Nobody said dog ownership was ever going to be an easy task, so, here we break down how to choose the best dog food and more. From housebreaking your dog to teaching them how to behave on a leash, it can be a lot of work. In the end, it is all rewarding, but sometimes we overlook some of the most important factors in dog ownership. Chief among these is often the selection of dog food for our four-legged pals.
Americans are increasingly focusing on the content of their own food, but far too few or paying the same attention to the food their beloved dog enjoys. Ideally, all dog food should be created equally. In reality however, numerous dry- and wet-food brands aren’t necessarily a good choice for your pet. In this post, we’ll give you a few helpful tips to choose the right food for your dog.
Start by Understanding Labeling Terms
In your search for the right dog food, you’re going to come across countless brands and types of dog food. Each one will have its own unique labeling, and some of those will be confusing. This is often the step that trips up most owners, so we’ll devote the biggest chunk of this post to clearing up any confusion.
The American Kennel Club points out that all dog foods are required to, and should, provide you eight crucial pieces of information:
- Product name/type
- Net weight
- Name and address of the manufacturer
- Guaranteed analysis (of content)
- List of ingredients
- Intended species (dog, in this case)
- Statement of nutritional adequacy
- Feeding guidelines
Not all of these points need breaking down, but we are going to start at the top of the list. If you notice that the particular food you’re considering says “chicken,” than that item must make up a minimum of 70% of the entire product. Watch out for products that include “dinner,” “entrée,” or “platter” in the name. These are only required to have 10% of chicken. Terms such as “with chicken” and the addition of “flavor” mean only 3% chicken content for the former, and less than 3% for the latter.
The list ingredients is the next point worthy of focus. An ingredient list doesn’t explicitly tell you the quality of the ingredients or where they came from, but instead just lists what different items are in the dog food. For example, corn and wheat are often included in dry dog foods. However, some manufacturers try to trick dog owners by breaking up corn into flaked corn, ground corn, and/or kibbled corn.
This makes it appear as though less corn is in the food because it is lower down the ingredient list, but in reality it may make up more of the food content than meats and other healthier ingredients. Another term to watch for is the use of whole meats. Whole meats contain high water weights, and when broken down results in less meat after processing. Meat meal, which sounds worse, can actually be better because it contains more actual meat than whole meat because there is no water weight.
Finally in this section, let’s look at nutritional adequacy. The Association of American Feed Control Officials has strict guidelines for backing up statements such as “complete and balanced diet” in food labeling. These diets must actually contain the minimum amount of nutrients necessary for a dog.
The guaranteed analysis of this should clearly highlight the minimum amount of crude protein in the food, along with fat and the maximum amounts of water and crude fiber. All of these factors are critical in dog food selection, especially if your dog has specific dietary needs/restrictions.
How to Choose the Best Dog Food
No two dogs are the same, which means the dietary needs of any given dog is going to differ from your friend’s dog or your neighbor’s dog. With so many options, we’ve narrowed it down to three simple steps to help you select the best dog food for your pooch. After you’ve read-up on the information above, you should:
- Consider your dog’s age, activity, breed, and reproductive status
- Weigh the benefits of grain-free compared to foods with grains
- Do your homework
First and foremost, your dog’s individual physical characteristics and behavior should serve as a starting point when comparing foods. For example, puppies and lactating mothers need high-calorie diets to maintain their active lifestyle and nutritional needs. Conversely, senior dogs require fewer calories a day to keep their weight in check as their body ages.
As another example, a highly active breed requires more calories to keep up with its lifestyle than a couch potato dog that isn’t as active. Compare the calorie content and feeding guidelines to ensure your dog gets the right amount of calories to match their lifestyle, and avoid obesity and the many problems it brings.
When it comes to grain-free foods, make sure it is more of a necessity for your dog and not an individual choice for you as an owner. Grains are not harmful to dogs as a part of their dog food, but if you suspect your dog has an allergy to grains it is good to have your vet confirm that before making the jump to grain-free foods. In the end, buying grain-free foods without knowing your dog is allergic to grains might leave you paying more for food that isn’t making a difference in their health.
Last, but certainly not least, do your homework. There is a wealth of information available online to help you research individual brands and their reputation. This post can help you narrow down the list of potential best foods for your dog, and from their you can use your own research on those brands to determine which one is best for your four-legged friend.