Dog Food: 7 Things You MUST Check in All Dog Food Before Purchasing

October 30, 2023
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
Dr. Farshad Goodarzi - Animal Nutritionist
5 minute read
dog wearing eye glasses

Before you start reading this article, let us ask you one question:

Which one do you prefer, prevention or medication?

At Cola's Kitchen, we believe in prevention through quality food for dogs. Good nutrition is the core principle of prevention and health. As you probably have realized, many industrial dog food brands, despite their "premium," "complete and balanced," or "high protein" labels, are NOT the best source of nutrition and won't fully support your dog's health.

Some of these foods might actually harm your dog over time!

Here are some tips to help you figure out which dog food is the right nutritious dog food your dog.

1. Learn to Read Labels

What does the label on your dog's food really tell you? Does it tell the real story about what's inside the packaging?

Some of the statements on the labels mean very little.1 Legally speaking, commercial dog food producers in North America and Europe are not obligated to reveal their food formulation or the percentage and quality grade of each ingredient used. Standard information you'll find on labels includes:

  • The name of the ingredients (mainly general terms and not very specific) such as chicken or beef
  • WITHOUT specifying quality grade and the type (breast, thigh, with skin or without, head, with or without bone, etc.)
  • Basic chemical composition, including crude protein, fiber, and energy.

Let's look at the protein part of dog food labels a bit more closely and see what is going on there:

Among all the nutrients your dog needs daily, protein is one of the most expensive ones. Does that mean that if you see statements like "high protein," "premium protein," or a BIG number for protein content on the package, you can be sure that you're getting your money's worth? Unfortunately, no.

First of all, keep in mind that what you see as protein content on the label is actually crude protein content, not the true protein content. Crude protein contains a significant amount of nitrogen (N), which is non-digestible. If manufacturers report crude protein content, they include the amount of nitrogen in the food product, not the true digestible protein content. This might make the true protein content appear bigger than it really is, even though there is no guarantee this nitrogen is coming from digestible protein and real amino acids that are actually required for your dog.

The crude protein on the label can be composed of indigestible (sometimes even harmful) substances such as feathers, hide or hoofs. Feeding this to your dog is like feeding them iron capsules containing some amino acids. The kidneys and liver then have to work harder to clean toxins from the body, leading to serious kidney and liver issues.

So before purchasing dog food, always:

  • Clarify how much of the reported protein content is real digestible protein rather than non-protein nitrogen.
  • Most importantly, if the real protein content seems good enough, make SURE that the real protein part is a highly digestible protein coming from animal muscle tissues rather than low digestible plant-derived proteins or low digestible animal-derived by-products (such as low-quality fish meal, bone meal, feather meal, poultry meal, etc.)

2. Choose a Truly Balanced Diet

Dogs are individuals with unique nutritional requirements based on their age, breed, gender, weight, physical activity, and reproduction status (castration, pregnancy, lactating). For optimal nutrition, every dog should receive a specific daily ration that caters to her or his needs. For instance:

Age: Age is an important factor in determining the basal metabolic rate and the nutritional requirements of a dog.

  • The nutritional requirements (including the needs for maintenance and growth) of a 1-month old Dachshund are considerably higher than those of a 3-year-old Dachshund. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) of a 3-year-old Dachshund per kg body weight is considerably higher than that of a 12-year- old Dachshund. Therefore, an adult dog's nutritional and calorie requirements are higher than for a senior dog.
  • UNFORTUNATELY, age and weight are often the ONLY factors most dog food producers consider when formulating diets for dogs.

Breed: The BMR and mass-specific metabolic rate (MSMR) vary widely among breeds. For example, small breeds have a lower basal metabolic rate and a higher MSMR than large breeds.

  • A dog's nutritional requirements change based on his breed and age, among other factors.
  • The onset of the senior life stage varies according to breed size. The larger the dog, the sooner they become seniors.

Castration: Castration lowers the basal metabolic rate and the requirements for certain nutrients in a dog. A few months after neutering a dog, the basic metabolic rate begins to decrease. As a result, the maintenance energy requirements decrease. So if you continue to feed your dog the same type and amount of food, you are over-supplying your dog with nutrients (including energy), which can lead to obesity and other problems.

