Dogs are living a lot longer these days, thanks to advances in veterinary care as well as advances in nutrition. Until the industrial revolution, only the dogs of the very wealthy were fed regular meals. And these dogs were fed better than the majority of humans on earth! The rest of the dogs were on their own. A dog’s history has largely been that of a hunter and scavenger. The industrial revolution brought commercial dog food and with it, increased longevity in dogs. Within the last couple of decades, we’ve seen greater advances in dog food and medicine and yet another leap in lifespans.
I don’t like to recommend one brand of food over another. What’s right for one individual dog may not be right for another, but you can’t go wrong if you look at the food’s ingredients.
Commercial Dog Food
Commercial dog food is constantly improving. We know more about nutrition now than we ever did and our dogs benefit from that. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) set down some guidelines that commercial grade dog food must adhere to. AAFCO standards ensure that dog food must be formulated to have the correct phosphorus to calcium ratios, fat, protein, and carbohydrate percentages plus the trace minerals that a dog needs. These standards have been put in place by veterinarians and nutritionists.
The price of raw materials, food and fuel keeps rising with no end in sight. This means that not only our we paying more for our food, but it also costs more to feed little Benji. And if you have a Great Dane, Mastiff or other giant breed dog; forget about it, the cost to feed him can go through the roof! The average American spends more for dog food than they do on baby food. In light of this, it is understandable why one would be tempted to choose a $10.00 for 20lb bag of food over a 15lb bag that’s $25.00. Caveat Emptor. In my experience, you get what you pay for. What you save on dog food you may spend at the vet on allergy medicine, flatulence pills or worse.
The difference between premium food and bargain food goes far beyond price and covers the quality of ingredients. Typically, premium food will have ingredients with higher digestibility and greater nutrient value. Bargain brands will use more fillers and low-quality ingredients like meat and bone meal, or soy. Because these are fillers, you end up feeding your dog more to make up the difference. This will not only end up costing you more of your hard earned cash, but it can also add bulk to your dog. Obesity is the number one health problem in dogs and it is much easier to keep the weight off than it is to take it off. Bargain food will often add dyes to the food to make it look more appetizing to humans. However, you are not the one eating your dog’s food, little Frisky doesn’t care about dyes (her color vision isn’t so hot to begin with) and they add no nutritional value to the food.
When I was a child, walking down the dog food section of a pet store or grocery store didn’t take very long. There really wasn’t a huge variety to choose from. Today, the dog food section can (and sometimes does) fill an entire store. Choosing the right food for Fergie can seem like a monumental task. I’m here to break it down for you.
First, look at the age of your dog. A puppy needs more fat and protein than an adult dog. AAFCO guidelines require a minimum of 22% protein and 8% fat for puppies and most foods exceed that. Large breed puppies grow quickly and and too much weight can put too much stress on their joints. Large breed foods are designed to slow growth and keep off the extra pounds. Large breed formulas also tend to contain glucosamine and/or chondroitin, which helps a dog’s joints. Small breed puppies usually benefit from higher fat and protein levels than large breed dogs because they tend to reach full size by 6-8 months.
Before 6 months, split your dog’s meals into three or more feedings a day. Unless told by a vet, avoid supplements. These can throw off the nutritional balance that your dog needs.
Second, look at your dog’s life style. An athletic dog, hunting dog or jogging partner needs more protein and higher calories than a dog who lounges around the house all day.
Third, look at the availability. If you get Trixie’s food at Bob’s Premium Pet Food Store and he shuts down, then little Trixie is out of luck if Bob was the only place that carried it. On the other hand, if it is too available, that usually indicates low quality ingredients since it has to be cheaper in order to ship it to more stores.
Fourth, quality is of the upmost importance. The first ingredient should be protein source like chicken, lamb, by-products, or meat meal. Avoid soy and meat and bone meal. These are low quality and can be very difficult to digest. The dog food should be easy to digest, otherwise it’s just going to go out the other end and provide no benefit to your dog. Premium foods have around 80% digestibility and super-premium foods have about 90% or higher. If you are unsure, you can contact to dog food manufacturer.
A named meat source should always be the first ingredient followed by healthy grains like rice, oatmeal, and barley. Vegetables and fruits, such as carrots, avocados, and cranberries are showing up in more dog foods. These can be great ingredients, but make sure that the rest of the ingredients check out as well.
Ingredients to Avoid
Avoid beef, wheat, corn and soy as these are common allergens in dogs. Increasingly, chicken is a common allergen, which is unfortunate as it is difficult to find a food or treat without it. However, for dogs that are not allergic; chicken is a lean, easy to digest source of protein. Wheat and corn are bad for dogs as they provide no beneficial nutrients, they just pass through which may make potty training more difficult. Beet pulp (from the sugar beet) is a controversial filler; it is a source of fibre, but can exacerbate existing kidney problems.
Common Manufacturer Tricks
Beware of ‘split’ ingredients. Let’s say that an ingredient list has chicken, brewers rice, whole grain rice, rice and brown rice. Since the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th ingredients are rice, and ingredients are listed by weight, then realistically, rice would be the first ingredient. Since dogs are opportunistic carnivores, they need more meat than anything else.
Be wary of unnamed meat by-products, or meat and bone meal. These ingredients are found in only the lowest quality foods. There is a reason those meats remain unnamed.
Watch out for a meat source that is not followed by a qualifier. For instance; “chicken,” instead of “chicken meal.” Chicken is inclusive of the water content, which makes up 80% of the weight. In order to put the meat in the dry dog food, they must remove the water content, the remaining 20% of the product goes into the food. Instead of being the first ingredient, realistically, it would be one of the last. If this is the only meat source in the food then your dog is not getting enough meat.
Raw Foods and Homemade Diets
Raw foods have been a fad for a while now, it is based on the idea that dogs in the wild do not cook their food. While this is indeed true, most of the meat that domestic dogs eat does not come from a serene forest. It comes from the slaughterhouse. It is wise to cook meat for the same reason that humans eat cooked meat. Raw meat can carry some very dangerous pathogens.
In the wake of the massive food recalls in 2007, many people have found it prudent to make their own dog food. While it is possible to make a healthy meal for your dog, it is very difficult to get all the nutrients that your dog needs in the quantity that they need. Many homemade diets are incomplete and improperly balanced which can cause severe nutritional deficiencies. If you can make him a better diet than vets and nutritionists, more power to you. If you feel the need to make the food yourself, talk to a nutritionist at a local veterinary college about a consultation and analyzation. You may also want to check out AAFCOs official website to purchase their official publication for formulating your own food.
Raw foods may contain dangerous pathogens which can harm your dog while cooking food can destroy some of the vitamins and nutrients. A high-quality commercial dog food is the best bet.
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Apple seeds
- Apricot pits
- Fish Bones
- Grapes (and raisins)
- Macadamia nuts
- Peach and Plum Pits
- Poultry Bones
- Raw Eggs
- Rhubarb Leaves
- Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
Foods that are Beneficial for Dogs
- Cooked Chicken
- Cooked Eggs
- Cooked Salmon
- Flax Seeds
- Green beans