Author: Jessica Holland (@atlas_the_ridgeback)
How to Choose a Dog Food
Have you been considering switching up Fido's food? Maybe your friend's dog recently switched food and now she has a pep in her step and a shinier coat. Maybe your dog's stool hasn't been, uh, optimal lately. Or maybe you recently watched Pet Fooled on Netflix and you're hoping to improve your dog's health.
While you want nothing but the best for your pet, all the options out there can be pretty overwhelming. It used to be there were just a few major pet food brands...maybe a couple more at that health food store your weird hippie neighbor used to go to. Now, even the smallest pet store easily carries dozens of brands, each with their own varieties. Dry kibble, wet canned food, dehydrated, freeze-dried, frozen raw...it's no wonder you want to throw your hands up in frustration.
While there are many arguments for and against each type of food, today's blog post will focus on dry kibble. In terms of value and convenience, dry kibble can't be beat. It's shelf stable and calorie dense. Even the most premium brands are only about $2.50 per pound. That being said, there is a huge variety between ingredients and quality for different brands and different formulas.
Buy the best quality kibble you can afford.
Your dog's food is the primary source of all his nutrition. Paying more now for better quality food will yield dividends in the future in terms of a longer life and better health (and lower vet bills down the line!). Just like you shouldn't subsist off a fast-food chain's Dollar Menu, your dog needs quality nutrition as well.
The first ingredient should be meat or meat meal.
Even better, the first TWO ingredients. Meat meal, while sounding less natural, is just dehydrated meat. By weight, it contains more protein than meat because of the high water content of meat. Meat is a high-quality source of protein, easily digestible, and biologically appropriate for dogs.
Avoid corn, wheat, and soy.
These ingredients may lead to allergies and ailments in dogs. They did not evolve to eat grains and while most dogs can tolerate them, they are not ideal for a dog's diets. Corn especially can be difficult for dogs to digest. Ultimately, these ingredients in your pet food are just highly, highly processed (just like in human food!).
Avoid meat by-products, sweeteners, and any artificial preservatives, flavors or colors.
These are just unnecessary attempts to make a bad food more palatable. Choose natural preservatives; rosemary extract and mixed tocopherols are the most common ones. And dogs are colorblind -- why would they care what color their kibble is?!
If your dog has a known health condition, work with your vet to find an ideal food.
How much to feed
If your dog is already in ideal condition, switching to a new food might take a bit of trial and error to maintain his weight. Use the recommendation on the bag as a guideline, not law. If your dog needs to lose (or gain) some weight, feed for the weight you want, not the weight he is. Keep in mind that activity level, age, and neutering/spaying will affect your dog's metabolism. PLEASE do not let your dogs get fat, as this will lead to more health problems (which you're buying high-quality food to avoid in the first place, right?) down the line.
Supplementing your dog's diet
While kibble is generally complete nutrition, many of us like to give our dogs some extras. This may include packaged treats (again, pay attention to the ingredients) or human food. Especially when training, human food can be extra enticing. Adding in fruits and veggies can be an excellent source of antioxidants, which are most likely to be lost in processing. Just remember that your dog's kibble is nutritionally balanced and too much of anything can throw those balances out of whack, especially if your dog is small or eats a LOT of something.
Here are some favorite treats for dogs:
- Small pieces of meat (especially effective for training!)
- Cheese (use sparingly to avoid runny poops)
- Plain yogurt is a great source of probiotics (do not give dogs yogurt containing any added sweeteners; some brands contain Xylitol which is toxic to dogs)
- Canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
- Peanut butter (avoid brands that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and added sugar; some brands contain Xylitol)
- Many fruits and veggies: carrots, green beans, broccoli, grape tomatoes, apples, blueberries, mango, bananas, watermelon, butternut squash, sweet potatoes are some favorites!
- Canned fish (no salt added) -- excellent source of omega-3s!
- Coconut and olive oil (use sparingly to avoid runny poops)
Foods to Avoid:
- Grapes and raisins are highly toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure in small amounts
- Macadamia nuts
- Onions and garlic
- Cooked bones
- Foods high in salt