How to Read a Dog Food Label
Reading nutrition labels is important when choosing dog food. WebMD shows you how.
3. What are all those chemical-sounding names lower on the ingredient list? continued...
“There is a debate about whether there is a need to avoid artificial
ingredients like these, as conventional safety testing says they’re fine,” says
Susan Wynn, DVM, AHG, a nutritionist for Georgia Veterinary Specialists in the
Atlanta area and a clinical resident in small animal nutrition with the
University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. “I wouldn’t want them
in my diet every day though, and I try to avoid them in my dog’s daily
Ethoxyquin came under scrutiny in the 1990s after complaints of skin allergies, reproductive
problems, cancer, and organ failure in
some dogs given food with this preservative. In 1997, the FDA asked dog food
makers to halve the maximum allowed amount of ethoxyquin after tests conducted
by manufacturer Monsanto Company showed possible liver damage in dogs fed high
levels of the preservative.
Some manufacturers no longer use ethoxyquin, BHA, or BHT, instead using
natural preservatives such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C
(ascorbic acid), and extracts of various plants, such as rosemary. Those also
keep food fresh, but for a shorter period. Be sure to check a food’s
“best by” date on the label before buying or feeding it to your pet.
“If you want shelf life, it’s better to have chemical preservatives,” says
Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell
University College of Veterinary Medicine. “They’re added at amounts that won’t
harm the dog, and it creates a more stable fat. Rancid fat can cause liver
enzymes to go up, and diarrhea.”
4. How can I make sure the food meets my dog’s needs?
Look for a statement of nutritional adequacy on the label.
Many pet food makers follow model regulations set by the Association of
American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that establish the minimum amount of
nutrients needed to provide a complete and balanced diet. The statement may say
the food is formulated to meet AAFCO standards or that it has been tested in
feeding trials and found to provide complete nutrition.
The AAFCO statement also should say what life stage the food is appropriate
for. For puppies, look for a food suitable for growth or all life stages. For
adult dogs, look for adult maintenance or all life stages. Nutritional needs
for senior dogs can vary, depending on health conditions, and there is no AAFCO
standard for senior food.