Understanding Dog Food Labels and Brochures

How Can You Compare Digestibility Claims and Comparisons?

Understanding dog food labels  allows you to compare  one brand with another. There are a host of terms on the bags and in manufacturers’ advertising and brochures. If you know what they mean, you can evaluate any dog food for its nutrient value and cost.

Many manufacturers use terms which allude to the digestibility of their food. We’ll explain how digestion  works, what the terms mean, and why they’re important.

Digestion is the process where nutrients, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down by enzymes into smaller units which the body can absorb. Digestive enzymes are organic catalysts which are produced by cells in the body. These enzymes facilitate the biochemical reactions of digestion at normal body temperature.

Highly Digestible

Digestibility refers to the food consumed and the quantity of the food absorbed in the digestive process. The more nutrients which are available (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals), the more will be digested, and the higher the digestibility figure.

Digestion data measures the dis-appearance of a nutrient as it is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. To determine the digestibility of a nutrient, a digestion trial is conducted. The food is analyzed to determine its nutrient content.

The dog is fed a “marker substance” which is inert and non-toxic. Then the dog is fed a specific amount of the food, followed by the marker substance again. The feces are collected and analyzed for the undigested residues of the food consumed. The marker substance shows up before and after, so the right feces are collected for the test food. (Urine is not collected or analyzed in a digestibility trial.)

Many animals must be used when determining the digestibility of food. The final figures are averaged from all the animals used in the trial. This is to minimize the variability of results from individual to individual.

When discussing the term “digestibility,” nutritionists are always talking about apparent digestibility. The word “apparent” refers to the fact that we cannot directly determine digestibility – we must deduce it from what goes in and what comes out.

Digestibility equals the amount of food consumed minus the amount of undigested or unabsorbed food in the feces.

Therefore, digestibility refers to the relationship between the food consumed and the quantity of that food which is absorbed by the body. The difference between the two amounts is referred to as the apparent coefficient of digestibility.

This coefficient is expressed as a percentage of the food or nutrient that is absorbed. For example, if 10 grams of protein are consumed, and 9.5 grams are absorbed, then the digestibility of this protein would be 95%.

The apparent coefficient of digestibility is used for the calculation of digestible crude protein, digestible crude fat, and digestible nitrogen-free extract (carbohydrates). These figures are then used to determine total digestible nutrients or TDN. TDN is the sum of the digestible crude protein, digestible crude fiber, digestible NFE (carbohydrates) and 2.25 times the digestible crude fat. This is divided by the feed consumed, and multiplied by 100 to give a percentage. TDN is used as a yard-stick for how much energy is in the food, much as calories are used for human food.

Another term used by dog food manufacturers is Total Dry Matter Digestibility (TDMD). This literally represents the difference between the food consumed (minus any moisture content) and the food excreted as feces, or the difference between what goes in and what comes out. It is difficult to compare TDMDs of different foods, as companies vary in the techniques used to determine it. TDMD, in actuality, merely tells you how efficiently dogs process the food. It doesn’t tell you anything about the energy value of the food.

Digestible Energy

While some dog food manufacturers use the TDN figure, most are now using more accurate measures of energy. These are kilocalories per pound, Digestible Energy (DE), and Metabolizable Energy (ME).

Energy is the largest essential nutrient needed by the dog. Energy is required for all of the processes involved with growth, lactation, reproduction, and for physical performance.
Energy is expressed in terms of calories – the amount of energy (heat) required to raise the temperature of water 1 degree Centigrade. One thousand calories equals 1 kilocalorie (kcal).

It is common to express the caloric content of dog food in terms of kilocalories per pound or kilocalories per cup of dog food.

Remember, kcal is just a figure. It doesn’t tell you anything about the ability of the dog to utilize the food for energy.

A more precise method of  describing the caloric content of dog food is DE or digestible energy. You’ll find this figure in some brochures, but it’s not permitted to be put on the dog food label. (You can always call the manufacturer. Most, but not all, will tell you the DE.)

Before you can determine the digestible energy of the food, you must determine the total caloric content of the food (gross energy). Gross energy is analytically deter-mined in a laboratory using an instrument known as a bomb calorimeter. Gross energy is the calories (heat) resulting from the complete combustion of the food.

Of course, not all of the gross energy of a food is available to the dog. A certain percentage will not be absorbed, and will be passed through and excreted in the feces. When this energy is accounted for, the amount of energy actually absorbed by the animal will be the digestible energy or DE.

