When it comes to choosing a quality pet food for your English bulldog, you’re largely on your own. Sure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provide labeling guidance for pet food producers. But savvy producers are quite adept at getting around the rules and regulations.
Arm yourself with tips from this cheat sheet and you can out-savvy the producers, deciphering the labels to select a high-quality dog food stocked with healthy and safe ingredients.
Be wary of misleading words
One example is the word “organic.” If the word “organic” appears on the ingredient panel, the actual percentage of organic ingredients can range anywhere from 1 to 70 percent. Look for a label that says “USDA | Organic” and you’re assured organic ingredients are 95 percent or higher.
“Natural” is another tricky word pet food marketers absolutely adore. While consumers may expect this word to mean the food is 100-percent natural, there is absolutely no regulation governing the term at all. Your bulldog’s “natural” food could actually be laden with preservatives, artificial colorings and other potentially harmful ingredients.
Go for a reputable manufacturer or brand name
This is the top tip to take, even if you ignore all others. Dog food is not the place you want to go for the cheaper generic version of anything. Look for a solid brand known for quality ingredients and a reputation for meeting or exceeding quality standards. Quality dog foods will have research and science backing them up. Not sure where to begin? Check out Dog Food Advisor or another non-bias source of dog food reviews by brand.
Check out the Nutritional Adequacy Statement
This statement tells you the dog food is balanced and complete for a specific life stage, such as puppy growth, adult bulldog maintenance, senior bulldog health or a combination of stages. It also tells you if the food is meant as a dietary staple or only for supplemental or intermittent feeding.
Review the Guaranteed Analysis
The Guaranteed Analysis is pet food’s version of the Nutrition Facts printed on human food labels. It looks at four important nutrients: protein, fat, fiber and moisture.
Since protein and fat are essential elements in a healthy dog’s diet, the Guaranteed Analysis gives you the guaranteed minimum amounts of the two components. By contrast, excess moisture and fiber are not the greatest things for a dog’s health, so the Guaranteed Analysis provides the maximum allowed amount for both.
Pretty straightforward, right? Not when you’re comparing wet foods and dry foods. The Guaranteed Analysis does not take into account the different levels of moisture each food may contain. In order to make a meaningful comparison, you need to remove moisture levels from the equation – literally – and compare the dry matter to dry matter in what is known as a “dry matter basis.”
Removing moisture from the equation can be done one of two ways. One is to manually do the math, with an example provided by Dog Food Advisor.
A can of food with 10 percent protein sounds kind of paltry in protein. But it’s actually not once you get it down to the dry matter basis.
- Let’s say the can contained 10 percent protein but 75 percent moisture.
- If you removed the moisture content, you’d be left with 25 percent dry matter.
- Now divide the amount of protein by the amount of dry matter, which would be 10 divided by 25, or a total of 0.4.
- The final step is to multiply your result by 100, which would be 0.4 times 100, or a total of 40 percent.
At 40 percent, the protein content is not so paltry after all.
Another way to calculate food comparisons on a dry matter basis is to skip the manual math and head over to this handy online tool that does the calculations for you. (We much prefer this second method!)
Evaluate the Ingredient Listing
This part of the label may also seem simple – but, again, it’s not. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. But dog food companies have learned to game the system by using several different names for the same low-quality ingredient.
For instance, each form of corn can be listed separately, such as corn meal, ground corn and corn gluten meal. Instead of the main ingredient of corn topping the ingredient list as it would if the corn were considered a single ingredient, each form of corn can appear much further down on the list, making it appear as if chicken or another meat were the food’s main ingredient. Corn and other comparable cheap fillers can cause obesity, food allergies and a host of other complications for your food-sensitive bulldog.
Thus, meat listed as the first ingredient doesn’t always denote the meatiest food. This holds true because cheap fillers could be hiding under several different names and because meat can have a water content of up to 75 percent, which makes it weigh more. Beef, chicken and lamb can therefore end up at the top of the ingredient list just because they’re heavy and the real main ingredient is hiding under two or more different guises.
Use the Feeding Directions as a guide
General guidelines that appear on the dog food label tell you the recommended amount of food based on the dog’s size. While the recommendation can be a great starting point, it shouldn’t be the end-all of how much or how frequently your bulldog eats. Each dog has different activity levels, metabolism and eating habits, and you should fine-tune his feeding as needed to best suit your pooch.
One more caveat is getting sucked in by words like “premium” or “gourmet,” which don’t have any standards regulating them. (Link to Bully Mealtime: PREMIUM food post) Always read the labels carefully, referring to the nutrient profile, the ingredients, the guaranteed analysis and the reputation of the brand. The extra effort is definitely worth the extra boost a quality food will give to your bully’s health.