dog food advice

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

Finding the right food for your dog is one of the most important things that you can do to keep him healthy. But finding the “perfect” food that is high quality, budget-friendly, well-balanced, and readily accessible can be a frustrating and confusing experience. So, in a world of seemingly endless food options and nutritional opinions, what should you be feeding your dog?

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

There isn’t one right answer

The ideal diet for every dog is different. Each dog has its own individual health requirements and unique digestive system, so the perfect food for your dog can’t be determined by an advertisement, your neighbor, or the kid who works at the pet store. And even after you’ve done all the research and chosen what you believe to be the best food, your dog’s digestive system may disagree, and you’ll need to start over again. But there are a few easy steps you can follow to begin making your dog food choice.

Pick a food for your dog’s age

There are 3 main life stages that dog foods are divided into: puppy, adult, and senior. Small and medium breed dogs should be fed puppy food until they are 1 year old. Large and giant breeds can continue growing until they are 16 months old, so they can be fed puppy food longer. They’ll also benefit from eating food that is labeled specifically for large breed puppies in order to maintain a slower, steady growth rate. Most senior diets are recommended to start around age 7, although in large breed dogs your vet may recommend starting a senior diet earlier.

Dogs are not strict carnivores

While meat makes up a high proportion of their diet, dogs also require vegetables, grains, and fruits. These provide valuable vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Grain-free diets have recently been linked to heart problems. These diets should be avoided unless recommended by your vet due to specific health problems. Additionally, although gluten allergies are common in people, they are very rare in dogs, so gluten-free diets are seldom recommended by veterinarians.

Check the label for these important words

The Association of American Feed Control Officials(AAFCO) publishes standards for nutritional profiles and labeling guidelines. You’ll want to look for the words “complete and balanced” on the label. This is called the AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement and indicates that the food will provide all the vitamins and nutrients your dog needs. The words holistic, premium, and human-grade are not regulated and are of little value.

Understand the ingredients

If the food is said to contain a single ingredient, such as “chicken,” it means at least 70% of the product is made of chicken. If the food is “chicken dinner/platter/entree,” then it is at least 10% chicken. If the label says, “with chicken,” the food is only required to contain 3% chicken. “By-product” is the non-rendered parts of an animal other than meat. This includes organs like the lungs, liver, and kidneys, as well as bone and blood. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves. Although it sounds inedible, by-products can be highly digestible and nutritious, as long as it comes from a reputable company that uses high-quality ingredients.

Find a reputable company

Reputable companies, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Global Nutrition Committee, employ nutritionists, test their diets using AAFCO feeding trials, and publish the caloric value per gram/cup. This information can be easily found either on the label or the internet. If you have any questions not answered by the packaging, contact the food company. A reputable company that produces a high-quality product will be eager to help.

The bottom line

Gurgling stomachs, passing gas, and poorly formed stools can be indicators that your dog is not digesting the food very well. As long as you’ve done a slow introduction to the new diet and haven’t been supplementing with a lot of treats or human food, this is probably an indication that the new diet isn’t right for your dog. You’ll want to look for a diet containing different ingredients. Because the ingredients on the label are listed in order of weight, it's often only necessary to change the first few ingredients. Eventually, you’ll find the “perfect” high quality, budget-friendly, well-balanced, and readily accessible diet that is just right for your dog.

For more information, check out these great resources:

AAFCO Talks Pet Food

Pet Nutrition Alliance

Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals

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This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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