All dog owners want to provide their pets with a healthy life, and that can begin with a nutritious diet. But, with all the choices in the dog food aisles, how can you select the food that is best for your pet?
Whether you choose kibble or canned, here are some tips to help you select a food that both tastes good and is good for your pet:
- Although meat is an important part of your dog’s diet, grains, fruits and vegetables can be a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. The best foods will contain quality versions of all these ingredients. Keep in mind:
- If the first ingredient is a type of meat, that meat is about 75% water, according to the FDA. Without that water weight, the meat would likely fall lower on the ingredient list.
- Meat meals, such as chicken meal or meat and bone meal, are different; most of the water and fat have been removed, which concentrates the animal protein.
- While grains can be an important addition to your pet’s diet, some dogs may have a grain allergy that requires a grain-free diet. Some signs of a potential allergy are vomiting, diarrhea, scratching or excessive licking of paws. Consult your veterinarian if you think your dog has a grain allergy. And remember the allergy may be to the main protein (chicken, beef, etc.) rather than the grains.
- An increase in the number of dogs suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease) has brought grain-free diets under speculation. While a firm conclusion has not been made, the issue is severe enough that the FDA announced that they are investigating a link between these diets and a common type of canine heart disease. You can read more in the New York Times article, “Popular Grain-Free Dog Food May Be Linked to Heart Disease“.
- Quality commercial foods are regulated to ensure they meet minimum nutritional content. However, nutritional needs are not the same for every dog, and these needs will change at different stages in your pet’s life. For example, puppies, high-energy breeds and pregnant dogs require more calories per day. Dogs requiring less exercise or seniors will need fewer calories, or they may become obese. And some foods may be formulated for a specific breed, although that often means the size of the kibble. Consider your pet’s age, breed and energy level when selecting a food.
- Learn how to read food labels. The words “beef” or “chicken” mean that beef or chicken must make up at least 70 percent of the entire product. Terms such as “entrée,” “dinner” or “platter” mean that meat must make up at least 10 percent of the food’s ingredients. And “with beef” requires that just 3 percent of the total product. “Beef flavor” means less than 3 percent of that meat – or just enough to taste – is present.
- Check the ingredients. For example, while corn may not be at the top of the list, it may be present in different forms – and, therefore, appears in the list. Whole meats include a high percentage of water weight, while meat meal actually contains more meat and no water.
- The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) ensures dog foods are “complete” and “balanced.” This means they must contain the minimum amount of all nutrients necessary for dogs, also referenced in the “guaranteed analysis.” However, this analysis does not include the exact amount of these components. If you’ve selected a food that you feel would best for your pet, continue your research with a focus on quality control and appropriately sourced ingredients. Reputable dog food companies will be happy to answer questions and provide additional information that goes beyond the label.
Once you feel you have selected the right food for your dog the next step is determining how much to feed them. Canine obesity is certainly a problem we see all too often, Since serving size can be tricky to determine, turn to your veterinarian who can provide you with information about proper portions to maintain a healthy weight for your pet.
These tips can help you make sure your dog gets a generous helping of nutrition in addition to great taste with each meal, leading to a long and happy life.