• Nutrition & Wellbeing

How to decipher a dog food label

How do you know what to look for?

Written by vet Dr. Steph Wenban

February 12, 2019

Did you know: dog food isn’t regulated the same way as human food? 

Thanks to a loophole in the law, some stuff that’s allowed into the bag might surprise you… and dog food labels can feel like they’re written in code at the best of times.

How are you supposed to tell good ingredients from bad?

Here’s a guide to explain some common confusions.

Front label

  • "chicken flavour" = probably 0% chicken (artificial flavouring)

  • "with chicken" / “contains chicken” = as little as 4% chicken

  • "rich in chicken" / "high in chicken" / "with extra chicken" = as little as 14%

  • "chicken dinner" / "chicken menu" = as little as 26%

Rear label

COMPOSITION (ingredients list)

  • "cereals" May contain highly processed flours = few nutrients, can cause diabetes, weight woes, inflammatory conditions, extra-stinky poo 

  • "oils and fats" Highly processed fats from any animal or vegetable = few nutrients, unpredictable source, often come with artificial additives

  • "derivatives of vegetable origin" Seed husks, corn husks, leaves and branches = few nutrients, unpredictable source, mostly “filler” byproducts used to pad out the food

  • "meat and animal derivatives" May contain connective tissue, feathers, hooves, beaks and wool = hard to digest, poor source of protein

  • "EU/EEC approved/permitted preservatives/antioxidants" These sound better than they are, the phrase is sometimes used to hide chemicals like BHA and BHT. If a natural source isn’t specified, they’re artificial = proven links with cancer, known to irritate skin, eyes, mouth, nose, throat, lungs

  • "colourants" Artificial colours like Red 40, Yellow 5, Patent Blue = anecdotally linked to Attention Deficit Disorder and hyperactivity

Other funny terms to look out for:

ANALYTICAL CONSTITUENTS/TYPICAL ANALYSIS

This tells you about quantity but not quality. It’s the % of nutrients in the finished product, after processing. If the number doesn’t add up to 100, that’s because the rest is water and carbohydrate.

NUTRITIONAL ADDITIVES

Vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids. This is a separate “premix” that’s sometimes added to the other ingredients to make a food “complete”.

ZOOTECHNICAL ADDITIVES

Sounds scary, but these are actually the good bacteria (probiotics) that support the breakdown of food in healthy guts. 

TECHNOLOGICAL ADDITIVES

Antioxidants and preservatives to keep food fresh for longer. This is a mixed bag: natural ones are good, unnatural ones are bad. 

SENSORY ADDITIVES

Always bad news. Flavourings and colourings used to paper over the cracks in low-quality dog food.

There’s more…