Dog Food Label Dirty Trick #1: Listing Order

The ingredients are listed in the order that they occur in the food, by weight before processing.

To illustrate how this works, let’s pretend we have a food that only contains four ingredients:

1. Fresh Deboned Chicken

2. Ground Yellow Corn

3. Poultry Byproduct Meal

4. Poultry Fat

Judging by this list, we could easily be led to believe that there is more “Fresh Deboned Chicken” in the food than anything else. Actually there is more fresh deboned chicken than anything else, before the food is processed. This is where the con-game starts! If you’ve ever made jerky or dehydrated meat of any kind, you probably know that at least 80 percent of a chicken’s weight is water. So, if the “Fresh Deboned Chicken weighed 10 pounds before processing, that same amount of chicken weighs less than 2 pounds after it gets dried during processing.

In other words, the food that we thought was mostly “Fresh Deboned Chicken” actually contains more “Ground Yellow Corn” than anything else. We have no way of knowing how much chicken is actually in the dry processed food. All we know is that the “Fresh Deboned Chicken”, in its wet state before processing, was heavier than the other ingredients.

Let’s take a look at another part of the dog food label, the “Guaranteed Analysis”. The Guaranteed Analysis shows the make-up of the food with regard to protein, fat, fiber and moisture. The two most important parts of the analysis are the protein and fat content. The value of fiber in a dog’s diet is a matter of some contention and we won’t address that here.

Most commercial dog kibble will have a protein-content from about 20% to over 40%, depending on the brand and nutrition philosophy of the manufacturer. There is a lot of debate about the proper amount of protein for a healthy dog’s diet. We’ll try not to get bogged down in that debate either. The reason I’m bringing up protein content and the “Guaranteed Analysis” part of the label is because I have come to believe that the source of a dog’s dietary protein is almost as important as the amount of protein in his diet.

Dog Food Labels Dirty Trick #2: Protein Sources

If we look back to our example-food above, we recall that it has only four ingredients. The first ingredient was Fresh Deboned Chicken and we’ve already determined that this is just a con-game because we have no way of knowing how much chicken is actually present in the dry kibble. So if we check the “Guaranteed Analysis” and see that the protein content is 23%, we want to know where that protein is coming from. It’s not coming from the Ground Yellow Corn, so we have to assume that the real source of protein for this food is the “Poultry Byproduct Meal”.

Dog Food Label Dirty Trick #3: Mystery Meat

What the heck is “Poultry Byproduct meal”? First off, when we look for any kind of meat in a dog food we want to see named meat sources. “Poultry” can be any kind of domesticated bird and Byproduct Meal can contain, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, The non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents… in other words all the stuff they can’t use in chicken nuggets or hot dogs. Whether it’s chicken, poultry, or the mysterious “meat byproduct meal”, these products are truly the absolute bottom of the manufacturing food chain.

After three years of asking people, every day, what they feed their dogs, I am convinced that there is a correlation between a diet containing animal byproducts and canine health. Keep in mind that I’m not a scientist and I don’t even play on TV. I’m just a guy who sells dog food and sees the results on hundreds of dogs every week.

Dog Food Label Dirty Trick #4: Ingredient Splitting

Another dirty trick in the dog food industry is a practice called ingredient splitting. Manufacturers know that some consumers actually read their ingredient labels so the manufacturers want to have meat or a meat product listed first on the label. The problem for many manufacturers is that their cheap food is so chock full of grain that they can’t list a meat product at the top. They remedy the situation by breaking up grains into different categories, each with its own weight, so that the individual products don’t outweigh the meat product. A good example is rice. You might read a label that contains ground whole brown rice, rice bran, ground whole rice, and maybe even rice flour. Obviously, these are all rice in various forms but the manufacturer chooses to name each form so that the sum of the rice ingredients does not outweigh the meat ingredient and displace the meat on the list. I know of some quality foods that use this practice. It’s not a universal sign of a poor quality food, but it is cause for a healthy dose of skepticism on the part of the consumer.

Dog Food Label Dirty Trick #5: Grazing In The Fields

Is corn bad for dogs? The short answer is no. I know of no studies which conclude that corn will damage a healthy dog. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a dog grazing in a corn field, have you? The fact is that dogs are carnivores. They are not herbivores and they are not omnivores. Yes, I know, my dogs eat grass sometimes too. That just means that they are also opportunists. It doesn’t change that fact that they are predatory carnivores. Like other predatory mammals they have their eyes in the front of their heads so that they can focus on their prey. Look at a cow or a horse. Notice that their eyes are on the sides of their heads. They were designed and/or evolved this way so that they would have a very large field of vision to watch for predators.

Predatory mammals also have very short digestive systems. Their digestive tracts are short and very acidic so they can consume and quickly digest raw animal flesh without the same risk of bacterial infection that you or I would face.

Dogs also have long, sharp incisors (fangs) for ripping meat. Also note that while you and I, along with other omnivores and herbivores, have jaws that allow us to grind grain products, dogs have narrow jaws that do not unhinge or allow them to grind their food. This is further proof that dogs are carnivores, designed or evolved to eat meat. You’ve probably noticed that your dog doesn’t take time to chew his food, but just “wolfs” it down. This is also typical of all predatory, mammalian carnivores.

So, if dogs are really designed or evolved to eat meat, why do we feed them grains like corn? The answer is easy and typical of our behavior as humans. Like everything else in the human world, it all comes down to money.

Few people today have the time, energy or money to shop, store and prepare raw meat for their dogs. Most of us feed our dogs dry kibble. There’s no need to drown ourselves in feelings of guilt because of this though. There are plenty of good choices in kibble available. You just need to know how to read a label so that you can choose the right food for your dog.

So… What Do I Look For On A Dog Food Label?

When I read a dog food label there are several things I’m looking for. First, I want to see named meat sources. In other words “chicken” is better than “poultry”. “Beef meal” is better than the mysterious “meat meal”. Next, I want to see the named meat source in meal form so that it is dry before processing. That way I know that the meat source really earned its placement on the label. As we mentioned earlier, the ingredients are ordered by weight, before processing, on the label. I’d like to see the named meat meal right at the top of the label. It’s OK if the label lists chicken first, as long as the next ingredient is chicken meal. I don’t want to see any meat byproducts at all. Meat byproducts are the absolute bottom of the barrel. There’s probably better stuff in your garbage can!

Now that you know some of the dirty little secrets of the pet food industry, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read your dog’s food ingredient label. Remember that better doesn’t always mean more expensive. When you start reading labels, you’ll also discover that some of the really pricey foods aren’t all that great either. If you need help choosing a better food, please don’t hesitate to call or stop by Woofers Grooming & Goodies. We read food labels every day and we’d be happy to take a look at yours.