Selecting the right dog food



It's easy to become overwhelmed by the choices of dog food available on the market. How do you know which one to pick for your furry friend?


Photograph: iStock

Text: Tarek Abu Sham


Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking out the best food for your dog.


The basics of dog food

Grains get a bad rap in dog food, but the good news is that most dogs are not sensitive to grains in the same way that people are. You should read the pet food label, looking for meats to come in at the top of the ingredient list. Keep in mind though that dogs are not exclusive carnivores like cats, so utilizing different vegetable sources is not necessarily a bad thing.


You may want to consider dog food without corn for pets that are sensitive to it and make sure that the main ingredient isn't corn because corn can be one of the more difficult grains for dogs to digest. Governments regulate pet food in different ways, so look for label indicators such as the AAFCO statement, which is controlled by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The most important keywords on your dog food label are generally "complete and balanced," which means that the food is a nutritionally balanced diet meeting all of your dog's needs.


"The type of food you choose also needs to be tailored to your dog's size and activity levels."

If you choose to feed your dog a grain-free diet, keep in mind that preliminary data suggests that some grain-free dog foods have been linked to a potentially fatal heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy. While some breeds are at a higher risk for developing dilated cardiomyopathy genetically, such as Dobermans, any dog may be at risk if they are eating a grain-free dog food, even if it is designated complete and balanced.


Consider your dog's age and "lifestyle"

When picking dog food, it is incredibly important to keep your dog's life stage or age in mind. When puppies are growing, they need food that is typically higher in calories than an adult dog needs. Older pets should be fed a senior food, which may have restricted levels of nutrients, such as phosphorus.


The type of food you choose also needs to be tailored to your dog's size and activity levels. Large breed dogs typically grow much slower than smaller dogs, and the calcium and phosphorus ratios in their food are incredibly important to facilitating a healthy growth rate. Very active breeds, particularly out of the growth stage, may need food that is higher in calories than other dog feed.


What about specific health issues?

If your dog has allergies, you may need to pick out an allergy-friendly dog food. This could be a dog food made without corn, or one that is hydrolyzed, with proteins broken down into such tiny pieces that most dogs won't react to them. Novel proteins are commonly used for diet trials in dogs, which means that the protein source in the food isn't one commonly used, such as duck or even kangaroo. Oftentimes, allergy-friendly dog food will utilize grain sources that aren't as common, such as using potato instead of dog food with corn.


Pets with joint disease may need dietary support, including beneficial ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Similarly, overweight dogs could use a dog food that is designed to restrict calories to help increase their metabolism.


Picking the right dog food is important to help your dog live a better and happier life. Reading the ingredient labels and educating yourself on label claims is an important first step, but you also need to make sure you understand your dog's age, size, and activity requirements. If you have a question, send us a message today.

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