One of the questions I’m asked most often is what dog food I think is best. I certainly have my opinions, but rather than promoting a particular food, I think it’s important to first understand what the various food types are and provide information that might help you decide what is best for your particular dog. Feeding your dog a high-quality well-balanced food is one of the best things that you can do to keep your dog healthy. A good food will keep your dog’s coat shiny and sleek. It will strengthen his immune system, and keep his digestive system in good shape. Simply put, the best dog food for your dog should meet your dog’s nutritional needs. While most commercial dog foods are formulated with at least the minimum nutritional requirements for dogs, it is important to remember that not every dog has exactly the same nutritional needs. Dogs need a wide range of nutrients in different quantities over the course of their lives. The nutritional needs of a puppy are different from an adult dog, and large-breed puppies have different nutrient requirements than small breed puppies. Feeding puppies food made for adult dogs may mean they don't get the right amounts of nutrients like calcium, phosphorous, and docosahexaenoic acid that puppies need for normal growth and development. Senior dogs may need a lower-calorie food to keep their weight stable, and may also benefit from higher levels of antioxidants. It can be hard to figure out which diet is best for your dog. To help you make an informed decision, keep these factors in mind. Know what’s in it The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established guidelines to govern claims a pet food company can make on its label. If the food is said to contain a single ingredient, it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, not including water. If a combination of ingredients is advertised, that combination has to make up at least 95% of the food. For instance, if the food claims to be made mostly of beef, beef must make up 95% of the food. Words like “dinner, platter and entrée” means the foods must contain just 25% of the named ingredient. If the name states “with” a specific ingredient (such as “with bacon”) only 3% of the named ingredient is required. Products that advertise specific “flavors” are only required to have a detectable amount of that ingredient Look for food companies that exceed AAFCO guidelines and use high-quality ingredients. Choose foods with meat-based items listed as the first two to three ingredients. Avoid foods that contain excess chemical preservatives and high amounts of fillers like wheat, corn, and soy. You’ll also want to check the label for a nutritional adequacy statement. This statement will read something like: “This food is complete and balanced for all life stages,” “This food is complete and balanced for adult maintenance” or “This food is complete and balanced for growth and reproduction.” Grains and gluten Unless they have a documented grain allergy, healthy whole grains such as brown rice, barley and oatmeal give your dog energy, and also provide important nutrients like B-vitamins, essential fatty acids, protein and fiber. How do you know if your dog has a food allergy? Excessive licking of their paws, scratching, vomiting, or diarrhea can be signs, but your vet will help you find the answer. Even with a confirmed allergy it is often the food's main protein (like chicken or beef) that causes the problem, and not the grains. Before buying into the hype (this includes Gluten allergies, which are common in people but are actually very rare in dogs) consider the nutritional needs of your dog as an individual. Dry or canned foods Both wet and dry food can meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Dry dog food is made by combining and cooking ingredients like meat and grains. This process converts the starches in
the food into an easily digested form, while also destroying toxins and flash sterilizing the ingredients. Wet dog food, or canned dog food, is a perfectly viable alternative to dry dog food. While generally slightly more expensive, wet dog food is more palatable than dry food and can help stimulate the appetite of picky eaters. Wet dog food contains many of the same ingredients as dry dog food, but not in the same quantities. Wet food contains higher amounts of fresh meat, poultry, fish, and animal byproducts, along with more textured proteins derived from grains. In general, a high quality dog food that contains the appropriate ingredients for your dog’s life stage and breed is the best choice, but talk to your vet or a veterinary nutritionist about the healthiest choice for your pet. Fresh Foods Fresh dog food delivery services take the place of making your pet’s food from scratch. The best ones work with veterinary nutritionists to formulate a plan customized for your dog. They start with fresh, whole ingredients like lean proteins, veggies, fruits and whole grains, package them up, and ship them to your door. These companies also make sure their recipes meet AAFCO standards for pet food, which means the foods include the vitamins and minerals needed to make a food nutritionally complete for your dog. Most fresh food services are offered by subscription and delivered to your door. They offer options in recipe choices, portion size, and frequency of delivery. They also provide easy-to- understand information about ingredients, feeding schedules, and how to keep the food fresh. Many owners who’ve made the switch to fresh food say the diet has improved their pet’s coat, energy levels, and many health conditions. How much should I feed my dog? Whatever food you choose for your dog, resist the urge to fill the bowl to the top. Being overweight could take up to 2 years off your dog’s life. A dog’s metabolism is variable, so some dogs may do great if you feed them the amount recommended on the dog food bag. Some dogs will need significantly less, and some dogs may need more. Your veterinarian can tell you how much your dog should weigh. Use the feeding guidelines on the dog food label for what your dog should weigh, not their current weight. If your dog starts to lose their waistline, cut back. Ultimately, the best dog food for your dog is up to you to choose. You see your dog every day. If your dog is active and fit, has a healthy appetite and produces firm stool, then their food is probably fine. If you have questions, contact your vet. Your vet has access to research and your dog’s medical history, and they can help you make the best informed decision for your dog.