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Reading Dog Food Labels: What Every Pet Owner Should Know

Understanding dog food labels is an important part of providing your dog with optimal nutrition. All dog foods, regardless of the brand or price, are a combination of carbohydrates, fats, fibers, and proteins. The original sources and amounts of those ingredients may vary greatly from one type to the next, which is why it's exceedingly important to thoroughly read and understand labels.

Deciphering Dog Food Labels

If you're a dog owner, you're probably already well aware of the task at hand when it comes to deciphering dog food labels, which can often be confusing or even misleading at times. First, simply ignore any adjectives or fancy words like "gourmet" or "premium" as these mean nothing when it comes to your pet's nutrition.

A perfect example of deceptive or misleading dog food labels would be a package touting a "lamb and rice formula" when the first 10 ingredients reads something like:

- Ground yellow corn, meat byproduct, corn gluten meal, chicken byproduct meal, wheat, animal fat, rice, brewers yeast, lamb, and natural flavors

True, the food does contain lamb and rice, but notice where they are in the list of ingredients: nowhere near the first five, which are the most important. Ground yellow corn, a grain, is considered to be an unnecessary filler.

A more truthful ingredient list of a "lamb and rice formula" dog food would be:

- Lamb, rice, barley flour, brewers rice, natural poultry flavor, fish meal, grape seed extract, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.

Important Considerations

Carbohydrates - A carbohydrate content that's too high can cause a dog to feel sluggish and cause larger stools, as well as an increased digestion time. Carbohydrates include grains like corn.

Fats - Dogs definitely need animal fats for amino acids, for healthy skin and coats, and for energy.

Grains - Because dogs are carnivores, their digestive systems aren't meant to process a lot of grains, but you'll find plenty in many dog foods. They include barley, corn, millet, oats, and rice.

Healthy Additives - Look for antioxidants like lutein, alpha lipoic acid, and glucosamine chondroitin for aging or active dogs, along with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and these ten essential amino acids all dogs need; arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenyalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Other healthy additives to look for include fruits and vegetables like apples, blueberries, carrots, and sweet potatoes.

Proteins - Essential for all dogs, a good protein source will be the first ingredient listed on a quality dog food. Look for real meat like lamb, chicken, and beef or fish.

Vitamins and Minerals - Important ones for dogs include calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, D, and E, along with small amounts of B complex vitamins. Dogs do NOT need ever vitamin C as they produce enough naturally.

As a general rule of thumb, the more carbohydrates and unnecessary fillers, the less expensive the dog food will be. This leaves some pet owners, especially those with large breed dogs, with the dilemma: "Do I spend less money on the food now but end up needing more because it's not as filling, or should I spend more and possibly need less in the long run?"

Final Comments

If you ever come across an ingredient that's completely unfamiliar, and you will, be sure to look it up online, in a dictionary or encyclopedia, or ask your veterinarian. Also, dog food packages should have a customer service number prominently displayed that you can call with any questions or concerns.

Yet another point to consider is the matter of veterinary care. Those who feel strongly about buying their pets higher quality, and therefore, more expensive brands of dog foods argue that the extra initial expense is negated by the later savings on vet bills due to poorer health.

While price and brand are definitely personal choices, reading dog food labels and also understanding what you are giving your pet is the absolute best way to know if what you're buying is right for your dog. Also, remember to take into consideration factors such as age, breed, energy level, and overall health.

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