How to read dog food labels

By Natalie Thoms

How to read dog food labels

Can proper nutrition help with my dog's coat shine?

The importance of paying attention to ingredients when choosing a quality dog food. Feeding your dog premium nutrition provides major health benefits, internal and external. 

Dog food regulations and labeling terms like "natural" or "premium" don't necessarily indicate quality. Most labels of dog products are not properly regulated by the FDA and don't hold the same standards for humans. 

Check the first 5 ingredients - the first ingredients should be high-quality sources of protein like lamb, beef, and fish. Recently, there has been an increase in dog's developing chicken allergies. I would make sure this isn't the case for your pup. In any case, I would avoid fillers like corn, wheat, by-products.


Protein is a crucial nutrient for dogs and should make up a substantial portion of their diet. When reading labels, look for high-quality animal-based proteins as the primary ingredients.

  • Chicken: One of the most popular protein sources in dog foods. Lean chicken is easy to digest and provides nutrients like niacin and phosphorus. Look for whole, deboned chicken rather than by-products.
  • Beef: A nutrient-dense red meat protein source. Lean cuts provide iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Look for terms like beef, beef meal, and deboned beef.
  • Fish: An excellent protein for dogs because it is very digestible and supplies omega-3 fatty acids for skin/coat health. Salmon, whitefish, and tuna are common.
  • Lamb: A more hypoallergenic option for dogs with sensitivities. Lamb is rich in iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Look for whole lamb meat.
  • Turkey: Another lean and easy to digest protein. Turkey provides niacin, phosphorus, and selenium. Watch for "turkey by-product meal".
  • Eggs: A superfood for dogs - high in protein and nutrients like riboflavin and selenium. Look for foods with whole eggs or egg product.

In general, prioritize whole food animal proteins over by-products, generics like "poultry meal", and proteins further down the ingredients list. High protein quality means better nutrition absorbed.

Carbs, carbs, carbs! 

Carbohydrates would be the next ingredient to look out for like brown rice or oatmeal.

Dietary fiber plays a key role in the digestive health for dogs. Fiber helps promote regular bowel movements and healthy stools by adding bulk to the intestinal contents. There are two main types:

Soluble fiber - dissolves in water and forms a gel-like consistency. Sources include oatmeal, barley, peas, sweet potato, psyllium husk. Benefits:

  • Helps regulate blood sugar levels
  • Binds to fat and cholesterol to support cardiovascular health
  • Provides prebiotics that feed good gut bacteria

Insoluble fiber - does not dissolve and absorbs water to ease passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract. Sources include whole grains like brown rice, beet pulp, flaxseed. Benefits:

  • Adds bulk to stool to prevent constipation
  • Speeds up transit time in the digestive tract
  • Provides a feeling of fullness to help control appetite

Aim for dog foods that contain a blend of both soluble and insoluble fibers. This combination supports healthy digestion, regularity, gut microbiome balance, and nutrient absorption. Look for fiber content around 2-4% in dry kibble. Limit foods with excessive fillers.


Omega Fatty Acids 

Fat is an important macronutrient for dogs that serves several purposes:

  • Primary energy source - Fat contains over twice the energy per gram compared to protein or carbs. Dogs with higher energy needs benefit from increased fat.
  • Supports skin and coat - Fatty acids nourish skin cells and contribute to a glossy, healthy coat. Especially important for dogs prone to dry, itchy skin. Our favorite is Wild Alaskan Salmon oil.
  • Enhances flavor - Adding a moderate fat content increases palatability and satisfaction from meals.
  • Aids nutrient absorption - Certain vitamins like A, D, E, K are fat-soluble meaning fat assists in their assimilation.

Look for dog foods containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from high-quality animal sources like fish oils, chicken fat, flaxseed. Omega-3s from fish oil support cognitive function, joint health, and reduce inflammation. Omega-6s contribute shiny coats and healthy skin. The optimal ratio is close to 5:1 omega-6 to omega-3. Avoid generic ingredients like "animal fat" which don't specify the source. Quality fat nutrition provides concentrated energy and nourishment for your dog.

Things to avoid

Preservatives - Used to extend shelf life but some have been linked to adverse health effects in dogs. Avoid ethnicoxyquin, BHA, BHT, propyl gallate. Safer natural alternatives include vitamin E, vitamin C, and rosemary extract.

Colors - Artificial coloring like Red 40, Blue 2, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 provide no nutritional value. Associated with allergies and organ issues. Look for foods without unnecessary colors.

Flavors - Artificial flavorings like "liver flavor" or "bacon flavor" are used for marketing rather than nutrition. May contain MSG, yeast, chemicals. Best to avoid.

Sweeteners - Added sugars like corn syrup, sucrose, and dextrose increase carbohydrate content without nutritional benefit. Can lead to obesity and diabetes.

Instead look for whole food ingredients that provide natural colors, flavors, and preservatives like real beef, vegetables, and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies like tomatoes, carrots, and cranberries. Avoiding artificial additives ensures your dog gets more real nutrition from their food. Check labels carefully and research individual preservatives or additives if unsure. Your dog deserves real food, not imposters!

The higher quality the ingredients, the healthier the dog food. Feeding a premium diet is an investment in your dog's health and well-being. It's certainly more cost-effective than medical bills later down the line!