In my last post Taking the Mystery Out of Dog Food Labels: “As Fed” Vs. “Dry Matter Basis” I tried to unravel some of the mystery behind the nutrition label on your dog’s food, specifically, “as fed” versus “dry matter basis” nutritional information.
Today I want to continue my series on “Taking the Mystery Out of Dog Food Labels” and cover the measurements listed on your dog’s food nutrition label and how to understand them.
ME Per Cup
We are going to begin with the basics – calories.
The nutrition table on the back of your dog food bag lists “ME Per Cup”, but what is ME?
ME stands for “metabolizable energy”, that is the energy that your dog will get from their food after it has been digested.
This energy comes from the metabolization of nutrients contained within the food. These nutrients are released from food during digestion as the food is broken down into basic macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are then utilized by the body as an energy source to fuel bodily functions.
This energy is measured in “calories”.
So, it only makes sense that “ME” is measured in Kcal per Kg or Kcal per Cup.
What’s the Difference Between KCal and Cals?
One KiloCalorie is the same as one Calorie when looking at a food label. ‘Calorie’ with a capital ‘C’ is just another way of referring to a Kilocalorie or 1,000 calories.
Food contains energy which is stored in the chemical bonds of the molecules within the food. When the food is eaten, that energy is then transformed into energy that the body can use to fuel itself. This fuel then provides sustenance to cells in the body so that functions like movement, respiration, etc. can be carried out.
So, a KiloCalorie or a Calorie refers to the amount of this energy that a food provides when it is consumed.
Your dog food nutrition label will often give you the Calorie content of your dog’s food as KCal / Kg as well as KCal / Cup.
KCal / Cup is the information that you are going to use on a per meal basis when calculating your dog’s daily caloric intake.
But why is KCal / KG on the label? Because caloric information can be used when calculating other nutritional values in the food and in this type of calculation, cups aren’t very useful at all!
So, What About the Percentages and mg/Kg?
Looking at the nutritional label on your dog food, you will also notice that there are various other nutrients that are measured either in percent or in mg/Kg.
Proximates (things like carbohydrates, protein, fat, etc), energy, amino acids, fatty acids, and some minerals are measured using percentages. Where other elements, things like taurine and other certain minerals are measured using mg/Kg.
But what do these measurements mean?
Each percentage or mg/Kg tell you the content of specific nutrients in the food that you have chosen. This information is useful, but what exactly are you comparing it to?
Well, when looking at the specific nutrition content in your dog’s food, there are a couple of ways to compare the quantities of each nutrient.
If for example, your vet has provided a guideline for nutrition for your dog, or if your dog has a specific illness that requires limitation of a specific nutrient, then you need to compare the measurement of nutrients in your dog’s food to the guidelines that you are looking for.
So, if your dog has heart disease, it may be prudent to limit sodium content based upon the guidelines recommended for the severity of your dog’s heart disease.
The second way to look at the nutrition in your dog’s food is to compare it to the recommended guidelines for pet nutrition as established by the AAFCO. The AAFCO guidelines have been developed in order to ensure that dog foods on the market provide adequate levels of nutrients to keep your dog healthy. These guidelines differ based upon the type of food that is being labeled so that puppy food has different nutritional components than senior dog food. Without these types of regulated guidelines, a dog food company could put the same levels of fat in a senior dog food as they did in a working dog food!
Of course, these comparisons are only going to give you baseline information, it is up to you to be able to understand the “right” combination of nutrients for your dog’s needs.
How can you do this?
By learning how to understand ingredients as well as recommended nutrient levels for specific life stages and illnesses. These are two things we will cover in coming posts in this series.
For today, we may only have covered a small amount of material, but tomorrow we’re going to get a little further into details as we cover life stage nutritional needs!