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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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