Dog owners are concerned about the quality of their dog’s food and their choice is often made based on the ingredient list. Unfortunately, labeling rules allow dog food makers to misrepresent the actual product: the first ingredient is not the major ingredient.

The Ingredient List

AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards require that ingredients must be listed in the order of their percentage of weight in the food. Seems straight forward doesn’t it? The following ingredients are from a well-known dry dog food that is labeled “Grain Free Real Duck + Sweet Potato’:

Ingredients: Deboned duck, turkey meal, salmon meal (source of omega 3 fatty acids), sweet potato, peas, lamb meal, potato, duck fat (preserved with natural mixed tocopherols), pea protein…

The first ingredient is deboned duck so it should represent the highest percentage of the ingredients, right? Not exactly. AAFCO allows the weight of the meat to also include its water content. The water content of meat is about 60-70% of its weight and provides no nutrients to the diet. After the water is subtracted, the actual content of the duck is much less. In fact, the next two protein sources, turkey meal and salmon meal are probably the major protein sources. This food is primarily a turkey meal, salmon meal, lamb meal based diet with an unknown amount of real duck and duck fat. The label is a misrepresentation of the actual ingredients.

By AAFCO definitions, any food meat or meat/carbohydrate combination preceded by the word “with” only has to be 3% of those foods by weight. The following is the ingredient list from another popular canned food described as “Grilled Flavors in Sauce with Beef:

Ingredients: Sufficient water for processing, chicken (source of linoleic acid), meat by-products, beef, wheat gluten, wheat flour, liver…

Again, chicken is the first solid ingredient, but including its water content adds more water to the already “sufficient water for processing,” which is actually the largest ingredient by weight. The next protein is “meat by-products” which can be any meat or mixture of meats. Beef is next but legally only has to be present as 3% of food weight. In other words this is a meat by-product protein based food with 3% beef, wheat gluten protein and an undetermined amount of chicken. What exactly did we buy?

The first ingredient rule is a myth because of the water content of meat. If several meats are listed they also include water weight. The first meat meal listed is probably the main protein source. If the second ingredient after meat is a carbohydrate, the food is predominately a carbohydrate based diet. As always with most commercial dog food, buyer should beware.

The only way to know what and how much meat is in your dog’s diet is to make it yourself. Hearthstone Homemade can help you make quality homemade dog food and improve the quality and health of your dog’s life.

Dr. Ken Tudor,
The Dog Dietitian

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