Like digestibility, DE is also ex-pressed as a percentage. DE is the gross food energy less the gross fecal energy, the actual amount of energy utilized by the dog.

Metabolizable Energy

We’ve said already that not all of the digestible energy can be used by the dog. Some is passed through as feces. However, other energy is passed through in the urine.

Metabolizable energy (ME) takes into account the amount of energy lost in both the feces and the urine. ME gives a more accurate figure regarding the amount of energy which is used by the dog.

For example, proteins are broken down into a nitrogen substance called urea. Urea cannot be used by the dog, and is eliminated in urine. The amount of energy lost in the urine is about 1.25 kcal per gram of protein.

In order to determine the ME, the digestibility of the diet must first be found through feeding trials.

Again, ME is gross food energy mi-nus gross fecal and urinary energy.

Reading Labels

Today, dog foods are analyzed by three methods: actual feeding trials, highly sophisticated chemical procedures, or nutritional calculations. The guaranteed analysis gives us the foundation for evaluating the dog food. What do the terms on the dog food package mean?

Commercially prepared dog foods are required by state laws to be labeled. The laws are coordinated between all of the states by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Although state laws vary slightly, most of them require that the labels show the minimum crude protein and the minimum fat. The label must also show a maximum of crude fiber and moisture.

What do these terms mean? These figures are your assurance that the food contains the minimum stated amount of the higher cost ingredients – protein and fat. It also insures that there aren’t more of the lower-cost, less nutritionally valuable items in the diet – crude fiber and ash.

The ash portion represents the inorganic constituents of the dog food. It may be things like mineral elements. Samples of the dog food are ignited at temperatures in excess of 600 degrees C. (1,112 F.) The residue that is left after the burning process is called ash.

Crude Fiber

The crude fiber content of the dog food is a good indicator of the digestibility and bulk of the food. Fiber is extremely undigestible to dogs because they lack the enzymes necessary to break it down.

The percentage of crude fiber is deter-mined by taking a sample of the dog food. This is boiled in a dilute acid, then in an a dilute alkali. This simulates the digestive activities and the gastric secretions of the animal. The residue of this “digestion” process is weighed and ashed (burned). The difference between the initial residue weight and the ash weight indicates the amount of fiber present in the food.

The crude fiber portion actually con-sists of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Approximately 95% of the crude fiber portion is cellulose, which is not digestible.

Just because there is a fiber content doesn’t mean the food is bad for the dog. If the fiber content is too high, though, the food will pass through the animal’s system too quickly – like eating one of Mom’s famous bran muffins. When all of the food passes quickly through the system, digestion is less efficient. The food doesn’t have enough time to be exposed to all of the digestive enzymes, and the animal doesn’t get all of the nutritional benefits.

Dogs who are fed just once a day have a similar problem. They eat large quantities of food at a single feeding. Since dogs have little storage space for food, the exposure to digestive enzymes is also inefficient. To have your dog utilize his food most efficiently, feed him twice a day.

Crude Protein and Fat

Crude protein is the first item in the guaranteed analysis. Protein, on the average, contains 16% nitrogen. Scientists use this little fact as a guide for determining the protein level of the food. If they know the nitrogen content, they will know the protein level.

To determine the nitrogen content of a food, a process is used called the Kjeldahl Determination. In this process, a sample of the food is destroyed with sulfuric acid. The nitrogen which remains is then converted into an ammonia compound, which is distilled and titrated (compared) against a standard. This gives a numerical value which is plugged into a formula to deter-mine the nitrogen content, and ultimately, the protein content.

The process of determining the protein content is not very accurate. In fact, the analysis process is rather crude, hence the name “crude protein.” Now you know why it is called crude protein!

Crude Fat is material that is extracted from moisture-free food by using ether. It consists largely of fats and oils. Small amounts of waxes, resins and coloring matter are also contained in it.

All of this information lets you look at dog food labels and make some judgements about the food. We’ll explain these areas in more detail in  Part 2 of this book.

Pet Food Fallacies

An insider’s look at the reality behind the marketing

Martin Glinsky, Ph.D.

Fallacy: You can judge a food by its ingredients

One of the toughest things for a  consumer to judge is the  quality of ingredients in a dog food. Ingredient quality varies all across the board, from good to bad. It not only depends on what the ingredient is, but also on who is supplying it, and with grain products, the time of year and moisture content.

