There's a lot of info on dog food labels, and that's regulated by the FDA. Manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in order by weight - heaviest to lightest. The main thing to look for is crude protein, which should be at least 18%, but keep in mind dogs are not wolves. They have the amino acids necessary for digesting plants, and vegetables should be a part of their diet.
One thing to consider is that meat can be up to 75% water which can bump it up to the top of the list. Meat "meal" is the meat with most of the water and fat removed to leave as much of the crude protein as possible. "Byproducts" are typically organ meats that humans wouldn't eat, but animals often enjoy. By regulation this does not include things like teeth, horns, hair, or hooves. Choosing food with meals or byproducts therefore is not as bad as you might think, and can be a fast track to getting your dogs nutritional needs met.
Reading the Label
Some labels are easy enough to read, but here's a deeper look at some package lingo. The guaranteed analysis section contains the amount crude protein, crude fat, fiber, and water. The Nutritional Adequacy Statement lets you know what life stage the food is nutritionally intended for. The stages acknowledged are gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance, or all life stages. Foods labeled for seniors don't specifically need to meet nutritional content beyond maintenance.
How Much to Feed
The labels on your dog's food make feeding suggestions which typically give an amount to feed based on body weight. They are only suggestions however and it is best to check with your vet, who will weigh your dog and assess their overall health before recommending an amount to feed.
About This Article
Kat Powers L.Ac. is an acupuncturist nationally certified with the NCCAOM and licensed by the state of Oregon. For any medical or dietary questions concerning your pet, please consult a veterinarian. This article is intended as education of general guidelines and has been informed by: Fetch by Web MD, The American Kennel Club, and the FDA.