Starches, Carbs, Calories are to blame for fat dogs with stinky breath, itchy skin and GI troubles. Use this cheat sheet to make healthy pet food choices.
You grab your keys, your wallet, your grocery list. You get in your car with Bailey (your pup who loves to go on rides) and pull away. You reach the end of the block and have that “aw snap” moment. You forgot your phone - and with it your calculator and your cheat sheet which you need to buy Bailey's food.
Yup. Smart pet food purchases require more than an ounce of math. Without a calculator and the cipher, decrypting that crazy pet food label can be a crap shoot.
The “guaranteed analysis” lists seemingly useless “not less than, or not more than” ranges. Like fat: not less than 10%. (That could be 100% fat. It occurs to you that you could be buying a bag of lard.) Plus there's still no carb statement on most bags, though your vet tells you to limit the carbohydrates because they're causing Bailey's love handles and tartar build up.
You stress out because you remember your last trip to the store. You tied up the aisle trying to compare the nutritional percentages on three 20 pound bags of food – none of which added up to 100%.
Here’s How to Calculate Carbohydrates
Currently, AAFCO does not require carbohydrate amounts to be stated on labels. To calculate an approximate carb amount on the bag, DogFoodAdvisor tells us to add up protein, fat, moisture and ash (if ash isn’t listed ballpark 5-8%). Subtract this amount from 100% and that is the percentage of carbohydrates. Since fiber is categorized as a carbohydrate you leave that number out of your equation. (Ash, by the way includes things like calcium and phosphorus).
For example, if the Guaranteed Analysis lists the Protein at 30%, the Fat at 15%, the Moisture at 10%, and the Fiber at 9%, and we estimate Ash at 5%, then we know that the bag of dog food would have 40% left over for carbs. That’s high, and one of the many reasons dogs can suffer from inflammation and dental problems. But more on that number in a moment.
Example: 100 – (30 + 15 +10 +5) = 40% Carbs (Remember, do not include Fiber in this formula)
Also, remember that these numbers are ranges. Pet food regulations allow for ranges.
Here’s How to Calculate Calories
Regarding the calorie statement, a “kilocalorie” (“Kcal”) on a pet food label is the equivalent of a “calorie” on a human food label. Pet food regulations require Kcals to be labeled as “kilocalories per kilogram” and to also have a common measurement (like per measuring cup – a volume basis). A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. So if that bag of pet food says something like “400 Kcal ME/ cup and 3600 Kcals ME/Kg it means that one measuring cup scoop of it has about 400 calories, one pound of it has approximately 1647 calories.
How much of those calories are protein vs carbs or fats?
One way to determine how much of a food is protein, carbs, fiber, fat, etc., is on a “dry matter” basis. This enables you to compare a canned food to a dry food. For this calculation, you subtract the moisture number on the label from 100. This gives you the percentage of dry matter. Then you divide each of those macronutrients by the percentage of dry matter.
So in our example, where we had 10% moisture, the dry matter basis would be 90% (100% - 10% = 90%). With this number as the denominator, and the number you calculated for the carbs earlier, we can determine:
Carbs = 44% (40/90) of which Fiber comprises only 10% of the dry matter (9 / 90). So on a dry matter basis, 176 calories of the 400 calories in a cup of that food come from carbohydrates.
Protein = 33% (30/90). This means 132 of the 400 calories in that same cup of pet food come from protein.
Fat = 17% (15/90). This means 68 of the 400 calories are from fat.
Ash = 6% (5/90). That leave 24 calories attributed to ash.
Good vs Bad Carbs
There’s one more tidbit worth noting. Your dog needs fiber in his diet. But your vet wants you to limit starch. So how do you tell how many of the carbs in that bag of dog food are the good fibrous kind and how much is other stuff?
There are different kinds of carbs which we discuss elsewhere. There are complex carbs like fiber that help lower cholesterol and prevent or correct gastrointestinal woes. There are sugars like those in candy. There are starches like pasta, which are made of lots of sugars strung together. Carbs can come from whole food sources; they can also come from binders, thickeners, and emulsifiers (e.g. glycerin) that manufacturers use.
For example: 40% of the carbs in raw broccoli are fiber. It has no starch and no sugar. The remaining 60% are other beneficial complex carbohydrates. By comparison, 15% of a sweet potato is fiber but it comes with a whopping 63% carbs and 21% sugar.
If we asked ourselves: is the mix of carbs and fiber in this bag of dog food closer to Mr. Broccoli’s profile at 40% or Mr. Sweet Potato’s profile at 15%, we would discover the following...
Of the 40% Carbs. Fiber was listed at 9%. So 22.5% (9/40) of those carbs are fiber; that's closer to Mr. Sweet Potato's profile. The remaining 77.5% of those carbs could be starch, sugar, or something else. We do not know, and cannot tell because it currently is not required to be disclosed on nutritional labels.
A Word About Treats...
You may look at a bag of beef jerky dog treats and see three human grade ingredients and think that's pretty good. Just ask yourself if any of those ingredients are additives - like glycerin or rice syrup or molasses? If so, your dog is eating carbs (simple sugars!) with those jerky treats. A better option, is to look for single ingredient human grade jerky.
Goodness Gracious makes delicious USA made and sourced, human edible, carbohydrate free treats for dogs and cats
Here at Goodness Gracious, we make human grade treats like our single-ingredient chicken jerky for dogs. They're all high protein and species-appropriate. Our Hula Lula Chicken is super lean and its latest certificate of analysis done by an independent laboratory looked like this:
Protein (crude): 83.76%
Fat (Crude): 8.04%
Fiber (Crude): 0.26%
Here endeth the math. Now go play with your pup!