If you’ve ever walked down the dog food aisle of your local pet store, you’ve probably felt a little overwhelmed by all the beautiful packaging promising quality ingredients.
From cows grazing in fields, fish flying over beautiful rivers or an array of healthy vegetables –– everything looks great, but how do you know the ingredients match the marketing?
It may sound strange at first, but it’s actually important to read the back of your dog’s food label.
According to the FDA, food ingredients are listed in order of weight. Ingredients that are highest in quantity are listed first, followed by the remaining ingredients listed in descending order.
This means if your dog’s food claims to have tons of protein, but the first ingredient is a carbohydrate, it’s fair to question the claim.
Starting With Protein
The first five ingredients of your dog’s food should always start with protein. Dogs are omnivores, so they receive energy and nutrients from both plant and animal nutrients. But protein is essential to their muscle and tissue development, immune system health, energy, and healthy skin and nails.
Protein levels in your dog’s food can vary depending on your dog’s age, weight, breed, and if they are puppies or pregnant.
Complete proteins have the 10 essential amino acids dogs need for survival. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO), dog food identified as “complete and balanced” maintains a minimum crude protein level.
Types of Protein and Amounts
For Adult Maintenance diets, the minimum level of crude protein required is 18%, and for Growth and Reproduction diets, the minimum level is 22% on a dry matter basis. Meaning, for a particular life stage, there’s a specific amount of protein your dog needs to meet the requirements of a “complete and balanced” diet.
Not all proteins are created equal. In high-protein dog food, whole proteins like poultry, beef, or chicken should be listed first.
Other proteins are also listed as the following:
- Whole meats –– proteins that have not been mixed
- Meals –– rendered whole meats often listed with the proteins name
- Meat meals –– rendered whole meats listed without identifying a specific protein
- By-product meals –– includes poultry and other meats, including organs
We wrote an entire breakdown of meals to help you better understand the difference.
Generally, you want to choose a dog food with whole meats and meals in the first ingredients to ensure your dog is eating the right amount of protein.
The Other Ingredients
When you’re reading the back of your dog’s food label, there are a few essential ingredients you should look out for:
- Healthy fats
- Vitamins and minerals
As we mentioned, the first five ingredients should start with protein, but your dog’s diet should not solely depend on protein. When you think of well-balanced nutrition for your pup, you can visualize it just like a human meal –– with healthy foods representing each major food group.
At a minimum, your dog’s food should have the ingredients mentioned above to be specified by AAFCO as “complete and balanced.”
Ingredients To Avoid In The First Five
Depending on your dog’s dietary restrictions, there are also ingredients you want to avoid in the first five ingredients of your dog’s food. Why? Because your fur friends’ health is a top priority! You want them to eat a wholesome diet that starts with essential nutrients so they can live long, happy lives.
Stay away from foods where the first five ingredients include carbohydrates, white flour, artificial colors, and by-products. Also, if there’s an ingredient your dog is sensitive to, it should not be in the first five ingredients.
Here’s an example:
Your dog doesn’t do well with yams, so you want a dog food formula with little to no yams. Make sure the label doesn’t include yams in the first five ingredients. Remember, ingredients listed towards the end of the ingredient list are less abundant than those at the beginning.
Redbarn’s Dry Dog Food is a great choice if you’re looking for protein-packed nutrition that starts with five high-quality pieces of meat, fish, or poultry in the first five ingredients.
Available in both grain-free and whole grain, each recipe recreates your dog’s ancestral diet. Our grain-free formula is balanced with vegetables and nutrient-rich legumes, and our whole grain formula features barley, brown rice, oatmeal, sunflower oils, and flaxseed.
Looking for a topper that also functions as a full feed?
Redbarn’s Air Dried Dog Food has 85% or more chicken, fish, or beef in every bag. We’ve also blended each recipe with flaxseed, salmon oil, vitamins, and minerals. Best of all? It’s oven-roasted and minimally processed to retain the meat’s nutrition.
No matter what option you choose, the key takeaway is to check out the first five ingredients in your dog’s food. The first five ingredients are the most important part of your dog’s food.