How To Read Dog Nutrition Labels
Video: Dr. Justin Shmalberg, DVM
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Nutrition labels on traditional dog foods can be challenging to comprehend, especially when compared with the nutrition labels on fresh food for dogs.
The first thing you'll want to look at is the guaranteed analysis at the top of the nutrition label. This tells you the minimum amount of certain nutrients (by weight) within the food. An important thing to be aware of is that these are listed as percentages of the food as a whole, so in fresh diets with more water content, percentages appear smaller (even though
Use the NomNomNow nutrient calculator to better compare another dog food brand with NomNomNow.
Secondly, you'll want to look at the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in order of greatest inclusion, so the first ingredients are the ones that make up the greatest amount of the meal. The ones at the end are typically the added nutrients or, in cases of highly processed dog foods, fillers.
All foods that are sold between states and certainly that are complete and balanced for your dog’s nutrition are going to be required to have things in a certain form on the label. The first one you are going to find is a guaranteed analysis. It is going to tell you the minimum amount by weight of certain nutrients, specifically protein and fat. In addition to that, you will see an ingredient list that should be complete and comprehensive for everything that has been placed in the diet.
Those ingredients are listed in pre-cooked weights, including the water weights of any of the foods, so the first ingredient is going to be the one that is present in greatest weight before the product is cooked. The second will be the second heaviest, and then towards the end, you will often see the vitamin and nutrients that are added to supplement the core ingredients. Those are by weight, as with the guaranteed analysis, which is a percentage by weight of different nutrients to try to provide you basic information about what is in the diet.
Unfortunately, the guaranteed analysis as it exists on most bags is not helpful at all for comparing the nutrient profiles of different diets. When we think about that intuitively -- for instance, if you take NomNomNow and any fresh diet and you compare it to a kibble diet -- the percentage of protein is always going to be higher on the bag of the kibble. The reason for that is those percentages as they are listed on the bag actually tell you how much there is by weight (so a percentage of the total diet), but that includes moisture.
Therefore, a fresh diet that is going to be higher in moisture is going to have lower percentages because the larger proportion of the weight is going to actually be in the water. As a result of that, there has to be some way that you convert that into a meaningful balance of nutrients so that you can put those in units that are actually helpful because the guaranteed analysis by itself is not so helpful.
We have recently taken the data and literature of other groups in trying to predict how we can use the guaranteed analysis in a more appropriate way. The first thing you need to understand is the protein and fat, which are the primary things that people are going to be comparing, are actually listed as minimums on the bag. It does not tell you the actual percentage; it is just a guarantee that that percentage that is listed will at least be what is in the food if you were to test it yourself.
The important point is to understand that percentages do not really mean anything when it comes to food. It is the amount of a substance, of a nutrient, per calorie, or what nutritionists will refer to as "per 1000 calories." You can always call the pet food company that you are currently feeding with and ask them for this information. It should be something they can provide you. Certainly, with NomNomNow diets, all of that information is available, and it describes again how much of each substance there is actually in the bag. It is a much more meaningful comparison than anything you might find in a guaranteed analysis.