No two dogs are alike, which makes deciding what to feed your dog is an individual decision; a decision based on many factors. Of course the goal is to keep your dog healthy and long-lived. But with all the choices out there, how does an owner decide? Here are some guidelines to help you make the best selection.
The age of your dog
Be sure to consider the age of your dog. A growing puppy needs lots of calories, protein and vitamins. An adult dog needs to stay fit and trim. And a senior dog needs a selection that is easy to digest, and sometimes, depending on the condition of their teeth, something easy to chew.
Health issues or special needs
Does your dog have health issues like diabetes, allergies, a metabolic disorder, or other medical problems? There are dog foods available to address these problems. Is your dog overweight? In that case it might be necessary that they have a low calorie food. Is your dog pregnant or nursing? These conditions require special considerations. Is your dog dealing with a serious illness or recovering from surgery, an accident or a medical procedure? It may be necessary to select a food to help manage their situation. Consult your veterinarian to make sure all medical and health needs are considered.
Activity level of your dog
Is your dog a couch potato who only moves from the couch to eat? Is it a working dog that herds sheep for a living? Does it pull a sled? Is it a Frisbee catcher or a swimmer? Does it get regular walks or exercise? These are all considerations in selecting your dog’s food and the calories it should be ingesting.
Dry vs. wet (canned) dog food
In most cases, dry food is the preferred choice, but there may be issues or considerations with your dog which make wet or canned food a better selection. The chewing of dry food is good for a dog’s teeth and for their breath.
Reading the labels
One of the most important things you can do is to read and compare labels on the dog food varieties you are considering. Just like with human food, the better the ingredients, the better and healthier the final product. Price does play a role in the quality of the food; some economy foods contain lower quality ingredients that can cause problems for your dog. They may not be digested as easily, may not provide needed nutrients, and may cause allergies or stomach upset or other problems. Because they contain fewer nutrients, you may have to feed your dog larger servings of lower quality food than you would with a better selection. This could result in weight gain as can feeding your dog food containing lots of carbohydrates and fat,
Review the label on the dog food to check for ingredients. Make sure protein is the first or second ingredient. Check the amounts of carbohydrates, fiber and fat in relation to the proteins.
All ingredients on pet food labels are required to be listed in order of predominance by weight. But keep in mind that meats are heavy in moisture, so those numbers may be slightly skewed.
Here are some other cautions:
- A label including the words “gourmet” and “premium” are held to no higher nutritional standards than other food.
- Natural” is not the same as “organic”.
Ingredients to look for:
- Real meat, not meat by products
- Human grade meat or free range if possible.
- Healthy oils such as fish oil, flax seed oil, and sunflower oil.
Ingredients to avoid:
- Animal digest (manure)
- Synthetic preservatives such as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin
- Ground or whole grain corn
- Artificial sweeteners and colors
Check for recalls
Buy a food that has a good track record. Check lists of recalls to see how the food you are considering stands up. Click here to see current recalls.
Do your homework
Clearly, there is no one right answer on how to choose a food for your dog. It is a complex subject. Read the information on the labels, check out online resources, consider your dog’s specific needs, and talk with your veterinarian to make an informed decision.
Once you have selected a food, watch your dog to be sure they are doing well with it. Look for a glossy coat, good energy and bright eyes. Keep an eye out for any problems such as an upset stomach or other digestive problems, allergies or other undesired reactions to the food.
Some useful information can be found here:
Some sites that deal with homemade dog food are:
Shirley’s Wellness Cafe
Other sites that discuss dog food selection include:
Born Free USA
Also check manufacturers’ websites for information on ingredients and dog food choices.