Dog Nutrition: Choosing the Right Dog Food
It can be very overwhelming when trying to decide upon a healthy, high-quality food for your dog. There are so many options and varieties out there, as well as so many differing viewpoints on what is best to feed your dog.
We in the veterinary community are primarily concerned with dogs being fed the appropriate food for their particular life stage (such as puppy food or senior dog food), activity level, and breed. Veterinarians are less concerned with any particular marketing scheme. Ultimately, it’s important to check dog food bag labels to be able to narrow down what food is appropriate for your individual dog.
Of course, if you have any specific concerns about your dog’s nutrition or if your dog has a health condition that requires a nutritional assessment, it’s always best to contact a local veterinarian to determine what is best for your dog’s health.
Deciding on a Manufactured Dog Food
When looking for food to provide the best nutrition for dogs, purchasing from a reputable, long-standing company is typically the best option. Veterinarians prefer to buy from dog food companies that spend ample resources on research in order to prove their food is well-balanced and will nourish the life stage of dogs they say their food supports. The dog food company should actively participate in nutritional research studies, and should also share their findings with the general public (such as on their website or in peer-reviewed journals). Therefore, it’s important that dog food companies either a veterinary nutritionist or someone with a Ph.D. in nutrition on their staff.
Manufactured dog foods in the US must meet certain nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). When looking at a bag of dog food, one of the most important parts of the nutrition label is the “nutritional adequacy statement”. This statement will either be on the back or the sides of the bag in small letter print. The best food products’ statement will say the following:
Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that <name of food> provides complete and balanced nutrition for <dog life stage, such as puppy, adult, senior.>.
This lets you know that the food has actually been tested with dogs, has proven to adequately nourish those dogs, and provides them with all of their necessary nutritional requirements and in the proper amounts.
For more information on dog food labels and requirements, you can visit AAFCO’s website.
Additionally, the dog food bag itself should not have unverified claims, such as that it can cure cancer or heal a disease. If you aren’t sure about the label on your dog’s bag of food, you can always bring it to your veterinarian. He or she can go over the label with you to ensure it complies with all of the important recommendations for your particular dog’s needs.
“Mix-Ins” and Dog Food “Toppers”
It’s also okay to mix in some cooked chicken and rice or fresh vegetables with your dog’s manufactured food on occasion. Just try to avoid fatty and greasy foods. You should also check with your veterinarian about foods that are actually dangerous or toxic to dogs (more information about that below). Also, even though dogs may love them, it’s always best to avoid giving them anything with bones. Your dog could break a tooth chewing on a bone or a bone could get stuck in his or her intestines, causing a need for expensive emergency surgery.
Can I Cook for My Dog?
If deciding upon a manufactured dog food is too much, it is perfectly fine to cook homemade meals for your dog, as long as that diet is well balanced and the recipe is created by a veterinary nutritionist. Most of these recipes will require you to add in a canine multivitamin and calcium supplement to ensure your dog is getting all the necessary minerals and nutrients.
It is absolutely vital that you begin this planning work with your veterinary team.
A good resource to help with this is the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
What Not To Feed Your Dog
Of course, there are also foods we want to avoid giving dogs altogether, as they can make your dog very sick. Some of these are directly toxic to dogs, and others may just cause stomach upset and/or diarrhea.
These include, but are not limited to, the following food items:
- Anything with Xylitol (an artificial sweetener)
- Chocolate (especially baker’s chocolate)
- Greasy, fatty foods
Puppy Diet and Nutrition
Once puppies are weaned from their moms, they should be fed a food that is formulated just for puppies. Something important to remember is that large breed puppies (puppies who will grow to weigh over 50 pounds when they are adult dogs) must be fed large breed puppy food or puppy food that is specifically formulated for large breed dogs. The reason for this is that normal puppy food has extra minerals and vitamins in it, as well as a much higher caloric content, which can cause problems for large breed puppies. The risk is that they will grow too fast and develop bone and joint abnormalities, which are painful and can cause long-term health consequences.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog?
It is always best to ask your veterinarian how much food your dog should be fed per day. He or she will want to know specifically what food you are currently feeding your dog. Your vet’s calculation will be based on the following factors:
- Calories per cup, which is listed on the dog food label
- Whether your dog is spayed/neutered
- The age of your dog
- If your dog is currently considered overweight or underweight
- The activity level of your dog
As important as it is to feed your dog enough food, it’s also important to avoid overfeeding them. Overweight and obese dogs are more likely to develop early-onset arthritis, other bone and joint abnormalities, and certain diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and pancreatitis.
Speak With Your Veterinarian About Your Dog’s Nutrition Needs
Quality and consistency are the keys to ensuring that your dog’s diet is providing the right nutrition. There isn’t necessarily one right choice, however, so be sure to work with your veterinary team to find a food that will help keep your dog healthy and happy.
Reach out to a veterinarian near you to ensure you’re providing the best possible dog nutrition for your faithful, furry friend.