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Choosing Dog Food by Reading the Dog Food Label

Updated on February 26, 2012
Whitney05 profile image

Whitney has over 10 years of experience in dog training, rescuing, and healthcare.

When choosing a dog food for your new dog or puppy, it is just about as important as choosing a good formula for your new baby. Because it is so important to watch what your dog eats, you want to make sure that you know how to choose the best dog food for your dog, and in doing so it is pretty important that you learn how to read dog food labels.

You already read food labels when choosing your own food, by making sure to avoid foods with certain preservatives or grab foods with certain ingredients. Well, you want to practice this with your dog's food as well because your dog needs certain amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, fats, and other nutrients.

The first thing that you want to remember is that when you finally find a dog food that meets all the criteria and that your dog likes, stick with it, and you won't have to spend hours on the dog food isle at the grocery store or pet store again. You'll know just what you're looking for, so it will be a quick in and out process.

Until you know what you want, don't get frustrated if it takes you a good minute to pick a quality dog food.

Reading Dog Food Labels

First, you want to make sure that you know what ingredients that you want to avoid.

  1. AVOID all dog foods that contain ingredients such as potato product, by-products, (some bone meal and animal fat can be ok as long as it is not within the top ingredients).
  2. Avoid dog foods that contain an excess amount of ingredients that you just can't pronounce.
  3. Avoid dog foods that contain excessive fillers, such as rice flour, rice brain, corn, etc., as the first ingredient or one of the top ingredients.

Next, you want to make sure that you know what ingredients to look for in a quality dog food.

  1. Look for dog foods that contain whole meats, such as chicken, beef, and lamb.
  2. Look for dog foods that contain whole grains such as oats, rice, barley, and wheat; just make sure that they are not the first ingredient.
  3. Look for dog foods that contain the following preservatives- Tocopherols (Vitamin E), rosemary, sage, clove extract, ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbic acid, and forms of Vitamin C.

You may also want to check to see if there are any whole vegetables listed in the ingredients label, such as peas, carrots, and potatoes. It is not necessary to have vegetables in the dog food, but fresh produce can be good to add to your dog's diet. Just make sure that you avoid grapes, onions, etc. (See a more extensive list of foods to avoid below.)

Corn is ok to have in your dog's food, but you want to make sure that it is NOT the first ingredient and that corn gluten ingredients are not include. But, the main problem with corn in your dog's diet is that it is hard to digest, so you want to make sure that if there is corn on the label, it is far down the list.

Be careful to make sure that you know the difference between the following, when determining the proteins.

  • "With chicken flavor"- The food is flavored, but there may not be any chicken in it.
  • "With chicken"- There is less than 3% of the meat in the food.
  • "Chicken dinner"- The food is at least 25% of meat.
  • "Chicken for dogs"- The food is at least 70% meat combined with the water or at least 95% meat total.

Corn gluten meal
Corn gluten meal

Fillers in Dog Food

When choosing a quality dog food for your dog, you want to make sure that it has as few fillers as possible and that it has as many proteins as possible. The first ingredient on the label, should be a protein of some sort, and you want to make sure that within the first three to five ingredients there aren't any fillers.

Fillers cause your dog to eat more because they are not getting the dietary essentials that they need, which in turn causes you to have to buy more dog food than you should. Fillers can actually upset your dog's stomach and digestive tract, so you want to make sure that you choose a dog food that will be the healthiest for your dog to consume.

Just be careful because some dog food manufactures will try to be sneaky in breaking up the same filler into several different names so that it's not necessarily listed at the top, but when combined they will out-weigh the percent of protein in the dog food. For example, you may see corn gluten, corn bran, and ground corn, or you may see ground wheat, wheat flour, and wheat middling.

Upon careful observation of the ingredient label on the back of the dog food bag, you can easily find a dog food that will provide your dog with all the nutrients that he needs to be a health, happy dog.

Just remember that the higher percentage of the ingredient that is used to manufacture the dog food, the higher up the list it will be. This is why you want to make sure that within the first three to five ingredients there aren't any fillers.

