Pet Food Labels 101: Kibble
Choosing a kibble is a daunting task. Your best (and easiest) bet is to find an independent pet supply you trust and talk about your options. However, not all pet supply stores are created equal. Some are paid by pet food manufacturers to recommend their foods, even if it isn’t necessarily appropriate for your pooch. Boo. In such a market place, you must arm yourself with a little knowledge.
Before you buy your next bag of chow, vittles, or meat cereal, flip it over and read the ingredient panel. What you see can speak volumes.
I have a compulsion for reading the labels on dog food. Really and truly. I’ve been known to get caught up in the Pet Food aisle of just about any store, flipping bags, snerking and making exclamations to no one in particular. The Husband is a huge fan of this, let me tell ya. Before he manages to wrestle me on my way, I’ll walk you through some of my label reading thought process.
We’ll reference a couple ‘anonymous’ food ingredient listings to illustrate the important points.
The top three. 95% of the time I am most concerned with the first 3 listed ingredients. In fact, I usually stop reading somewhere around the 9 or 10 mark. After that it’s typically more of the same: vitamins, digestive enzymes, the realm of un-pronounceables.
Note: If you have a dog with extensive allergies, particularly to non-protein items, keep reading that label.
Of those top 3 items, I want 2 or even three of them to be meat. Preferably meat meals (more on that in a sec). This is the first thing I look for in a dog food. If it doesn’t pass this criteria, stop reading. Move it along.
A good example:
Lamb meal, deboned lamb, steel-cut oats, peas, whole apples, whole potato, sunflower oil, oat flakes, lamb liver*
Turkey, brewers rice, barley, chicken meal (natural source of glucosamine), dried egg product, brewers dried yeast, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), oat meal*
Less than good.
*Both ingredient panels snipped for brevity. Another Note: These are ingredient listings from actual foods. Some of the better ones actually. Read labels in any grocery store, you will see much, much worse.
Why do I want to see more meat? Let me count the ways.
Dog metabolize meat more effectively. Like it or not, our dogs are omnivores, with deep carnivorous inclinations. Those short digestive tracts I always make reference to, get more caloric value out of meat than they do the equivalent amount of plant protein. More meat in food means easier digestion. More protein. And more bang for your dog food buck.
Ingredients are listed by weight. Items on the ingredient panel are listed in order of weight. In our second example, there may be more turkey than brewers rice or barley, but is there more turkey than brewers rice AND barley? If only one of the top 3 ingredients is meat, that food likely contains more of the next 2 ingredients combined. Especially in this case, because of…
Ingredient naming requirements. All those ingredient terms are subject to a funny set of regulations created by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In my opinion, AAFCO has some ridiculous stipulations. For instance, a whole meat source (ie, chicken, lamb, buffalo) includes the water weight of item prior to cooking. Does any of that water make it into the kibble? Of course not. Meat “meals” (ie, chicken meal, lamb meal, buffalo meal) are rendered (aka cooked) prior to processing. That means ground and cooked down, water not included. It sounds gross, but depending on your sourcing (now more on THIS later), ‘meal’ indicates more meat is actually making it into the food.
Everyone misses this, so let me repeat. Meal is not bad. Meal can mean more meat. It totally depends on the…
Sourcing, not created equal. All companies have to call their cooked down chicken ‘Chicken Meal’. (Again, thanks AAFCO) Regardless of whether that chicken meal is the whole (and I do mean whole) ground chicken its intended to be or a big drum of heads, legs, feathers, and offal shipped over from China. On the label, they are both called the same thing. The quality of the item depends on who makes it and how much the company who buys it cares.
I could go on: plant based proteins (pea protein, potato protein – avoid them), Grain-Free varieties (rotate), protein levels (moderate, also rotate), novel grains and protein sources, synthetic vitamins, extruded foods, processing temperatures, and manufacturing facilities. Most people, their eyes would likely glaze over. They start thinking about what’s for lunch. I know the look. In truth, average Joe or Jane Consumer doesn’t have to know that level of detail.
If I could leave you with just a few take aways, they’d be
Read that label in the first place. You might be appalled with what you find.
Look for meat. At least, two of the top three ingredients should be meat.
Be cool with ‘meals’. They aren’t as bad as you think, just make sure you…
Know your kibble manufacturer. As much as possible, familiarize yourself with their philosophy and sourcing practices.
The food you choose really depends on you and your dog. Cost? Convenience? Allergies? Energy level? Just be sure you use the tools readily available to you to make the most informed decision for both of you.
Do you know whats in your dog’s food? How do you choose a kibble? Anyone else a die hard label reader?