Have you ever walked through the aisles of a pet store and been overwhelmed by the mind-boggling selection of dog food that is available today? Most stores have shelf after shelf filled with kibble, raw, freeze-dried, and canned varieties. With so much to choose from, it can be a daunting task to find the right one for your beloved canine.
By Lizz Caputo
What to look for on a label
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets guidelines for pet food nutrition labels. You can learn a lot by simply scanning a dog food's label for certain words. For example, pet food can only be marketed as "complete and balanced" if it meets or exceeds the AAFCO's nutritional adequacy standards.
What are the ingredients?
The AAFCO also requires that the ingredients on a pet food's label be listed in order by weight. If you're looking for high-quality dog food, you'll want one that lists an animal protein as its first ingredient. But not just any animal protein. Words matter here. Take chicken, for example. One dog food could have chicken as its first ingredient, while another will have chicken meal.
And still, another could have chicken byproducts listed as its first ingredient. Here are the differences in meanings:
- Chicken should only contain chicken flesh and skin, but no bones, feathers, head, feet, or entrails.
- Chicken meal contains chicken meat, skin, and bones that have been ground down and cooked at a high temperature.
- Chicken byproducts include pretty much all parts of the chicken, including organ meats, feet, bone, and brain. These items have been deemed unsuitable for human consumption but are considered safe for animals to eat.
Check where the food is made
Some countries do not have high standards or regulations for the manufacturing of pet food. This, unfortunately, has led to several tragic incidents and recalls in the USA. In 2007, for example, hundreds, possibly thousands of dogs and cats died after consuming pet food that contained wheat gluten contaminated with melamine from China. In 2014, more than 1,000 dogs were attributed to consuming dog jerky treats that had come from China.
For your pet's health and safety, it is always best to check that the ingredients in your dog's food have been sourced from a nation with high standards for pet food, such as the USA or countries belonging to the European Union.
Does this food meet your dog's particular nutritional needs?
In some cases, your dog's food choice will be dictated by their health requirements. Puppies, for example, need more calories and nutrients than adult dogs. And a senior dog may require a diet that has more protein and additional supplements, such as ones for their joints.
Some dogs will also require special diets because they have certain health issues. For instance, a veterinarian may prescribe a specially formulated food to address specific conditions, such as sensitive stomach or kidney issues.
To grain or not to grain?
In the early 2000s, many owners began feeding their dogs a grain-free diet after being told that it was better for the health of their canines. The popular opinion at that time was that grains were just an unnecessary filler that dogs would not naturally consume.
In 2018, grain-free diets came under fire when veterinarians noticed an increase in the number of dogs developing a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Although the link between this type of food and DCM has not been fully proven, it is best to talk with your veterinarian before feeding your canine a grain-free diet.
Types of Food
Pet food comes in a variety of forms. Each has its fans and detractors. The following are the most common types of dog foods, as well as the pros and cons of feeding that particular type:
- Typically less expensive
- Easy to feed
- Easy to store
- Can be made from lower-grade materials
- Contains various chemicals and additives
- Has a low moisture content
- Looks more like fresh or human food than kibble
- Tends to be lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein than kibble
- More expensive
- Messier to feed
- Less messy to feed than wet food
- Long shelf life
- Typically more expensive than canned or kibble
- May not kill all the microbial pathogens in the food
- Believed by some to be a healthier and "more natural" way to feed a dog
- Usually more expensive to feed
- Could be contaminated with bacteria or parasites
- You control the quality of the ingredients
- Can be a lot of work to make
- Usually more expensive than prepackaged pet foods
In the end, it's still up to your dog
Of course, the most important factor is whether your dog likes and will eat the food you choose. Even the best food in the world is not going to be beneficial to your dog if they won't eat it. Unfortunately, some dogs can be very, very picky so don't be surprised if it will take you several tries to find a nutritional dog food that your canine will enjoy eating.
About the Author
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo Pet Insurance — a provider of the industry’s best pet insurance plans. She is an animal enthusiast and owner of a rescued senior American bully.
Read more about dog food and feeding on our website.