Dog Food Ingredients 101: What's good and what to look out for

Stephanie Wan Editorial Date:

There’s lots of information listed on dog food labels, but what is the most important? Keep an eye out for the following 4 things to get the most out of those package labels.

1. Complete and Balanced Meal

Complete and Balanced Meal


Food that is labelled as a “Complete and Balanced Meal” means that it can be fed as your dog’s sole diet, and provides the right amount of every nutrient your dog needs in every meal. The guidelines for a complete and balanced meal are defined by the Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO) Dog Food Nutrient Profiles, and in order for a product to meet the criteria they must contain every nutrient listed in the profile at the recommended level.

All of our dry kibble are guaranteed to be a complete and balanced meal. For canned food and freeze-dried food, check the label to see whether they can be your dog’s sole meal or a delicious topper! Wellness Stew Recipes and Merrick Wet Dog Food provide complete and balanced meals for your dog with nutritious and savoury flavours they will love. Northwest Naturals Freeze-Dried Nuggets and Stella and Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Food are made with high quality raw ingredients that make them a convenient way to feed a balanced raw diet.

2. Carbohydrate Content

Carbohydrates provide your dog with energy, nutrients, and fibre. Most commercial dog foods contain 30-70% carbohydrates. In addition to grains such as brown rice, oats, and millet, carbs can be found in fruits and vegetables including sweet potatoes, carrots, and peas. Keep this in mind if you’re considering switching your dog to a grain-free diet with the purpose of reducing carbs. Grain-free does not necessarily mean carb-free! Dog food containing less than 30% carbohydrates is considered a low carb diet. A low carb diet can prevent weight related issues, helping your dog become more lean and fit.

The carbohydrate content of dog food is not listed directly on the label, but you can estimate the amount of carbs it contains by looking at the “Guaranteed Analysis”. For a quick calculation, subtract the total protein, fat, moisture, and ash from 100 to get the percentage of carbohydrates. Ash is the mineral residue that remains after burning away all the protein, fat and carbs, and usually makes up around 5-8% a dog food’s analysis.


For a more accurate calculation and better comparison between dry and wet foods, subtract the moisture content first and calculate the percentage of the other ingredients relative to the dry matter only. For example the guaranteed analysis for Nulo Freestyle Freeze-Dried Raw Salmon and Turkey is:

Crude Protein 44%

Crude Fat (Min) 26%

Moisture 5%

Ash 8% (estimated)

Subtracting the moisture content, 100% - 5% moisture, gives us 95% dry matter.

% carbohydrates = 100% - (44/95) x 100 - (26/95) x 100 - (8/95) x 100 = 17.89%

This makes it a low carb option, with ultra-rich protein and healthy ingredients like kale, kelp, and parsley.

3. Protein Source

dog looking at protein food


Protein is arguably the most important component of your dog’s meals. Dogs need protein to provide energy and essential amino acids to maintain healthy immune systems, nourish their skin and coat, and build strong muscles. The Association of American Feed Control Officials requires that dog food contain a minimum of 18% crude protein, but many dogs need more, especially growing puppies, nursing mothers, and active dogs. Other dogs may require a low-protein diet instead to help manage kidney disease or liver disease, and reduce the stress on those organs. Calculate the amount of protein in the dry matter of your dog food using the same formula as above.

Doctor Billinghurst’s BARF Kangaroo Recipe
Honest Kitchen’s Grain-Free Dehydrated Chicken Recipe

In addition to the protein level, the type of protein is also important! Choosing leaner meats like turkey and kangaroo can reduce calories in your dog's diet. They're easier to digest and contain an abundance of high-quality protein. Doctor Billinghurst’s BARF Kangaroo Recipe is a great low fat diet for less active dogs or dogs suffering from obesity or pancreatitis. Honest Kitchen’s Grain-Free Dehydrated Chicken Recipe is made from human grade ingredients, with moderate amounts of protein and fat to meet the nutritional needs of most dogs. It’s great for adults and seniors, especially the picky eaters!

When considering the quality of proteins, look for products with real meat ingredients and clearly identified animal species. Avoid any with generic ingredients like "animal by-products" on their label. You may also notice ingredients such as “chicken meal” or “salmon meal”. Meat meals are rendered meats, meaning they are cooked and baked to remove all the water, resulting in a concentrated protein powder. Meat meals from a known animal species are a good source of protein!

4. Superfoods



Some foods are filled with so many nutrients that they're called superfoods! Look out for these ingredients in your dog’s meals. Blueberries are low in calories but packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Its antioxidative properties help prevent cell damage and can even reduce brain aging. Pumpkin is also a fiber-rich food, and is great for improving digestion and soothing diarrhea. Chia seeds help regulate blood sugar levels, improve skin and coat health, and protect eyesight. Ginger eases motion sickness and nausea, gastrointestinal problems, and bloat. Ginger is also anti-inflammatory and can help dogs with arthritis and joint pain. Check out brands such as AATU, Weruva, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Northwest Naturals to find your superfoods!

You can trust that dog food products available at Whiskers N Paws are all hand-picked with care, because we are fur parents too!