Before You Feed Me, Read That Label


In the spring of 2007, I wrote an article on mindful eating in response to a rash of pet food recalls. By the time the recall was over, more than 100 products had been removed from store shelves and at least 17 pets had died.

On Feb. 6 of this year, a federal grand jury indicted two Chinese nationals and their businesses, and a U.S. company and its president and chief operating officer, for delivering adulterated food that contained melamine into interstate commerce and the introduction of a misbranded food into interstate commerce. Melamine is used in products such as plastic, cleaning products, glues, inks and fertilizers. Yummy! To keep up with current recalls visit

Today we are considering dog food labels; cats will be another column.  Julia Child was right when she said, You dont have to eat fancy or complicated masterpieces just good food from fresh ingredients. Just what do Julia and I have in mind?

 Lets go to the pantry and find a bag, a box or a can of dog food. Here is what you will find on the label: Product name, manufacturers name, ingredients, guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy, feeding directions and the caloric statement. We will look at product name and ingredients.

If the product name on the package says beef, chicken or fish, or any named meat or fish, thats great. It means that 95 percent of the product not counting water content must be that meat or fish.

Okay, if you see lamb dinner, or some other named flesh dinner, that means that the product must contain at least 25% of that product as its total weight, not counting water.

But wait, this gets even more complex! With beef, or any named meat, the percentage of beef required in that product drops to 3 percent.

Finally, if it says beef flavored, all they have to do is add just enough to be detected, like vermouth in a martini. Dont be fooled by fancy marketing names such as ultra premium, gourmet, or super-dooper total nutrition. Find out what ingredients are actually in that bag, box or can.

Remember that ingredients are listed in order of weight. Here is an example: Venison, venison broth, liver, ground barley, sweet potatoes, carrots, ground flaxseed, canola oil and the rest of the ingredients. The main ingredients in any product are always the first source of fat, the canola oil in this case, and the ingredients that come before it. Here the protein is a specific meat by name; fats and oils are specifically named and are high quality; carbohydrates are wholes grains such as rice, oats barley, peas, and sweet potatoes. Items listed below the first source of fat include fiber, which helps kibble work; fruits and vegetables and added vitamins and minerals. Flavorings should be named, such as venison broth; preservatives should be natural, such as vitamin E or rosemary. Sugar? We dont need it. Dyes? No. Supplements are included as appropriate.

Which of these two would you want to feed your darling dog?

A: De-boned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, russet potato, lake white fish, and chicken fat (the main ingredients in this product), or:

B: Ground whole corn, meat and bone meal (look this up – Ick!), ground wheat, corn gluten meal and animal fat preserved with BHA/BHT (the main ingredients).

Wheres the beef or chicken or lamb or fish in B?  For a complete look at dog food, you may want to visit The Dog Food Project ( ). Also very useful is the FDA web site we gave you at the beginning of the column.

So, now you know how to read labels and identify good food made from high-quality, fresh ingredients.

Well, Im outta space. Keep your tail high and your feet dry!

Chris Gabriel, owner of Natures Nibbles, and Terri Grow, owner of Pet Sage,
contributed to this column.