Feeding a dog is much like feeding a baby, in that neither has much say in what it eats and depends on us to make the right decision. But are we qualified enough to make the right decision?
Given the plethora of food choices at pet stores and all variables that need to be taken into consideration (such as age, breed, body composition, gender – including whether neutered or not, temperament, activity level and last but not least – taste preferences), making the right decision can be overwhelming.
To help you navigate through the minefield of choices, we have listed and explained 3 simple tips for choosing the right dog food.
Despite outward differences of breeds, dogs descended from primordial canine ancestors with whom they share much of the genetic code. Although modern dogs gradually adapted their digestive apparatus to the foods they could feed themselves with, they still prefer a carnivore diet.
Your dog is a carnivore
Starting point in your decision making process would be understanding that your dog is a carnivore. From anatomical and physiological point of view, there are 5 reasons why your dog is a carnivore:
Absence of salivary amylase – amylase is necessary for carbohydrate’s break down. The lack of amylase causes the pancreas to overwork as it is charged with the full responsibility of digesting carbohydrates.
Type of digestive system – short and simple intestinal tract combined with highly acidic gastric pH, specifically designed to digest and metabolize proteins (meat).
Shape of teeth and jaw – sharp and pointed teeth for tearing meat and specific temporo-mandibular articulation joint that allows wide opening of the mouth.
Gluconeogenesis – instead of using carbohydrates as primary energy sources, dogs use proteins and fats.
Insulin response – carbohydrates rich foods trigger higher insulin response and cause excessive glucose storage, leading to obesity and diabetes.
The key to good health is well-balanced diet. Therefore understanding your dog’s nutritional needs is of imperative importance. The perfect diet is supposed to be a proper balance of the six major nutrient groups:
- Fats & oils
Protein, carbohydrate and fats provide your dog with much needed energy. Vitamins and minerals are essential for energy conversion, enzyme activity and bone growth. And finally, clean water is the very essence of life.
Tip: Avoid foods that have artificial preservatives, colors, fillers and by-products.
Pivotal principles of nutrition for carnivores
1.High-quality protein sources – these include fresh and dehydrated meats. On the flip side, meat meals and meat by products are not considered to be high-quality protein sources.
2.Low load and glycemic index – foods with low load prevent gastric overwhelming, while foods with low glycemic indexes help maintain steady and healthy blood glucose levels. Most foods use cereals as carbohydrate source and cereals have high load and high glycemic index. Avoid using such foods.
Tip: Choose foods with absolutely no cereal or with minimum quantities of GMO-free cereals. Avoid foods that have a cereal listed among the first 3 ingredients.
3.Animal fats – naturally fats are fundamental elements of dog’s nutrition. They are easily assimilated and absorbed.
Tip: Choose foods that contain fish oil. Fish oil ensures good palatability of the product and proper omega-3 intake.
4.Medicinal plants – foods enriched with alfalfa, psyllium, rosemary, turmeric, aloe vera, green tea and pumpkin have many health benefits, such as:
- Toxin elimination
- Anti-inflammatory effect
- Anti-diabetic effect
- Antioxidant source
- Immune system reinforcement
5.Vitamins and minerals – using a variety of carefully selected fruits and vegetables is the best way to ensure proper vitamins and minerals intake.
Factors influencing your dog’s nutritional needs
To choose the right dog food you need to know the nutritional needs of your dog. You also need to know that those needs depend on several factors:
- Body composition
- Gender (plus neutered/spayed)
- Activity level
- Taste preferences
Feeding requirements by life stage
Puppies have small tummies and need to be fed little, but often. They need diets with high protein ( Adult dogs require sufficient nutrients to meet energy needs and to maintain and repair body tissues. The amount of food depends on the dog’s size and energy output. Senior dogs require a low-calorie and high-fiber diet, with an adequate protein and fat ratio.
Senior dogs may be fed regular food, but in a smaller quantities. Specially formulated senior diets help creating a feeling of fullness without burdening the digestive system. They need foods with higher fiber content (3-5%).