Common Ingredients in Dog Food

  • Meat: Clean flesh of slaughtered animals, to include the striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus, overlying fat, and the skin, sinew, nerves, and blood vessels normally found within that flesh.
  • Meat Meal: Clean parts of slaughtered animals, to include the lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, stomach, and intestines without their contents.
  • Poultry Meal: Clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, undeveloped eggs, internal organs, and feathers that cannot be avoided during the process.
  • Fish Meal: Clean ground tissue of un-decomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.
  • Bone/Meat By-products: Blood, hair, hooves, horns, hide trimmings, manure, and any stomach and rumen contents.
  • Beef Tallow: Fat from beef.
  • Ground Corn: Entire corn kernel ground or chopped.
  • Corn Gluten Meal: By-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch.
  • Brewers Rice: Small fragments of rice kernels separated from milled rice.
  • Brown Rice: Unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.
  • Soybean Meal: By-product from producing soybean oil.
  • BHA: (butylated hydroxyanisole) a fat preservative.
  • Ethoxyquin: Chemical preservative used to prevent the dog food from spoiling.
  • Tocopherols: Natural preservatives.

Avoid Dog Food With High Content of the Following Ingredients

1. Wheat

2. Corn

3. Soy

4. By-Product Meal

5. Digest

6. Ethoxyquin

7. Egg Product

8. Brewer’s Rice

9. Preservatives

10. Cellulose

Compare EVO and Purina Beneful Top 10 Ingredients

Purina Beneful

Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed tocopherols, salmon, brewers rice, soybean meal, sugar, sorbitol

EVO Innova

Beef, beef meal, lamb meal, potatoes, egg, sunflower oil, buffalo lamb, venison, beef cartilage, natural flavors;

  • Moldy food
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Persimmons
  • Pits from peaches and plums
  • Raw eggs
  • Raw fish
  • Salt
  • Sugary foods
  • Yeast dough

Foods to Avoid

  • Baby foods
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Citrus oil
  • Dairy products
  • Garlic
  • Grapes or Raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Milk


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    • Relationshipc profile image


      8 years ago

      I've worked at natural food stores for dogs, and this is a really good hub that pretty much states everything we would state to customers! Food splitting on labels is so common and really needs to be paid attention to - especially with corn. Often corn will be the first, third, fifth, and seventh ingredient (for example) and pretty much make up the whole food! Evo is really good as far as kibble goes.

      It saddens me to see people picking their dog's dog food off the price and not the ingredients. We feed raw because we believe that dogs like to eat non-processed food (real food) and that they get the best nutrition off it. But it does cost some money!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Yes, all the information are good until Jun 2010. P&G bought EVO, they may not change the formulas and ingredients in the short term, But I will look for another good brand new.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      "1,000 of years ago wolves and ate solely meat" Yes but they didn't just pick at the prey animal they ate the entire animal including the stomach contents,which would more then likely have some sort of veggies and grains in it....

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Evo has been great, we were feeding RAW, but switched to EVO and it is wonderful, it's expensive but well worth it, I have a great dane and a wolf mix, RAW became too expensive and the lack of a real local butcher made it hard to obtain the correct RAW foods. You cant just feed RAW chicken and give your dog the correct balance diet. EVO has everything and I feed 2 huge dogs on it for about 130 a month.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      Raw foods can be great additions to a diet, but raw eggs are not recommended. Raw foods being meats and veggies, but I've never heard raw eggs are good. Everything I've ever read says never offer raw eggs. The raw eggs contains avidin, which can decrease the body's ability to absorb biotin (a vitamin B), which can cause skin and coat problems. Raw eggs can also cause salmonella concerns; dogs do have a stronger stomach than humans, so the salmonella isn't as big of the concern as is the skin and coat problems.

      Raw can be a great diet, as long as it is done properly and balanced.

    • profile image


      11 years ago


      Overall I really enjoyed your article. However, one of the foods you mentioned in your to-avoid list was raw egg. I have heard both sides of the fence; why do you say raw egg should be avoided? My understanding is that raw egg (shell included) is quite beneficial to dogs.

