Ever looked at the dog food aisles in your local market and notice the dozens of brands and wonder which one you should feed your pet? Dry food, canned food, semi-moist food, labeled with words like natural, holistic, super-premium, and the infamous “organic”, how do you know which is right for your dog? In this post I will address some commonly asked questions about dog food:
1. If a dog food is more expensive, does that mean it is better? Sometimes it makes us feel better when we splurge on expensive foods, but quality is not always associated with price. Just like humans pets have different nutritional needs and wants that we should seek to fulfill.
2. What is in my dog’s food? Ingredients vary from manufacturer and also brand, however most will meet the standards that are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These standards cover proteins that supply the required amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Each manufacturer has their own recipes and may use animal or plant proteins, grains or other forms of carbohydrates, fats, moisture, vitamins and minerals. The FDA evaluates and ensures that these foods are labeled appropriately and safe for animal consumption.
3. How do I know it is a high quality food? First look at the label and check for the AAFCO stamp at assure that the recipe meets the nutritional adequacy statement to provide a complete and balanced nutrition. Check for the life stage that includes: Growth which is appropriate for puppies, Adult Maintenance, Gestation/Lactation, or Senior which is for older dogs. There is even a, “all life stages” food label evaluated as appropriate from weaning to adulthood. When choosing consider your pet’s flavor preferences, medical conditions, and environment and lifestyle. Try the food for six to eight weeks and see what affects it is having on your pet. Larger than normal stools or diarrhea will suggest there is a digestive problem with your pet and that particular food. A shiny coat and a general healthy look will suggest that it fits your pet’s nutritional needs. If skin, ear, joint or other problems manifest assume it could be the food and stop with that particular choice. What might work for one dog may not work for another, so be aware of the wide variety of diets to find the optimum one for your pet’s need.
4. Should I feed wet or dry food? Much of this is based on your pets preference. Dry food general costs less per serving and it is typically more concentrated and will require smaller portions sizes. This is basically because the moisture has been removed, dry food has approximately 6-10% moisture, while canned will have 75% moisture. Dogs with urinary tract problems may do better with canned food because the moisture content is higher. It may also be more filling and aid in a weight loss program for the overweight dog. Some of the dry foods are developed to help clean teeth, while dogs with severe dental issues may do better with moist foods. One thing to keep in mind is that wet food typically is higher in fat and protein and has less carbohydrates, dry food will contain starch.
5. “Organic”, “Holistic”, “All-Natural” what does this mean? There really is no official definition for organic dog food. These are generally just marketing terms. “Natural” means that no synthetic ingredients are found in the product. Synthetic means a chemical synthesis produced in a lab. Baking powder cannot be labeled as natural because it is a product of chemical synthesis.
6. How big of portion do I feed my dog? Truth is as owners we will often feed our pets too much. Like humans a growing number of the population of pets are overweight, which creates risks for problems of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or other sever medical conditions. The manufactures labels often overestimate how much food is needed, but veterinarians often use these as guidelines. If you can’t feel your dog’s ribs you are over-feeding him. If you can see fat deposits on the back and at the base of the tail and you can’t see a waist behind the ribs when looking down at your pet you are feeding them too much. The opposite is true when you are under-feeding, you will see ribs, vertebrae, pelvic bones and no fat over the bone. Growing puppies need about twice the calories per pound than an adult dog and the converse is that older dogs need about 20% fewer calories than the middle aged dog. Metabolisms in humans and animals both slow down as we age.
7. How often should I feed my dog? Again this question is answered based on the dogs age. Puppies under 16 weeks should be fed 3 times daily, after that they can be fed twice daily. Adult dogs can be fed once or twice daily, but twice daily is generally better for digestibility, just remember to control the portion size. If you are feeding two dogs at a time make sure you watch that one dog isn’t eating both portions.
8. How can I switch my dog’s food without disrupting his routine? It generally will take six to seven days to make the switch over and let your dog’s digestive system adjust. You may choose to mix the new food with the old, slowly removing the portion of the old each day. This will vary with each dog and will be adjusted as necessary. Always consider discussing with your veterinarian the dietary needs of your pet based on their recommendations.