Different nutrition for different dog breeds
Large and small dogs have different metabolic rates and have unique health concerns that must be nutritionally approached. For example, large dogs are prone to orthopedic issues thus requiring less energy dense diets. On the other hand, if small dogs are fed low-energy diets they can develop hypoglycemia.
Complete/Balanced dog food
Commercial dog food is required to be nutritionally complete/balanced, meaning the food can be used as sole source of nutrition because it contains all necessary nutrients for your dog to grow and thrive. You do not need to worry about deficiencies, unless your dog has specific issues that require special diet or supplements.
It’s also important not to forget about treating your dog every once in awhile. As we know only too well, sticking to a strict diet can be tough and at times your pet is sure to struggle as well. A great way to reward your pet is with a tasty treat, even better if they’re healthy as well!
Consult With a Veterinarian
Although pet store’s salespersons are well-informed and educated and online blogs and articles offer insightful tips, seeking professional opinion from a licensed, trained veterinarian or dog nutritionist is a must. First of all, many dog parents find food labels to be confusing and hard to understand. Asking your vet/nutritionist for advice and food recommendation saves both time and nerves.
Additionally, many factors influence your dog’s nutritional needs and the best person to assess those factors is a vet/nutritionist. The vet’s/nutritionist’s role is even more important if your dog suffers from certain health conditions. Addressing health concerns with corresponding diets, not only extends your dog’s survival period, it also increases the quality of life.
However deciding your dog has to eat certain diet must be medically supported. Veterinary diets are generally not recommended for healthy dogs. Therefore, veterinary diets, are not available over the counter. They can only be recommended and prescribed by a licensed professional.
Tip: Regardless of what your vet prescribes, as a responsible dog parent, you should always monitor your dog’s body weight and condition.
Consider Allergies Your Dog May Have
Although some breeds like West Highland White Terriers, German Shepherds, Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Pugs are predisposed to food allergies, all dogs can develop allergic reactions to certain foods. It is estimated that owners seek veterinary care for skin conditions more frequently than for any other condition and most of those conditions are allergy related skin issues.
The only long-term solution for a dog with allergy is changing its diet. There are a number of diet options for food allergic dogs. Which diet is chosen depends on the thoroughness and accuracy of the past diet history, special nutritional needs of the dog, palatability and practicality for the owner.
Hydrolyzed protein diet – Hydrolyzed diets are theoretically “hypoallergenic” because the proteins are chemically or enzymatically broken down into fragments that are smaller than the immune system can recognize. A hypoallergenic diet for a given dog is simply any food that the dog has never eaten previously.
Novel protein diets. First of all it is important to define the term novel protein. Is it lamb, horse, duck or eggs? Actually, it could be any of the above. “Novel” simply means new and different. In this context, novel protein diets provide only proteins to which the specific dog has never been exposed.
Tip: For example, if your dog has never eaten duck before, duck based diet may be hypoallergenic for him.
Home-prepared diets – Homemade diets are often used for dogs with suspected food allergies because their composition can be more easily controlled. Homemade diets should be composed of just a few pure & simple ingredients, ideally with a single animal protein and single carbohydrate source. In most cases, home-made diets are the most appropriate choice for long-term nutritional management of food allergies.
The food components often suggested for dogs are lamb, chicken, rabbit, venison, rice, potatoes and tofu.
Choosing the right food for life can be one of the biggest factors in longevity and quality of life. With so many dog food brands, choosing the right food is not only challenging and overwhelming, but time and nerve-consuming too. To make the best decision educate yourself and ask your trusted vet for advice.
However, do not forget that the ultimate decision is based on your dog’s personal taste preference. Whether your dog is a picky eater or eats voraciously, he must like the food he is been offered. Even the most expensive and healthy food can be useless if your dog does not like how it tastes.
Ultimately, there is no universally good, one-type-fits-all kind of dog food. Every dog breed, or more specifically every dog, as individual, has different eating habits and nutritional needs.