.

Avoid food with a large number of preservatives.

Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis will tell you the profile of nutrient ingredients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre there are in the food.

Because of the moisture in dog food this is not an accurate analysis until it has been converted to dry matter. To do this:

1. Subtract the percentage of moisture for the food from 100%. So if the label says the food contains 14% moisture, you are left with 86%.

2. Convert the nutrient percentages such as protein and fat to a dry matter basis by dividing the percentage amounts by the percentage of dry matter in the food found in step 1. For example if the food contains 25% of protein, you would divide 25% by 86% to get 29%.

The 29% of dry matter protein can now be compared to other dog food products.

Feeding Instructions

Most dog food bags will contain instructions for feeding on the back. These instructions are a rough guideline, and are not a one size fits all. The different breeds, sizes, appetites and activity levels of the dog will influence the amount and regularity of food they should be given.

Do not be afraid to stray from these guidelines. You will know your dog better. Do they finish the bowl every time? Are they gaining weight or too thin?

Puppy standing by their food bowl
Puppy standing by their food bowl

Adult Food Vs Puppy Food

Puppies will have different nutritional requirements to adult dogs. Puppy food will usually contain a higher level of protein, carbohydrates and fat than adult dog food to cater for their higher activity levels.

Puppies have greater needs to help them grow and develop their muscles. As your dog gets older they require a less calorific diet to prevent obesity.


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