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Your Guide To Understanding Dog Food Labels

Written by FOTP Team


dog eating dinner in front of clearly labelled food pack

Did you know one of the reasons we’re called Front of the Pack is because we believe there are too many brands hiding important information on dog food labels? We put everything on the Front of the Pack - no hiding, no ambiguity, just straight forward information up front. 

Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same as us. But understanding what’s on the label (and what’s missing) is really important if you want to make sure your dog is getting the best. 

Do You Speak Label?

It sounds boring but stick with us – learning a bit about food labels will enable you to make better choices about feeding your best pal. Let’s take a look at the layout first.

Under US law, the label on that package of dog food must contain these:

  1. Name of the Product.
  2. The species it’s intended for. Ie: dog – and there might be additional information like “Large breed”.
  3. The weight of the food package. On the back there’ll be feeding recommendations, so you can calculate how long one package will last your dog.
  4. Guaranteed Analysis”. This shows you the minimum amounts of different nutrients (like protein) in the food. Read below to find out what nutritional balance your dog needs.
  5. The Ingredients list. This lists every ingredient in descending order by weight. Real chicken and beef is great. Ash is not so good – look for 7% or less. Other filler ingredients that you should avoid include artificial preservatives like BHA, artificial colors, corn syrup, MSG and meat meal. 
  6. Nutritional Adequacy Statement. This certifies that the food has been carefully designed for animals at a certain life-stage (eg senior or puppy). If it’s a complementary food there must be a statement. 
  7. Feeding Instructions. This shows you how much you should feed your dog at each meal, and it’s usually organized by dog weight. 
  8. Manufacturer’s Contact Details. So that you can contact the manufacturer in case you have any questions or complaints about the product.

Choosing Food That Meets Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs

Every dog is different and the needs of a puppy are different to the needs of an adult – breed and sizes will affect their needs too. 

Puppy Nutrition

Puppies are growing and they need plenty of protein to support muscle development. Vitamins are important but it’s possible for pups to consume too much. For example, larger breeds should not be given too much calcium or vitamin D. The Association of American Feed Control Officials has specified standards for puppies, so look for food that says it meets those standards. 

Adult Dog Nutrition

Look for a package labeled “Complete and Balanced”. That means that it contains the 40 essential nutrients. Then check the “Guaranteed Analysis”. This shows the minimum amounts of the key nutrients. Dogs need a high proportion of protein as well as fat, minerals and vitamins. 

Choosing a Brand For Your Dog

If you’re keen to give your dog the best, check the brand’s credentials. You can usually find this information online. Consider our checklist for choosing your dog-food supplier: 

Check the Calorific Value

In the US, pet food should state calorie content on the label. This helps you to make decisions about feeding, and what sort of treats you provide. If your dog is overweight you can choose a lighter or calorie-controlled dog food to help them lose weight without feeling too hungry.

Is Raw Meat Better For My Dog?

Raw meat has become a popular choice and you can purchase ‘raw’ dog-food which is frozen or dried to preserve the nutritional value of the meat. If you choose a raw meat diet you should be aware that there is an increased risk of Salmonella. Be careful when storing and serving this type of food. It can, however, be a natural and nutritious product when it is manufactured with care. We have an article about this on the blog if you want to learn more about choosing a raw meat diet./learn/dog-food/should-dogs-eat-raw-meat 

How Much Should I Feed My Dog?

Follow the pack directions – it’s probably wise to start at the lower end of the recommended range for a domestic pet. If your dog is active in sport, agility, or hunting, they will usually need more food. Puppy food is already higher in protein and fat, so (even though they’re very active) you don’t need to feed them extra. 

Underestimating your dog’s feeding needs? Your dog will let you know when you’re not giving them enough – they will scavenge for scraps and ask for dinner early! A pregnant or nursing dog also needs more calories – ensure that you choose the right food and that they have eaten enough.

How Should I Adapt Their Diet To Include Treats?

Treats are not “complete and balanced” so they should not form a significant part of your dog’s diet. If you are using them in training, reduce your dog’s feed or (preferably) increase their daily activity to prevent obesity. Remember that reducing the amount of dog food also reduces the nutrients that your dog will be getting and could lead to a deficiency. But a healthy and active dog can enjoy occasional treats! 

Choose a Complementary Supplement…

If you want to defend your dog against developing conditions to which the breed is predisposed (for example, arthritis among Labrador Retrievers), you could add one of our supplements to their food. We’ve done the research and chosen clinically proven ingredients which deliver additional benefits to your dog. Omega-3, Curcurmin, and Krill Oil are all known for their health benefits but not normally included in dog food. Browse our supplement menu to choose the right vitamins for your dog.