How to Choose the Best Food for Your Dog

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Diet is one of the leading factors that will determine your dog’s health. It is one of the most important factors that will determine your dog’s quality and quantity of life—her lifespan. To ensure your dog has a long and healthy life, you need to know how to choose the best food for your dog. This article discusses what to look for and consider when selecting food for your dog.

Considerations that go into your dog food selection will include ingredients quality and the cost of the food.

Look for food companies that exceed AAFCO guidelines and use high-quality ingredients. Choose foods with meat-based items listed as the first two to three ingredients. Avoid foods that contain excess chemical preservatives and high amounts of fillers like wheat, corn, and soy.

2 dogs eating their food from their bowls

Research How to Determine the Best Food for Your Dog

Talk to your vet, and read many articles and books by well-respected authors within the dog nutrition field.  Look for Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists and speak to them or read their papers.

Websites can provide valuable information if they come from a reliable source.  Always check the qualifications of the author of the articles you read to determine if they are worth reading.

To compare the available commercially prepared dog foods, check out DogFoodAdvisor.com. This is an excellent source.  You should also be sure that the food you have chosen, once you have decided, has been recalled.  In this case, you will need an alternate choice of dog food.

Home Made Dog Food

Before you decide to start making your own dog food, educate yourself on what ingredients are needed to make food that will contain all of the nutrients your dog needs to keep her healthy.

One website that may help with this is PetDiets.com.

Read and Understand Dog Food Labels on the Containers

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has created profiles for dog and puppy nutrition. The profile information data is presented on the dog food label. This information will give you an idea of the food’s content. However, labels can be misleading. The requirements on the label reflect the minimum requirements which do not mean you should settle for this. Look for food companies in which AAFCO guidelines are exceeded. Also, be sure they use high-quality ingredients. Choose foods with meat-based items listed as the first two to three ingredients. Avoid foods that contain excess preservatives and high amounts of fillers such as soy, wheat, and corn.

Man shopping in dog food aisle trying to look at ingredients - How to choose the best food for your dog

How to Read a Dog Food Label

If the dog food you are considering does not meet even one of the following statements, then move on to another dog food.

1. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [Life Stage].”

2. “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for [Life Stage].”

3. “[Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [Life Stage] and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.”

Be sure to select a food for your dog that is correct for her stage of life.  Try to match the stage of life description as closely as possible with your dog.  For example, if you have a Great Dane puppy, then look for a Large Breed Puppy food.

Some food brands have food geared towards your dog’s activity level and even their breed.  The activity level is more important than the breed in selecting the food. Some dogs that are an active breed may not be all that active themselves.  You wouldn’t want to feed these inactive dogs food made for active dogs as the number of calories would be too high.

It is also important to keep in mind that nursing mother dogs need more calories than dogs that aren’t nursing.  Puppies also require more calories than adult dogs.

Keep all these facts in mind when selecting a dog food to keep your dog from becoming overweight, underweight, or malnourished.

Transition Your Dog to the New Food Over Time

Golden Retriever Holding Dog Food Bowl in Her Teeth - How to Choose the Best Food for Your Dog

Don’t wait until you are completely out of your dog’s current dog food before starting to introduce the new dog food.  Many dogs react badly to suddenly switching their diets, so it is best to do this gradually over time.

You should start by replacing ¼ of a cup of the old food with ¼ cup of the new food. If your dog has problems, such as digestive upset, diarrhea, increased itching or any other problems then stop using this food and go back to the old food until you find another choice.

If your dog has no problems with the new food, then increase the portion of new food to ½ of a cup of new food and ½ cup of the old food.  Continue with these portions for several days and if no problems show up, increase the amounts up to ¾ of new food and ¼ of the old food. Try transitioning your pup completely to the new diet and see how she is if she is still fine after the last feeding of the new diet. Your dog should be fine with the new diet if she is still not showing any symptoms of allergies, loose stool, or other digestive issues.

Check With Your Veterinarian Just to be Sure

Try going back to a prior portion and keeping it for longer than you did the first time if she is displaying symptoms. If you see any negative reactions after the ½ or ¾ transition portions, then try going back to a prior portion. Try the same thing with the ¾ portion for a longer period if your dog still shows no symptoms. If your dog shows no bad reactions this time, then try the food at the full portion and watch her closely for any reactions. 

If she is fine after this, then she probably just takes longer to adjust to new food. Keep watching your dog closely for signs of illness or allergy for at least a month as sometimes it takes longer for a reaction such as an allergy to display signs.  have her checked by a veterinarian if she does display any negative reactions, to be certain there isn’t something unrelated to the food that is causing her illness.