      While I don't feed my dog raw food (trying to convince the wife), I definitely lean that way based on all the things I have read. Was wondering what your take on it was.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      Ole Roy is one of the worst dog foods you can purchase. A growing puppy needs real nutrients not grains and fillers.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I just got a lab mix puppy and he is on ol roy puppy food so are my other 2 dogs but they eat the adult formula

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      I did not necessarily say grains were bad. I said fillers were bad, most fillers consists of unnecessary grains. The best dog food that you can provide your dog is protein and meat based. You don't need to search for a food by the grain content. That's the least of your worries in a dog food.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Dogs do not need grains. Their digestive system does not need extra fiber. And why in the world would animal fat be bad for dogs? Aya is correct that dogs would eat fat in the wild - just because they're domesticated doesn't mean they need to eat grains, or they should stay away from animal fat. They're still dogs with a dog's digestive system.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Georgia

      That is correct, which is why it's best to limit it, if not avoid it in the dog food. I think giving fresh chicken fat, for instance would be much better.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      12 years ago from The Ozarks

      Whitney, I see what you mean. Presumably, there is animal fat in the dog foods that include meat as one of the ingredients. It's just that the fat isn't listed separately from the beef, lamb or chicken in the list of ingredients.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Georgia

      Dog's still need some form of grain. You are correct in that in the wild thousands and thousands of years ago, they were wolves and ate solely meat, but being domesticed for so long, the diet is just not identical. Grains make great sources of fiber. I'm not saying that all grains are good, but whole grains in some doses are ok and good for your dog. You don't want the dog's entire diet to be composed of solely wheat. Animal fat just isn't a necessity for a dog's diet; everything that I researched said that animal fat should be limited within the dog food, if not non-existant within the dry kibble. Plus consider that if you see "animal fat" on the label, you really don't know what it is- what animal is it? You don't want to see "animal" or any other generic name as you just don't know what that is.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      12 years ago from The Ozarks

      Whitney05, you have a lot of helpful information here. I agree that if a dog isn't getting the nutrients he needs, he may overeat. However, I am not sure why you think "animal fat" is a bad ingredient to have in dog food, or why you think dogs need grains in their food. In the wild, dogs live on meat they have killed. The building blocks of meat are fat and protein. A high fat content is a very important part of the canine diet. Wild dogs eat fat, internal organs and all parts of the animal they kill, including the bones. They do not normally eat grain. Grain fed animals tend to get fat. Animals fed on fat are lean.

      I try to supplement dry dog food with chicken drippings to make sure my dogs get enough fat.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from Georgia

      Jim, personally, I prefer EVO. I have used Science Diet, but it isn't nearly one of the better brands. Although, the better brands are more expensive, they are better. The all-natural, holistic brands are those that I prefer. Beneful is probably one of the worse brands, as you saw it is packed with fillers. I have used and have been pleased with Nutro Natural Choice, Wellness, Solid Gold, and EVO. Of those, I do prefer Solid Gold and EVO. They are both pretty expensive, though, but from what I've heard dogs typically don't turn down EVO. I know my guys love it.

    • jim10 profile image


      12 years ago from ma

      Are there certain brands that you recommend? When we first got our puppy from the shelter they had given her Science Diet. So I continued that for a while but she stopped eating it. We then moved to IAMS since it was cheaper and she liked it for a few months then stopped eating it. We then tried various expensive organic healthy brands from a local mom and pop type pet store. She liked Wellness for a while and some other one but eventually got sick of those too and stopped eating them. We now giver her Beneful. I see that it isn't as good for her as Innova. But, it seems to be the only one she likes. We feed her the dry food in the morning. Then mix a wet Beneful meal with dry food at night. Do you have any suggestions. I did find that when she ate the healthier food she didn't need as much. But, it was still very expensive and well now she doesn't like it.

    • scotty smith profile image

      scotty smith 

      12 years ago from Worldwide

      Good advice for a happy puppy, cheers

    • broteem profile image


      12 years ago from KHARAGOUR

      Informative and good read.

      Thank you a lot.

    • pharmacist profile image

      Jason Poquette 

      12 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

      Thanks Whitney!! This was very timely...and well written. We are hoping to bring home a new labradoodle puppy in the next few days. I will definitely use your advice!!!


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