Maintaining consistent ingredient quality is a big issue with most manufacturers. You must balance cost with quality, make sure your suppliers don’t mislead you, and satisfy both the real nutritional needs of the dogs fed and the requirements perceived as important by dog owners.

Let’s examine a basic principle which most consumers don’t understand: animals don’t need raw materials, they need nutrients.

As long as the proper nutrients are provided by your dog’s food, it doesn’t matter where they originated. White meat breast of chicken can be just as good a source of protein as poultry by-products.

What’s important is that the nutrients are present and available (not destroyed or compromised by processing), the food has a good taste (so your dog will eat it), and all body processes will take place as they should. When you compare the nutrition your dog gets from chicken meal compared to poultry by-product meal, you’ll find very little difference.

The fact that some companies have been able to build a story around their use of a specific raw material is strictly marketing — and in some cases they’re doing a disservice to the whole pet food industry. Aesthetics and perceived safety of one ingredient over the other have nothing to do with good nutrition.

On the other hand, there are differences between ingredients. A good-quality chicken meal may have higher quality protein and a lower level of ash (bone material) than a lower-quality poultry meal. The better quality chicken meal was probably produced under better conditions, too. By the same token, some poultry meal may be better quality than some chicken meals. You just can’t tell the quality difference from the names on the label. That’s why trusting your manufacturer is important, as is looking at the results you get when you feed the food to your dog.

Fallacy: Gluten meals are bad

There’s been some discussion about the value of gluten meals in a pet food. Corn gluten meal is a high-protein by-product of the corn milling industry. Truthfully, its protein quality isn’t as great as a good animal source of protein, so it doesn’t sup-ply as many required amino acids as meat.

But remember, no one source of protein provides every amino acid the body needs. Some have more of one, and less of another. Mixing protein sources, with each supplying its share of amino acids, is a better idea than relying on one protein source for all of the amino acids. Together, the different protein sources provide enough of all of the amino acids to meet the dog’s needs. As one piece of the puzzle, corn gluten meal works well.

Fallacy: A dog needs meat

Another pet food fallacy is that you need a meat protein to make a diet complete and balanced. That’s not true.

Complete and balanced diets can be developed using grain-based proteins, as long as they are chosen considering their amino acid content. Because some of the vegetarian sources of protein are not packed with as many of the required amino acids (compared with meat), you have to feed more of them to get the correct amino acid nutrition. Since vegetable matter tends to be high in fiber, more waste is produced.

By combining vegetable and animal sources of protein, there are more sources of amino acids in a smaller space. That’s what we mean when we say a Super-Premium food is “nutrient dense” – the food supplies more of the required nutrients in a smaller space. You can feed less and still get the same required nutrients.

Nutrient density is a real issue. But again, you can’t look at labels and say that one food with three animal proteins is giving you better nutrition than a second food with one source of animal protein and two grain proteins. Your dog may be getting excellent nutrition with both these diets, but may have to eat more of the second diet to satisfy his nutritional needs.

Fallacy: Different breeds’ needs

Nutritional requirements do vary a little by breed, but genealogy isn’t the key to breed differences. It may sound reasonable that because your dog is descended from dogs owned by fishermen, he should have more fish in his diet. But realistically, you need to look at the development of breeds domestically. Your dog is probably many generations away from the dogs who were eating fish every day. For decades, your breed has been fed what we in America eat, not what his ancestors ate in Scotland. Generations of the breed have thrived on the foods available to all dogs here. Thus, logically, there’s no basis for feeding a dog based on historic data. And I have yet to see any scientific research that makes the case for feeding different breeds different foods.

I have seen studies that show that there’s more variation between dogs of the same breed than there are between dogs of different breeds. Their nutritional needs are based on the activity, weight and metabolism of the individual.

This contradicts what people want to think. Those who are heavily involved with a breed want to believe that their breed is unique, and can’t be fed like other dogs. I heard for years that Huskies can’t be fed like other dogs. Yet I’ve fed Huskies the same food as other dogs for years and years, without any problems.

True, there are some hereditary problems associated with certain dog breeds. A specific nutritional regime can help in those cases. It’s like people. There are some who can’t drink artificially-sweetened drinks. Sometimes these genetic anomalies do run in a specific cultural group, but these are unusual, and not pervasive among all people or among all individuals of a breed.

The size of the dog is also irrelevant. Purina once came out with a large-breed dog food called Hero – specifically formulated for large breeds. But it couldn’t be substantiated that large breeds have different requirements than small breeds.

