As consumers we are generally well informed about the food we eat. There has been a concerted effort by the government, food producers, campaign groups and retailers to educate the general public about our food, where it comes from, and how it is made. Never before have we been more aware of our food. The same cannot be said about pet foods, although there are people campaigning for more transparency, and trying to inform the pet owner.
There are multiple sources online, and whilst some are very good, it is easy to become confused. Pet food manufacturers have limited information available, and often don’t explain some terms or jargon.
How do you go about understanding the information on the label? The ingredient list is the single most important piece of information on the product packaging. With dog food, this is often fairly small and in multiple languages, sometimes making it a little difficult to read. When you find the ingredient list, here are some elements that may make it easier for you to understand.
As with human food, the ingredients are always written in descending order; starting with the largest quantity to the least quantity. Therefore if meat is the first ingredient, that is the largest single ingredient of the recipe. However, this is not to be confused with meat being the majority ingredient in the recipe. Below two ingredient list examples show meat as the first ingredient but the quality as a complete food is very different.
- Chicken (40% dried, 25% fresh) Sweet potato, vitamins and minerals.
- Chicken meal, wheat, maize, beet pulp, fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals
Example 1, you can be confident that chicken is the main ingredient. However, in example 2 it is not quite as clear. Chicken meal is the greatest single ingredient, but it is likely that cereals make up the bulk of the recipe. The composition could be 50% chicken meal, but it is more likely to be 30% meal, 27% wheat, and 25% maize and 18% other ingredients.
Now you have found the ingredients and understand what proportion each ingredient represents, it’s time to understand the items listed. Here are some common elements found within complete dog foods
Beet Pulp or Vegetable Fibre adds a great fibre source to products, without the sugars.
Brewers’ Yeast is a microscopic fungus and is rich in B vitamins and antioxidants, which promotes healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver function in dogs. It contains all nine amino acids dogs need and therefore is an excellent protein source.
Cereals as an ingredient can be any blend of grains; wheat, maize, oats, rice.
By not specifying items, it allows manufacturers to change the composition depending on raw material cost.
This is not great if you believe you dog may suffer from allergies. Where ever possible look for a composition which states individual ingredients and preferably their percentage.
Dehydrated Poultry Protein this is often used as a ‘technical’ term for meat meal (see below).
Digest/hydrolysed protein is a powder turned into a spray to coat the kibble adding flavour and enhancing smells to entice even the fussiest of dogs. The protein powder provides a valuable source of amino acids.
Meat and Animal Derivatives are basically any of the leftovers after processing the carcass. This is then blended together to form a powder. Due to the broad description this allows the manufacturer to put any type of animal in without listing it as an ingredient. This means it cannot be recommended for dogs with intolerances or allergies.
This is the leftovers from human grade cuts of meat. They are very nutritious, improve the palatability of the food and are easily digestible.
Meat meal is a rendered product which means parts of any warm blooded animal are ground and steam cooked to produce a fine powder. Meat meal is made up of parts of the animal that are not usually consumed by humans, such as residual meat, offal, connective tissues and bones. Meat meal is a good source of protein.
Prebiotics (FOS and MOS) are ingredients added to dog food to help the digestive system by providing food for the friendly bacteria that live in the gut.
Derivatives of Vegetable origin can mean a wide range of ingredients and sources and permits the manufacturer to change it at any time. It is not necessarily a bad ingredient, but we don’t know what sources the manufacturer uses.
Vegetable Protein Isolate is a protein source involving chemically extracting the nutrients from the raw materials. Common sources for this protein include soya, maize and wheat which have all been linked to dietary intolerances.