Ask your vet if you should try a different food just to be sure, even if your vet finds no other health issues.  If your vet says you should, then you will need to start over using your vet’s suggestion and transition your dog again. If not, then keep your dog on this diet and watch her again to be sure no other negative reactions or illnesses show up.

Nervious Puppy visiting the Vet

What Makes a Brand of Dog Food High Quality?

In addition to meat, dogs also receive nutrition from fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables can be a source of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Be sure that the quality of all of the ingredients is very high.

Dogs have different nutritional requirements depending upon what stage of life they are in. Puppies’ nutritional needs are not the same as those of an adult or senior dog.  The requirements are also different for small breed dogs and puppies and large breed dogs and puppies.

Should I Feed my Dog Grain-Free Food

For the past several years there has been an ongoing split on recommendations for a grain-free or grain-inclusive diet. There were studies that showed an increase in heart disease in dogs on a grain-free diet.  However, it has not been proven for sure so the controversy is ongoing.

I would suggest not listening to dog-food promoters and going to your vet to get an educated point of view on this subject.  Some vets, like some doctors, are not all that knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition.  However, I believe in both cases, they are focusing more on nutrition. 

Younger veterinarians may be more knowledgeable about nutrition than older ones. If your vet seems to not be all that knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition, then I would look for a nutritionist and listen to her or him.

I choose to stay away from grain-free diets for my dogs as I did talk to my vet and was told of this issue a few years ago.  Follow the information above and read the label on the food. The only reason I would switch to a grain-free diet would be if my dog was allergic to grain.

Limited Ingredient Diet

If your dog has symptoms of allergies such as licking of paws, itchy skin, diarrhea, or other digestive symptoms, consult your veterinarian to determine whether your dog should be tested for allergies to determine what she is allergic to.  Many vets will not recommend allergy testing as the most reliable results can only be obtained by skin testing and for dogs, this involves stopping medications and taking anesthesia, which is not well tolerated by some dogs.

It’s possible that your dog could be allergic to one of the meat sources in the dog food she is eating. It is also possible that your dog’s allergy is due to environmental factors such as pollen, dust, grasses, etc.

To eliminate food as the source of her allergies, your vet may suggest you try a limited ingredient dog food. This food should contain an unusual meat source such as rabbit, venison, and bison, that your dog has never been exposed to before as well as carbohydrates that your dog hasn’t eaten, such as brown rice, potatoes, or sweet potatoes.

A limited ingredient diet will usually contain one or two protein sources and one or two carbohydrate sources.  Hopefully, a limited ingredient diet will be found that your dog responds well to.

One of my dogs has been on the same food for many years now as every time he eats anything other than his regular food, he gets diarrhea.  I have tried other food but this is the only one he can eat without getting diarrhea.

Before putting your dog on a limited ingredient diet, be sure to speak to your vet to get their recommendation for a good quality limited ingredient diet.  Prescription diet food is more highly regulated than other foods so ask your vet for a prescription. 

Nutritional Needs of Dogs

Golden Retriever holding a Bunch of carrots in mouth

Dogs require 22 amino acids to survive. Twelve of the amino acids can be developed themselves. That leaves ten amino acids that dogs must always receive in their food.  These ten amino acids are:

  • Valine 
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine 
  • Arginine
  • Histidine 
  • Lysine 
  • Methionine 
  • Phenylalanine 
  • Melanin Tryptophan 
  • Threonine 

These amino acids have both meat and plant sources. Dogs can digest plant sources as well as meat sources. Meat-based proteins are the most efficient way to deliver these vital nutrients and convert them to protein because of the similar structure of muscles in humans and animals. 

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Dogs that Should Eat Low-Fat Dog Food

Overweight dogs and those at risk of pancreatitis should eat a low-fat diet. However, before just changing your dog’s food to one lower in fat, you should consult with your veterinarian first. Many of the higher-quality low-fat dog foods are only available with a prescription from your vet. Prescription dog foods are more highly regulated so they will have higher quality ingredients in them.

Don’t take fat completely out of your dog’s diet as dogs need a certain amount of fat for healthy skin and coat among other. There is a minimum amount of fat that should be included in dog food for their health and energy level.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember is that you just want to do what is best for your dog. You want to give your dog a healthy and happy life and ensure she has the longest, high-quality life span that you can provide for her.

Have you had any difficulties finding the right food for your dog? Was it due to food allergies or digestive issues, or was it too hard to determine? My dog displayed digestive issues until I finally got him on food that is right for him. It took a while and several consults with a veterinarian but it was definitely worth it. He is now a healthy, happy 9.5-year-old dog!

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