People thought that the large animals (dogs or people) require more calories per pound of body weight. In reality, that’s not true. A 100 kg person (big) doesn’t need ten times the number of calories as a 10 kg person, but more like 8 times the calories. It turns out that the body processes aren’t dependent on weight, but on metabolic function. A small breed dog such as a Wire Fox Terrier has a higher metabolic rate than a St. Bernard. The terrier utilizes nutrients, especially energy, faster than the Saint.

To adjust for this inequity, scientists came up with the concept of metabolic body weight. Metabolic body weight is body weight to the .75 power. Pound for pound, on a metabolic body weight basis, all dogs have exactly the same energy requirements, including the Saint Bernard and the Wire Fox Terrier.

Martin Glinsky, Ph.D. is VP of Sales and Marketing for Eight In One Pet Products. He has owned his own pet food company and has done research and formulations for others.

Secrets of the Dog Food Business

Thomas R. Willard. Ph.D

Dog foods really do vary in  quality. So do the companies  that make the foods. To some companies, quality is only a word. To others, it’s a way of life.

I’ve worked for dog food companies, and I’ve formulated dog foods. In this article, I’ll let you in on the secrets of the dog food industry: how to tell a quality dog food, and how to tell a quality manufacturer.

Ultimately, the quality of a dog food is best measured by your dog. How your dog performs on the food, how he looks, feels and acts are the best measures of the quality of any food.

A dog with bright eyes, silky hair and supple skin, who is not overweight, is the goal. No matter what else the company may say or do, unless the food performs for your dog, it’s not right for him or you.

Of course, not all dogs will do well on a given product. There are some dogs that simply do better on one product versus another without any understandable explanation. Therefore the final judge of quality must be your dog!

Regular, Premium or Super-Premium?

Good Dog! has categorized many brands of dog foods based on their ingredients and nutritional value. The categories are Economy, Regular, Premium, Super-Premium and Performance. Each of the foods in these categories has a natural place in the spectrum of quality, price and performance. While your dog may do fine on any of them, quality becomes more of an issue with the Super-Premium and Performance foods.

While Regular and Premium foods may be made by quality manufacturers using quality ingredients, they are not formulated like Super-Premium and Performance foods.

What Dogs Need

Dogs are considered to be partial or remnant carnivores because they have sharp, flesh-tearing teeth and relatively small molars. They have simple stomachs and short digestive tracts for digesting meat. They also lack the saliva enzyme amylase, which is necessary for predigesting starch.

Carnivores, by definition, require food containing animal protein. Animal protein is of higher quality than plant protein. It’s better-suited for dogs because it contains protein similar to their own body proteins. Animal protein is more easily digested by the dog than vegetable protein.

Dogs have adapted somewhat to foods with high vegetable protein levels. Yet they look, act and perform better when fed foods high in meat protein and animal fats.

This has been well-demonstrated by the results of feeding tests conducted by Good Dog! In all cases, the dogs ate less and digested more food at less cost when fed Premium, Super-Premium and Performance foods high in meat protein and animal fats, as opposed to the Economy or Regular foods containing more of the vegetable proteins.

You can tell a quality Super-Premium or Performance food by checking the ingredients list. An animal protein will be listed as the first or second major ingredient. These should include either chicken or turkey meat, chicken, turkey or poultry by-product meals, meat or pork meals or other animal by-products.

At least two sources of fat or oil should be included for adequate energy and essential fatty acids.

Fat in the food is the dog’s source of energy. Animal fats contain essential and nonessential fatty acids, as well as provide a highly digestible and easily metabolized energy source. Generally, poultry, turkey or chicken fat are higher in quality because they have more unsaturated fatty acids and are more digestible than animal tallow.

Vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, lecithin, corn oil, wheat germ oil, sesame seed oil or linseed oil all contain high levels of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid for dogs. But these should be combined with animal fats for the best long-term results of glossy haircoat and soft, pliable skin.

Carbohydrates are the third most important nutrient and ingredient class in modern Super-Premium and Performance foods.

There are two nutritional forms of useful carbohydrates in all dog foods. Simple carbohydrates include starches and sugars. Complex carbohydrates include soluble and insoluble fiber.

The simple carbohydrates in your dog’s food should come from quality sources like rice, oatmeal, corn or wheat. These are easily digested when properly cooked and are necessary to produce the right texture and mouth feel for good palatability.

