As a good dog owner, you know that feeding your dog high-quality and nutritional dog food is one of, if not the best thing you can do for their health. And not all dog food is created equal. How to choose good dog food includes knowing about ingredients in dog food to avoid as well as other considerations. Being an educated consumer could mean the difference between a healthy pup and having to deal with health issues ranging from kidney stones to periodontal disease.
Dog food labels and the ingredients list should become your best friend, as it’s essential to read and understand each label before you buy a bag. There are established guidelines by the Association of American Feed Controls (AAFCO) for claims made on pet food labels, including what is listed on the ingredients list. Understanding common ingredients and what they mean will help you differentiate between products.
Check for feeding trial information on the label. Opposed to dog food that is merely formulated to meet a particular nutrition profile, a feeding trial means that the food was actually fed to dogs and they were determined healthy and having adequate nutrition after eating the food for some time. Dog food that has been through a feeding trial is preferred.
Ingredient sourcing and quality control in manufacturing contribute to the quality of the final product. However, since this information is not required to be included on dog food labels, it is a good idea to find this information out for yourself by researching the prospective dog food company online.
Understand types of dog food
Wet dog food is typically more palatable and nutritious than dry dog food. Though, it also tends to be more expensive and can lead to the onset of periodontal disease. Wet dog food is usually recommended for dogs that have certain health conditions or will otherwise not eat dry food.
Dry dog food helps clean dogs' teeth and gums and is more economically priced and convenient (wet dog food needs to be refrigerated after opening).
As such, it's best practice to begin with a high-quality dry dog food. If your dog doesn’t seem to enjoy it, try mixing wet food into their dry food. And if he's still not having it then switch to wet food.
Fresh is best! Although inconvenient for many people, another great option is to cook your own dog food. This way you have full control over what your dog eats and can potentially offer more wholesome and better nutrition than you’re able to get from any store bought food. Cooked salmon, chicken, beef, tuna, potato, carrots and rice are all fair game.
Your dog’s age, activity level, genetics and reproductive status all play a role in how to choose good dog food. Dog food is formulated for certain life stages (puppy, adult, senior) as well as for other considerations such as lifestyles, breeds, reproductive status and health. It’s important to consider these factors so that you purchase the right food.
For example, puppies require more calories, vitamins and minerals, and protein. If you feed an adult dog food that is formulated for puppies, you put them at risk for obesity. Conversely, feeding a puppy adult formulated food could leave them malnourished.
Check the label for a statement of nutritional adequacy, for example: “This food is complete and balanced for adult maintenance.”
And if in doubt, consult your vet for the formula that’s best for your dog.
Understand dog food ingredients
A chef knows that all great meals are “ingredient-focused”. This means first and foremost, ingredients--both type and quality--matter.
As most anything else, you get what you pay for. Cheaper dog food typically contains low-quality ingredients that don’t necessarily provide adequate nutrition and may make your dog more susceptible to health problems ranging from malnutrition to excess shedding. Poor ingredients also increases a dog’s risk for other health problems later on in life.
Dogs require a sufficient mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils, and vitamins and minerals. The percentage allocation of nutrients as well as the quality of the ingredients that provide these nutrients is primarily what differentiates formulated dog foods.
The goal is to strike a balance: find the most high-quality dog food formulated for your dog at the lowest price.
Dog food ingredients to avoid
The case for “grain-free”
To fulfill the carbohydrates nutrient requirement, pet food companies add some sort of grain, typically wheat, corn or rice. Grains are said to be used as “filler” because many producers of cheaper dog food use a high percentage of grain in their formula; resulting in dog food that is mostly a grain such as corn or wheat. This is not optimal for dogs and results in less energy and nourishment.
“By-products” and “meals”
These are essentially leftovers from food processing; some of which deemed unfit for human consumption. This includes organ meats such as liver and lung opposed to the skeletal muscle meat that we typically consume. Dog food that has little to none of these ingredients will be of higher quality than dog food that includes them.
Other controversial ingredients
Consumer research and knowledge as well as trust in companies known to produce good dog food is required when considering the many controversial ingredients found in dog food. Some commonly argued dog food ingredients to avoid include corn and wheat gluten, BHA, BHT, ethoxyguin, rendered fat, dyes and preservatives, dicalcium phosphate, meat and grain meals and by-products, among others. In general, more expensive food will contain less of these ingredients.
Rather than waltzing into the store and grabbing the first bag in site, choosing good dog food takes some work on your part. But it’s worth it for the health of your dog and ultimately your pocket book in the long run. There are many great online resources to do your research including dogfoodadvisor.com, where you can filter and browse the best dog foods and make your decision from there.
Since dog food labels won’t tell you about sourcing or manufacturing, also be sure to research the dog food brand you’re interested in. Just check out their website and see what they have to say about how they operate.
You are what you eat! Ultimately “whole” and “natural” are going to be more nutritional and higher-quality. Your dog’s worth it. Let’s put the same thought and care into our dog’s food as we do our own.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information contained or made available through the ColoradoDog website is not intended to constitute or substitute for legal advice or veterinary advice.
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