Reading a Dog Food Bag

Issue 23, June 2023 | Article by Peter Brown

Many users of dog food only read a small portion of the packaging. To make sure that you are feeding your dogs the most suitable product for their workload and stage of life it is important that several panels of information displayed on the packaging are read and understood. 

Firstly, don’t allow the name on the front of the packaging determine your purchase. The heading Working Dog may influence your decision but is it the right product for your dogs. Is there a better product that should be considered that does not have Working Dog as it’s heading?  

Secondly, don’t just buy on price. If price is a concern do a quick calculation, grams fed per dog/ price to feed each dog, you may find that purchasing a slightly more expensive product may in fact be cheaper to use because the dog doesn’t require as much by weight to maintain himself and perform satisfactorily. 

Thirdly, don’t be swayed in your purchase by fancy packaging and sharp language. Some of the poorest quality products of any type may be sold in smart packaging with bright colours, snappy photos and script that is designed to attract the target customer. Packaging is a science in itself and there are many companies that specialise in packaging and design. Studies have been done on things like colour, script, pictures on packaging and lustre of the bag to determine which has the greatest effect on a potential customer and attracts them to that product.  This is all designed to influence the purchaser’s decision. 

Fourth, when reading the information on the packaging look at the information that is there to give you the most accurate information to allow you to make an informed decision.  

Remember you are feeding an athlete; human or canine diet is an important part of performance. Energy is the key, look for a disclosed ENERGY LEVEL. Energy in dog food is calculated and shown in kcal per kilogram or kcal per 100 grams. Aim for a number close to or above 4000 kcal/kilogram or 400kcal/100 grams. Energy is mainly derived from fats, oils, and some proteins. This can influence how much food is fed to a dog particularly an adult dog. Pups and growing juveniles have a greater need for energy and protein so should be fed an appropriate quality food. 

Next consider the PROTEIN and FAT levels. These two measurements are normally shown in conjunction on the packaging and are expressed as percentages. Remember that both these measurements influence energy. It’s important to know that when dog food diets are formulated, they are normally calculated on a 1 tone batch and ingredients are on a by weight inclusion. Some ingredients may contain high levels of moisture, particularly protein meals like meat meal, chicken meal, lamb meal, fish meal and to a lesser extent grains. Moisture is removed during manufacture by cooking which affect the volume of these ingredients in the end product.  

Let’s look at ingredients, these are the things when mixed according to the formulation should result in a balanced diet. Remember that it is a requirement by law for ingredients to be listed from most to least (by weight of inclusion) on the packaging. Again, this refers to the volume included on the formulation and may vary after manufacturing due to moisture removal. Any product that names a protein from an animal source as the first inclusion should always be considered before one that lists grain as its first ingredient, you are feeding a canine. Animal protein is normally derived from animal meals such as beef, chicken, lamb, fish, or kangaroo, but the use of digests (soup like product) such as chicken will influence protein levels. If on the front of the packaging there is a picture of chicken legs, lamb chops or steak, it is highly unlikely that someone would be dicing up any of these proteins for inclusion in the food. This is part of the sell based on how we as customers relate to those products in our own diet. 

Next item in most Working dog formulae will be a grain. Wheat is probably the most common but is normally the most expensive, so often you will see language like “cereal grains” which means that any of the grains that reduce the cost of production or are available when others are not can be included. Grain does supply some protein to the product. Keep a watchful eye for grain related fillers such as various brans (rice, wheat etc), middens or millrun. A lot of these products are by products of flour production and are relatively cheap and may have very little nutrient value but do work as a fibre in the diet. Quite often, closely following on from these products will be a protein source from pulse plants like soybean. These grains can quickly lift protein levels in the product because of their high protein levels. 

Oils make the list around about this time and can be derived from animals or vegetable.  Examples are beef tallow (rendered fat), canola, soybean of flax seed oil. All are contributing to the energy levels in the product plus delivering good levels of Omega 3 and 6. From here on it is normally the ingredients that are added in very small amounts and will include a vitamin/mineral mix, salt and other ingredients that may have a benefit for the dog, or it may be thought that they help control fleas and ticks (Garlic), reduce the smell of faeces (Yucca Schidiigera) or act as a preservative/ antioxidant for the product (Vitamin E). They may include Kelp (a natural source of vitamins and minerals), Rosemary extract ( contain oils such as carnosic acids and carnosol which inhibit lipid pre-oxidation in cells; important for dogs that are working hard or running) and Sugar Beet Pulp an insoluble fibre source beneficial to the bacteria in a dogs gut.  

In summary, it is always the buyer’s choice, but I always look for an energy statement before moving on to any other information on packaging. If there is not an energy statement don’t be hesitant in contacting the manufacture to ask about the energy level or any other aspect of the diet. Most display contact details and encourage consumers to contact them. There is always a summary sheet produced when a product is formulated that sets a host of information on protein levels, fat content, vitamin, and mineral levels etc. All good manufacturers regularly test a sample of their product at regular intervals during manufacture to ensure that the finished product meets those spécifications set out in the original formulation sheet. 

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