Fiber, a complex carbohydrate, is also essential for proper digestion and stool formation. Beet pulp and tomato pomace are both high in soluble and insoluble (or total) fiber and come from the internal portion of the plants. They are the two best sources of total fiber.

Other sources of fiber include rice hulls, soy hulls, oat hulls, wheat bran and peanut hulls. They come from the external portion of the seed coat. All these sources, except peanut hulls, have microscopic sharp edges which can cause small cuts in the intestine. This reduces the intestine’s effectiveness in nutrient digestion. Peanut hulls, on the other hand, have the potential of being contaminated with aflatoxins and should never be used in a quality dog or cat food.

Vitamin and mineral fortification is an absolute necessity in nutritionally balancing any food for dogs. While the vitamins and minerals generally make up less than 2% of the total food by weight, they provide some of the most critical nutrients. These include 12 to 16 vitamins and 15 to 25 minerals. Often the list of these micronutrients is much longer than the list of major ingredients. This is positive and should be expected in all dog foods. Super-Premiums usually feature more than one source for each vitamin and mineral. Consequently, the ingredients list will be longer, compared to non-premium foods.

It is generally not recommended that you further supplement a Super-Premium food with either vitamins or minerals. Some of these micronutrients can be toxic to the dog if fed continually in high quantities.

What Should NOT Be In The Food

There are some ingredients which, by their presence, can indicate that a food is of lesser quality.

For example, soybean meal, soy flour or corn gluten meal should never be the primary or even the secondary source of protein in a Super-Premium or Performance food. Though these vegetable proteins are used in most animal feeds, they should not be used in the diets of carnivores such as dogs or cats.

Here’s why soy is not an appropriate ingredient in dog food: It’s one of several ingredients used in making pet foods that keep their nutrients “locked up.” These are so poorly digested that the dog can’t get enough to meet his daily requirements.

Soy protein is considered a good quality protein for most ruminant animals like cattle and sheep, as well as omnivorous animals such as pigs, chickens or turkeys. These animals (not including the very young) can digest the protein in soy better than dogs and cats.

Their digestive systems are either more complex or better-suited to digest plant proteins, than those of dogs or cats.

Soybean and cottonseed meals, as well as some of the grains including milo, contain anti-nutritional factors that Mother Nature put there to prevent digestion. Neither the very young, nor many older animals, can sufficiently overcome the anti-nutritional factors. They can’t digest the protein well enough to perform optimally. Soy and cottonseed meal should not be included in a puppy or senior diet.

Other examples of “locked up” nutrients are some complex sugars, which are also part of the carbohydrate portion of soy and cereal grains. These sugars cannot be digested by simple-stomached animals or carnivores like dogs and cats. They can’t be digested because these animals don’t have the proper enzymes to “unlock” enough of these nutrients to grow or perform optimally. Modern extrusion cooking does improve the nutrient availability of soy-based foods. However, for simple-stomached animals, it doesn’t totally overcome all of the an-ti-nutritional factors found in soy.

Another indicator of a lesser-quality food is the presence of meat and bone meal. While meat and bone meal is an animal protein meal, it is a lower quality, higher ash meal than meat meal or poultry by-product meal. It shouldn’t be used as a primary protein source.

Bleachable animal tallow is a good ingredient in most dog foods. However, it should not be used in Super-Premium foods due to its lower digestibility. It’s also higher in saturated fatty acids than poultry or turkey fat.

Nutritional Guarantee

Once you are satisfied that the ingredients in the food are right for your pet, the next step is to examine the rest of the package for clues.

A statement like “Meets or exceeds the AAFCO Dog Nutrition Profile for all life stages” is important in that the food has been determined to comply with the newest of nutrition guidelines, accepted in 1991 by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The statement may say that the food meets the requirements for the growth or maintenance stages only, which is fine if that’s the life stage of your dog.

As important, though, is how the company determined that the food meets the nutrition guidelines. Food containing less digestible ingredients might look good or appear nutritionally adequate when analyzed by laboratory methods. The reality may be different. Only by feeding the food to dogs in a feeding trial, and conducting digestibility studies using healthy dogs can the quality of a food be truly determined.

If, on the package, you find the statement “…substantiated by feeding tests using AAFCO procedures,” then the food was actually tested on dogs. Otherwise, you can assume that the actual animal studies have not been conducted and only laboratory analysis and calculations have been done on the food.

