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Healthy Dogs

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How to Read a Dog Food Label

Reading nutrition labels is important when choosing dog food. WebMD shows you how.

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.

5. What is the guaranteed analysis?

All dog food labels must list the minimum amount of protein and fat in the food and the maximum percentage of fiber and moisture.

Some dog food labels also list the percentage of other ingredients, such as calcium and phosphorous.

Low-fat dog foods often contain less fat and more fiber, to fill up a dog without adding calories.

At least 10% of the daily diet, by weight, should be protein, and 5.5% should be fat, according  to the National Research Council, a scientific research unit of the nonprofit National Academies. Dog foods typically contain higher amounts than those, because dogs may not be able to digest all of the nutrients in a food.

6. What do “natural” and “holistic” labels mean?

Legally, not much. Food labeled as natural should contain few, if any, synthetic ingredients. Holistic, along with premium and super-premium, are marketing terms and there is no rule that controls how they’re used. Watch out for marketing terms like “human-grade ingredients” or “made in a USDA-inspected facility,” too.

“It’s difficult to confirm those claims are truly accurate,” says Teresa Crenshaw, interim chair of AAFCO’s pet food committee. Although pet food can be made in a USDA-inspected plant, it may happen when there is no inspector present, Crenshaw says. Meat once considered safe for humans may have spoiled and been diverted to pet food, she says. Neither claim means the food is safe for humans to eat.

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