It is easy to get overwhelmed when you are learning how to read a dog food label. The list of ingredients can be daunting. You may not even recognize some of the ingredients as actual “food.” 😳 There are also little tricks, such as ingredient splitting, that pet food manufacturers employ that can confuse your understanding of what the main ingredients actually are.
But fear not, here are a couple key pointers to help lead you in the right direction as you make heads or tails of all of those choices.
One of the easiest guidelines to remember is referred to as the “Salt Divider Rule.” The Salt Divider was coined by Dr. Marion Nestlé. Dr Nestlé is a highly accomplished American academic with degrees in molecular biology and public health nutrition. She is also the author of multiple award-winning books on food safety, food politics, and nutrition.
The Salt Divide
The Salt Divider is an easy rule of thumb that helps you understand how to read a dog food label. In essence, any ingredient listed after salt makes up less than 1 percent of that food in the bag.
Let that fact sink in. Think of all those attractive photos on the package. You know, those mouth watering images of chicken, choice cuts of beef, fresh fish, luscious fruits and vegetables? Any ingredient listed AFTER SALT, comprises less than 1 percent of the ingredients in that bag of food.
You would be left wondering how some of these practices can be legal if the photos actually displayed the primary ingredients. It certainly isn’t a straightforward way to inform consumers of what they are purchasing to feed to their dogs.
For instance, consider the little trick of “ingredient or food splitting.” Next time you look at the ingredient list of Fido’s food, see how often a certain food is actually listed in a variety of different ways. For example, the legume, peas. Rather than just listing the whole food, peas, the manufacturers can spit that ingredient into sub-ingredients. You might see peas, pea protein, pea flour and pea starch all on the same label.
If you are scratching your head wondering why they would be split like that, it is because in order to follow AAFCO standards ingredients must be listed in order of the percentage they are found in the food. When dog food nutritionists began telling consumers, “Make sure the first ingredient is meat” and, “Look at the first five ingredients on the label” to help you select the best food, the manufacturers wised up. If you split peas into four different ingredients…the individual “parts” will not rank as high as the whole food would. So if you split an ingredient, it can bump something else up in the line up. Even though they are more prevalent, peas can move down in the line up.
The Salt Divide and Ingredient Splitting are two ways to help you interpret what’s actually in that bag of food when you’re considering if it’s good enough for your best friend.
If you want to do even better…add some real food to the bowl, or make the leap to biologically appropriate feeding.