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Daniela Linsbauer Hundetraining

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Daniela Linsbauer Hundetraining

With so many different types of dog food available, it is sometimes not easy to recognise a high-quality dog food. When you look at the respective list of ingredients, you can easily feel overwhelmed as a non-professional. But what should you look out for in the individual ingredients? 

What is the legal framework for dog food?

Since 2009, there has been an EU feed regulation that is supposed to guarantee a minimum level of quality and uniform hygiene measures. This regulation also stipulates which information must be included on the feed label: 

  • Type of feed
  • Type of animal (cat, dog)
  • Intended use (senior, puppy)
  • Batch number
  • Net mass
  • Composition and analytical ingredients
  • Best before date and additives

What types of feed are there?

There are different types of feed, which are distinguished by their content components:

  • Single feed: Contains only ONE component, such as animal or plant ingredients.
  • Complete feed: This feed alone must meet the animal’s daily nutritional requirements.
  • Dietary feed: This feed addresses the special needs of animals with diseases, such as dietary feed for kidney problems.
  • Supplementary feed: This feed must be mixed with other feeds to provide nutrient coverage, for example pure meat cans or pure vegetable cans.

Which declaration types are to be distinguished?

There are different ways to declare the ingredients on the back of the feed. In principle, an open declaration is always preferable. 

Closed declaration: Here the nutrients are only grouped together (meat and animal by-products or vegetables and vegetable by-products).  Which meat from which animal is used, for example, is left out of this declaration. Caution for dogs with allergies!

Semi-open declaration: In this declaration, the main ingredients are listed in percentages. Due to the incomplete breakdown, dogs with allergies should steer clear of this variant. Again, many by-products may be hidden or undeclared protein types may be contained. 

Open declaration: This variant is voluntary. There is detailed information on the ingredients and exact quantities on the label. This clearly shows which ingredients are contained in the food and in what quantity. This makes it easier to recognise a high-quality dog food.

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Quality dog food: What do you have to look out for in the table of contents?

Sometimes you have to go into detail and pay attention to the exact choice of words. The food does not always contain what you think it does, or some ingredients are described in a nice way. It is important to read carefully, because high-quality dog food is not always easy to recognise.

The 4% thing:

In order for a food to be advertised as containing a certain ingredient, the law states that there must be at least 4% of the advertised ingredient in the food. This means that a feed with a big label “beef with potatoes” actually only has to contain 4% beef. The rest can be seen on the label (precondition for a (semi-)open declaration). The 4% does not necessarily have to be meat or high-quality muscle meat. The difference lies in the exact choice of words: 

  • “With chicken flavour”: Under 4% chicken must be contained in the food, possibly even only chicken flavour.
  • “With chicken” or “Contains chicken”: At least 4% chicken must be included.
  • “Rich in chicken” or “With (extra) chicken”: At least 14% chicken must be included.
  • “Chicken” or “Chicken Menu”: At least 26% chicken must be included.

Meat is not the same as muscle meat:

In the animal feed industry, the term meat refers to separated meat. This is meat residues that adhere to the bone and are separated in a complex process. This is high-quality animal protein, but not muscle meat. If muscle meat is contained in the feed, it is specifically labelled as such. 

Care should also be taken with the wording of animal meal. Chicken meal consists of ground beaks, feet, etc., while chicken meat meal uses separated meat for production.

The order determines the content:

Basically, the order determines the content. The first ingredient listed makes up the bulk of the feed. However, caution should be exercised with the closed declaration, as you do not get any information about the percentage distribution here.

The missing percentages:

Moisture only has to be declared from a percentage of 14%. If, for example, a wet food with an open declaration does not add up to 100% when adding up the ingredients, the missing percentages are water. Water is not a single feed ingredient and is often only declared under moisture in the analytical ingredients.

Sugar in dog food:

Sugar belongs to the carbohydrates (contained in cereals or similar) and is a flavour carrier. However, sugar also has other properties that are important for the feed industry. It changes the appearance and consistency of the feed because sugar caramelises when heated. In small quantities, however, sugar does not have to be declared! In addition, sugar is usually hidden in other ingredients such as molasses or beet pulp. Also beware of food with too high a carbohydrate content.

Gluten-free is not automatically good:

Gluten-free food is often advertised as such. But be careful, because dry food in particular needs a high grain content to maintain its shape and consistency. Instead of grain, maize is used, which has a low tryptophan level, which would be important for the formation of serotonin (happiness hormone). However, this is counterproductive for stressed or anxious dogs.

Nutritional additives:

These are artificially produced ingredients added to the food. During the manufacturing process, the food sometimes loses valuable vitamins, minerals and trace elements. These are then added, which has the disadvantage that they often cannot be (fully) absorbed by the body. Beware of feeds with a long list of nutritional additives.

The thing about animal by-products:

Animal by-products can be anything that is unfit for human consumption: beaks, hooves, feathers, fur, bone scraps or other waste. Not all ingredients are of high quality, and it makes a difference whether they are purely filler material (feathers, beaks) or whether the ingredients have a nutritional benefit (such as blood, tongue). 

Without does not mean free from:

“Without added sugar/artificial flavours” is not the same as “Free from sugar/artificial flavours”. “Without” simply means that no additional sugar has been added in the feed manufacturing process. “Free from” actually means that no sugar has been added in any process.  

What does the dog need?

The total amount of food for a healthy dog is approx. 2-4% of the body weight. The food is composed of approx. 80% animal protein and approx. 20% vegetable protein. The animal protein should consist of muscle meat, offal and bones. The vegetable components include vegetables and fruit. 

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If you love your dog, you naturally want only the best for him. With a high-quality dog food you do a lot for the health of your four-legged friend. But not every dog owner has the time to cook or barf their own food. There are high-quality dog foods on the market, but in order to recognise them, you should know how to read labels and what substances they should contain.