If anyone you know has adopted a dog after you did, then you’ve probably been asked more than a few times, “what do you feed you dog?” The pet food industry is an extremely lucrative market, and one that’s constantly evolving as companies, new and old, churn out new varieties of dog food each year. This makes the world of dog food very confusing. It can be difficult to figure out just what food is best for your dog, along with what you can afford.
So, how do you choose the right dog food? Here are a few things to consider, to help you narrow down your food options when you’re standing in the dog food aisle.
A little disclaimer: there are more factors involved in the decision of what to feed your dog than we are able to (or feel qualified to) cover here. If you’re looking to do some homework on store-bought pet food, to find out what’s right for your dog, these tips will certainly help. This post does not cover making your dog’s meals from scratch or raw feeding, as we simply do not have the background research or experience level to talk about these diet options in detail.
Consider Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs
The first way to narrow your choices is to consider your dog’s nutritional needs. A puppy will need vastly more calories and protein, compared with a senior dog who may need fewer calories and more fiber or supplements. Activity level and the size of your dog are also things to take into consideration. If you have several dogs, this may mean that one bag of dog food might not cover every dog’s nutritional needs.
When taking your dog’s breed, size, or activity level into account, your veterinarian or your breeder (if applicable) are great sources of information when it comes to finding out the nutritional needs of your specific dog. Just be wary of anyone peddling a highly specific brand or company—they may be getting a kick back based on what they promote, when other brands of food may also have the nutritional values you’re looking for.
Now that you have an idea of the type of food you want—senior, puppy, active lifestyle, etc.—it’s time to do some research.
The Problem With Dog Food Labels
The label on a dog food bag, unfortunately, doesn’t provide a lot of usable info to pet owners. It will say that it meets certain minimum standards; however, these standards for dog food are extremely low, so accepting them at face value may mean your dog still is not getting adequate levels of all the nutrients they need.
There is one exception to the terrible labeling of dog food. Look for the phrase “complete and balanced” on the bag. It means that this dog food will contain proper levels of all the nutrients essential for your dog. This claim is much more regulated by the government: a company making this claim must be able to support it with data from food trials or lab analysis.
Last, any high quality dog food will have an 800 number listed on the bag. You can call the company and ask questions about the nutritional value of their food. Specifically, ask about the digestibility of the food—this gives you what percentage of the material in the food can be digested by your dog. A digestibility of above 80% is usually fine, though a quality pet food supplier should have numbers above 90%.
A Note On Buying Local
While I’m usually all about buying locally, when it comes to buying dog food…be very cautious. Any dog food that has not been shipped across state lines is not required to be regulated at all. This lack of oversight can be very dangerous, should you end up buying a formula of dog food that’s been created without any testing of it’s nutritional value. While very low cost dog food from big brands may not be very good for your dog, the same can be said of some high-end “boutique” brands.
Simply put, if you’re going to pay top dollar for a dog food, do your homework! Especially if you haven’t heard of the company.