If you want to know whether your dog’s food has been properly tested on dogs, call the 800 number provided by the manufacturer and ask! This is a good test as to whether a pet food manufacturer really believes and acts in a way to produce quality food, or only gives “lip service.”

Feeding Directions

All pet foods are required to provide feeding directions on the label. The regulations suggest that simple instructions showing the amount to feed in cups or weight to a given size of dog be provided conspicuously on each package of food.

Unfortunately, feeding directions can be very misleading. Feeding directions are guidelines and should only be used as a starting point.

Dogs generally eat enough food to meet their energy needs. If the food is nutrient dense, providing a high number of kilocalories per cup, the dog will need to eat less of the food to meet the energy requirement. That’s why your dog eats less of a Super-Premium food than of a Regular brand. Knowing the number of kilocalories (thousands of calories) of metabolizable energy (ME) in the food, and knowing the energy demand of a particular dog, it’s easy to calculate how much to feed.

The problem is that most dog food feeding directions are calculated based on an average dog or puppy. The formula used to calculate the energy requirement of this theoretical dog is approximately 132 kilocalories (Kcal) of metabolizable energy per kilogram of body weight to the 0.75 power (132 Kcal of ME/Kg BWT 0.75). Allowances are made for growth, pregnancy and lactation.

Since these are average figures, and since no two dogs are the same, it is apparent why feeding directions can be so misleading. Your dog is unlikely to exactly fit the average.

Another unfortunate fact is that marketing departments use the feeding directions as a marketing gimmick. Some manufacturers, as well as some misguided salespeople, try to use the feeding guide as a measure of quality.

The line goes something like this: “Our food only requires 1-1/4 cups a day to feed a 20 lb dog. You need to feed at least 3 cups of our competitor’s product, as shown in the feeding directions.” This type of comparison is blatantly misleading, and has no value when comparing products. Only feeding results and the long-term well-being of the dog will tell the true story of how much food is right for your dog.

The best method of determining the proper feeding amount for your dog is to start with the recommended level on the package. Increase or decrease the amount fed by the way the dog should look. For example, if you have a 20 lb dog eating 1-1/2 cups per day of a new food, and he starts gaining weight, decrease the feeding level to 1 cup. Conversely, if the same dog began losing weight, you would increase his daily intake to 2 cups.

Care should be taken not to overfeed any animal, either puppies, adults or older dogs. Overweight animals almost always have more health and development problems than proper weight dogs. Let your dog’s “look and feel” tell you how much he should be eating. If you have trouble telling what your dog’s ideal weight should be, ask your vet to help you.

Advertising Claims

Too often, the not-so-quality-mind-ed manufacturer will make claims or suggestions that his food is totally digestible. He might also say that feeding studies show that 90% or greater digestibility is to be expected when using his food.

Stay away from the products of any company that claims such high digestibility. Super-Premium and Performance foods are the most digestible products on the market.

They generally run 82% to 86% in true digestibility. Premium products will run 75% to 82%, while Regular and Economy foods are usually less than 75% digestible.

A quality food using quality ingredients, made by quality processes, will be sufficiently digestible to produce a small amount of firm, dark stool. Looking at the stool size and quantity is another quick method of determining the overall product quality.

Customer Service

Quality also extends to your happiness as a customer. A quality-conscious manufacturer will make satisfaction of both the primary and secondary customer (your dog and you) the first priority.

The product should be guaranteed to meet your satisfaction 100%, no questions asked. An 800 Customer Service telephone number should be provided to answer your questions and/or concerns.

On the customer service line, a knowledgeable, helpful representative should first try to understand your question or concern, then try to reach a mutually agreeable solution. This may be by clarifying feeding directions, explaining technical information, or determining if there is a real product problem that needs correcting.

If the problem is the product, you will be asked for a production date  code. All packages have this code, which helps the manufacturer determine exactly when and where the product was made, or whether a specific problem exists and needs to be solved.

All customer calls should end with a definite agreeable solution and understanding of what will be done, such as product replacement or refund. This will be a big help in determining if the product and the company truly believe in quality. Quality of customer satisfaction is second only to the quality of the product in importance.

Manufacturer’s Integrity and Food Quality

Integrity is strict adherence to a code of standards. In the manufacture of pet foods, it means abiding by quality standards when buying, storing and processing ingredients. It means producing the food to optimum processing, storage and distribution specifications as expected for any quality food product. These standards must be met day in and day out, when sales are up and more importantly, when sales are down.