Reproduction status: Pregnancy and nursing increase the nutritional requirements of a dog. The pregnancy stage and how many puppies the dog is carrying or feeding should also be considered when choosing a proper diet.

Body weight and condition: How much energy a dog uses, and his metabolic rate depends in part on his current body condition (proportion of lean muscle and fat tissues) and amount of metabolically active tissues. Your dog‘s weight is an important factor in evaluating body condition and calculating the weight of metabolically active tissues.

Physical activity: The amount of activity your dog engages in regularly considerably affects its nutritional requirements. Dogs that are physically active regularly will spend more energy than dogs with a sedentary lifestyle.

3. Use Common Sense: Could it Be That Cheap?

Did you know that even if the food label says that it contains ingredients Y or Z, there may only be a teeny-tiny amount of ingredients Y or Z in the food, just to get through legal inspections? So always do the math yourself. Could 1 kg of "High Protein" or "Premium" food that claims only to contain high-quality turkey breast as a protein source cost 10 dollars? Could it be that cheap? If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

4. Stay Away From Chemical Preservatives

Another serious issue with some commercial dog foods is chemical preservatives, which can be extremely harmful to your dog. Preservatives are added to dog food to slow down spoilage. Almost all NON-FRESH foods contain some form of preservatives. After all, that's how it can sit on the shelf for so long!

Antioxidants are used as preservatives because they slow down the fats' oxidization process and do not let them turn rancid. Preservatives and antioxidants can come from natural sources (such as vitamin E, C, etc.) or artificial sources. Natural sources can provide health benefits, but artificial preservatives like Ethoxyquin have a controversial reputation for safety.2

For example, Ethoxyquin (also known as Santaquin, Santoflex or Quinol) was originally developed to prevent rubber from cracking due to oxidation. It's also been used in pesticide production. Ethoxyquin has been linked to kidney cancer and can cause allergic reactions and skin diseases.

dog looking confused

Other artificial antioxidants like BHT (also used in rubber products, food packaging, cosmetics and petroleum products) and TBHQ (commonly used in varnishes and to stabilize certain explosive compounds) have long been suspected of contributing to cancer and other diseases. 3

Legally speaking, if a food contains artificial preservatives or antioxidants, this must be stated somewhere on the label. However, this isn't always easy to spot. For example, they may not be listed on the ingredients list at all but instead, appear somewhere at the end of the chemical analysis in a small font.

So what happens when a food clearly states "no preservatives" or "no artificial preservatives" on the package? Can you be 100 percent sure that there are no chemicals at all in your dog's food?  

Unfortunately, the answer is, "it depends." For example, the statement could mean that the food manufacturer didn't add any artificial preservatives during production. But it is possible that chemical preservatives were added to the ingredients by the supplier before shipping to the food manufacturer.

5. Check processing

Most dog food manufacturers use extensive thermal processing for food production. For instance, the extrusion process is the most common type of processing used in kibble production, involving harsh heat treatment (temperature above 100C).

Unfortunately, the process also degrades vitamins and amino acids, so you end up with food that's lower in quality and harder to digest. For the food to be the optimal quality and as healthy as possible, it should be made up of fresh ingredients that haven't been extensively processed. 4

6. Avoid Food Ingredients That Can Cause Allergies

You should always check the ingredients list of any food you intend to buy, especially if your dog has been diagnosed with a sensitivity or allergy. Food manufacturers change ingredients and formulas from time to time, so you should always check labels to see what you're getting.

7. Switch to Better Ingredients

Most commercial dog food brands (canned, semi-moist and dry) are similar to human conserves, canned and fast foods. They contain harmful preservatives, they use low-quality products, and they are not transparent when it comes to specific protein types used. Some of these companies also practice harmful processing methods, such as extrusion. Instead, it would be best if you tried feeding your dog with premium fresh human-grade food ingredients and healthier cooking methods.

about cola's precision diet

Cola's Kitchen precision diet is the first truly tailored diet for a unique approach to nutrition. Our diets are individually formulated and balanced to address the most precise nutritional requirements of your pup.

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