How to decrypt dog food labels?

Anyone who has been interested in reading the label of a packet of kibble knows that it is particularly difficult to navigate. Ingredients, analytical components, source and provenance, vitamins, it is sometimes a real headache. Let’s see together how to decipher dog food labels.

The basis of dog nutrition

Depending on whether one refers to each other, the nature of the dog is still not unanimous. Strict carnivore for some, opportunistic carnivore for others, some even consider it an omnivore with a carnivorous tendency.

The goal here is not to decide which one or the other is right, the debate continues and is likely to continue for a long time. However, and this is one of the difficulties when trying to provide your dog with the best possible nutrition, finding the right information can be more complex than it seems.

However, we can lay down some simple foundations. The dog, in its daily diet needs, in different proportions, of nutrients which can be broken down into two large families:




Minerals and trace elements




Quality proteins

Source of energy, essential for muscles, bones, skin, coat, but also useful in the functioning of the metabolism, proteins are animal or vegetable, but for your dog, all are not equal.

Indeed, depending on whether they belong to one or the other of these categories, their “biological values” (the efficiency with which the dog’s body will be able to assimilate and use them) differ. For example, the biological value of vegetable proteins is almost two times lower than that of animal proteins, because they contain fewer essential amino acids. In addition, they are less well assimilated by dogs.

Animal proteins can also come from slaughterhouse waste, we are talking about animal by-products (whatever remains of an animal after the part intended for human consumption has been removed).

So your dog needs quality animal protein which provide it with certain amino acids which are mainly found in meat (in its fleshy part, the muscle), fish, eggs and some organ meats.


They are also a source of energy, promote the assimilation of certain vitamins and provide essential fatty acids, which are useful for your dog’s development.

Lipids are found mainly in meat, animal fat, oily fish and vegetable oils.

Your dog needs essential fatty acids contained in these fats, but it also needs the ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 is balanced.


They are known by the colloquial names of “fast sugars” (simple carbohydrates) and “slow sugars” (complex carbohydrates) which are differentially assimilated by the dog’s body. To put it simply, we can say that once broken down by the body, they turn into glucose, a source of energy.

The main sources of carbohydrates in dog food are grains, vegetables and legumes, fruits and sugar.

Controversies exist about the amount of carbohydrates in industrial dog food (kibble and mash). Absorbed in too large a quantity, they would be potentially responsible for certain pathologies such as overweight, kidney failure, diabetes, hypertension, pancreatitis …

However, kibbles all contain it, at varying rates depending on the brand (from 15% to more than 50%) and there are two main reasons for this. The first is that cereals and vegetables, which have been shown to also contain protein (with a lower biological value than animal protein), are less expensive than meat products and allow for high protein levels.

The second is that it is technically impossible to manufacture kibbles that do not contain complex carbohydrates and in particular starch, because this is what allows, by a technical process called extrusion, to ” agglomerate the different ingredients that make up the croquette.

A healthy and balanced diet for your companion must therefore take into account the level of carbohydrates and ensure that it is not not too high.

Minerals and trace elements

They are essential in particular for the production of red blood cells, hormones and enzymes, they make it possible to synthesize proteins, they act in the formation of the skeleton, teeth and strengthen the body against infections.

The Main


Trace elements













They are present, in varying amounts, in almost all foods, with varying “bioavailability”, some reputed to be richer than others in minerals or trace elements.

Your dog needs minerals and trace elements who are he strictly necessary (neither too much nor too little). Supplementations should only be done on the advice of a veterinarian.


They are divided into two major groups, water soluble vitamins (water soluble) and fat soluble vitamins (fat soluble). They are, among other things, necessary for the functioning of the nervous system, for the production of energy, for the formation of tissues, hair, participate in the synthesis of hormones, growth, allow certain minerals to be fixed, etc.

They are found in fish oils, liver, eggs, green vegetables, milk, meat, and some vegetables.

Your companion must have vitamins in his diet that are diversified, in amount and in sufficient quality for his needs.

How to decrypt dog food labels?

There are regulations and standards that codify the information that must be included on packets of dry dog ​​food. Unfortunately, not all the essential nutritional elements are there (carbohydrates), some others are mentioned under other names (lipids / fats, minerals / crude ash) and not all manufacturers play the game of transparency. (proteins).


The list of analytical constituents (nutrients) and their composition (ingredients) must be included.

The ingredients should be listed in order of importance. That is, the first ingredient in the list must be the one in the largest quantity in the package.

Analytical constituents must indicate their average content, in percent:

  • Crude protein x%;
  • Crude fat (lipids including digestible fibers) x%;
  • Crude fiber (non-digestible fiber) x%;
  • Crude ash (minerals and trace elements) x%;
  • Humidity x% (optional if less than 14%).

The words “complete feeding” or “complementary feeding” must appear therein.

How to choose the croquettes for your dog?

Dog food has many benefits. They are convenient, provide full power (as long as the manufacturer plays the game) and relatively inexpensive. Alas, this is not always the case.

Many manufacturers, mainly for reasons of manufacturing cost and therefore profitability, use materials of poor nutritional quality, use cereals to increase the protein level, do not indicate the carbohydrate levels, etc.

If you want to make sure you’re providing your little buddy with quality nutrition, here’s what to look for on the label:

  • No animal by-products which provide animal proteins that are difficult to source and often of poor quality.
  • Animal proteins -of quality- must be first in the list of ingredients, their rate must be greater than 40%, their sources must be detailed (chicken, beef, turkey, etc.).
  • Cereals and legumes must be in low percentage.
  • Crude fiber or crude fiber should be in low percentage.
  • the fat content must lie between 18 and 20%.
  • The rate of carbohydrates must be less than 20 or 25%.

You may not find any indication of the amount of carbohydrate in a packet of kibble. As surprising as it may seem, given the impact it can have, it is not mandatory!

Here is the formula that will allow you to calculate it: 100 – (crude protein + fat + ash + fiber + moisture) = carbohydrate content.

Disclaimer: If you decide to change brands, for one that is of better quality, you don’t have to do it overnight. A one month transition period is essential, at the risk of creating digestive problems for your dog.

It is therefore necessary to proceed gradually by mixing its old croquettes with the new ones, in successive stages. Here’s how to do it:

  • Week 1: 25% of the new kibbles – 75% of the old ones;
  • Week 2: 50% of the new kibbles – 50% of the old ones;
  • Week 3: 75% of the new kibbles – 25% of the old ones;
  • Week 4: 100% of the new kibble.

You are now able to decipher the dog food labels, in order to choose the best quality for your companion. He fully deserves it!