Dog Nutrition: Reading Dog Food Labels

Commercially made dog food is derived from a variety of sources and processing. Not only is the food source critical to development of your dog, but the type of processing also helps determine digestibility. It is important, therefore, to read and understand the ingredients of the food you offer your dog.

The first ingredient listed on the label is the largest by volume. For example, if corn is listed first, then corn is the main ingredient, even though the label on the package front shows chicken, beef or lamb. Also often listed are wheat and wheat middlings. Some commercially processed foods, wet or dry, do not list meat and meat by-products (and not necessarily in this order) until third or as an even later ingredient.

Wolves and feral dogs derive a balanced diet by first eating their prey’s organs, the stomach and upper intestinal contents and the liver before muscle tissues. Dogs inherently are carnivores; rarely is grain required as a main food source. Had nature intended dogs to primarily eat grains, their teeth would have evolved differently, with a prevalence of grinding rather than rending surfaces.

Most dogs require amino acids, which are derived from a variety of sources, including meat and meat by-products. Artificial coloring added to food makes it more palatable in appearance to the owner. Dogs are not particular about the color of their food: as long as it smells good (that all-important first sense), it is good to eat. Many dogs are sensitive to artificial food coloring, a known cause of many tear-duct inflammations.

This condition appears as weepy, drippy, allergy eyes. The eyes do not appear rheumy, they are clear, but matter often collects on the inner comer and tear stains may run down the muzzle. Debris thus produced by the irritated eyes may partially occlude tear ducts. Some biscuits and dry foods expand considerably when moistened, increasing five and ten times the size of the original nugget. These brands require soaking before feeding to insure expansion occurs in the bowl and not in a dog’s stomach.

While important to soak this type of food for the normal eater, it becomes especially important to do so for the greedy guzzlers. Baked biscuits normally expand less when moistened; some simply disintegrate into mush. These latter types have faster gastric emptying times than expanding foods. Biscuits which expand in the stomach must first reach a certain volume of size before they can be broken down by the digestive process. This added time allows the fermentation process to begin.