This integrity includes all the areas discussed above: the type of ingredients used, the nutritional guarantees and testing methods. It also includes the honesty of providing realistic feeding directions, and advertising claims which accurately tell you what to expect from the food. Customer satisfaction and service are all measures of the integrity of the manufacturer.

As you can see, there is generally more than first meets the eye when looking at the label of a dog food. With these brief guidelines on ingredients and product integrity, and by buying Super-Premium or Performance foods, you will be able to buy a better-quality food for your dog – one that will provide for his long-term well-being, and not just fill his stomach!

Thomas R. Willard, Ph.D. is a consultant to the pet food industry. He is founder of Path Nutritional Consultants in Dayton, OH and has formulated dog foods for many manufacturers.

Interpreting The Date Code

The  fat in pet foods must be protected against rancidity with an antioxidant.

Traditionally,  fat in dog food has been preserved with a chemical antioxidant, such as BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin. Each of these insures that, in most cases, the food will still be edible for at least a year. (Heat and humidity tend to shorten the time a food will remain good.)

Foods which use natural antioxidants (vitamin E or mixed tocopherols) have a somewhat shorter lifespan, usually about nine months.

You can determine how fresh the food is by looking at the production code. This is generally stamped at the top of the bag, and is a series of numbers and letters which provide the date of manufacture, the factory and the batch number.

Each manufacturer has a different coding system, and some are quite convoluted. Ken-L Ration brands, for example, have had a code like this: 5P22G36. That indicated the year the food was produced (5, for 1995), the plant where it was made (code P), the day of the month of production (22nd), the month of production (G, which is the 7th letter, which translates to July, the 7th month) the shift (2nd) and the hour (2nd).

More commonly used production codes include:

International Date Code. Example: 150395 means the food was made on the 15th day of the 3rd month of 1995, or March 15, 1995. Companies which use this code include Pro Plan, Iams, Nature’s Recipe, and Hy-Ration.

Month/Day/Year. Example: 031595 means the food was made on March 15, 1995. Companies which use this code include Nutro, Natural Life, Pro-Pac, and Joy. Variants include Day/Month/Year (Eagle) and Year/Month/Day (Diamond), Year/Week of the Year (Pedigree)

Julian Calendar. Example: 11595 means the 115th day of 1995, or April 25, 1995. Sometimes only 4 digits will be used, with the 9 in the year being omitted. Companies which use this include Sensible Choice, Bil-Jac, Dad’s, and Pro-Mark.

Best Before. Example: 03/15/96 means the food should be used before that date. It usually also means the food was produced one year before the Best Before date if a chemical antioxidant is used or 8 months if a natural antioxidant is used. A margin of safety is usually added in, too.  Companies which use this include Fromm, ANF, Precise, Purina, and Thompson’s Pasta Plus.

Genetics & Nutrition

There are many factors that affect how long and how well a dog will live. The factors fall into two main categories: genetic factors inherited from the dog’s parents and the environment in which the dog is raised.

In reality, both the environment and the and the dog’s genetic inheritance interact – working together for or against the dog.

Nutrition is one environmental factor which is extremely important. Of course, other environmental factors such as disease, weather, cancer and man-made problems have an impact on a dog, too. Give your dog the basics of nutrition, proper health care and the caring of a responsible dog owner and your dog can lead a long healthy life.

All characteristic or traits are the result of heredity. But traits are influenced and affected by the environment. While the environment cannot change the dog’s genes, it can change the way the dog looks when fully grown.

Here’s an example: The growth of a puppy is governed by the dog’s genetic makeup – but it can be altered by nutrition. Let’s say two puppies receive the same genes for height. These genes dictate that the puppies can grow to as much as 20 inches. Twenty inches is the genetic potential for the height of the two dogs.

However, depending on the dog’s diet as a puppy, one may grow to his full genetic potential and the other may not. The first puppy, who received a complete and balanced diet for his stage of life, reaches his full genetic potential height of 20 inches. The second dog, who does not receive a good diet or receives a diet deficient in protein, will not make it to his genetic potential height of 20 inches. He may only reach a mature height of 17 inches. Supplementing an already balanced diet can also have adverse effects on the dog by throwing off the delicate balance of nutrients needed to keep a dog healthy.

Each dog, depending on his stage of growth, age and level of activity, will require a different percentage of protein in his diet. The right amount of protein in the diet, at the right time, can help your dog achieve his full genetic potential.