By Tim Falk
Published: 01/29/2021, edited: 03/28/2023
Of all the decisions you make about caring for your pup, choosing the right dog food is perhaps the most important. Proper nutrition plays a crucial role throughout your dog’s life, helping them grow and develop as puppies and stay happy and healthy as they age.
But with so many products to choose from, how do you find the best food for your dog? To help make your decision easier, we’ve put together this simple guide to choosing the right dog food. Follow the steps below to decide on the best food for your fur-baby.
The very first thing you need to consider is that a dog’s nutritional requirements change as they age. As puppies, they need lots of high-quality protein for growth and development, while senior dogs can benefit from ingredients that help them maintain a healthy weight and promote joint health.
That’s why it’s important to choose a food that’s been formulated for your dog’s life stage. Some foods are specifically designed for dogs of a specific age — puppies, adult dogs, and seniors — while others are labeled as suitable for “all life stages”.
Next, think about your dog’s breed and size. Very small dog breeds and very large breeds also have different nutritional requirements — for example, giant breeds need a formula with the nutrients to support their bones, joints, and muscles for rapid growth.
Your pooch’s energy requirements will also vary based on how active they are. That’s why you’ll see special formulas for highly active dogs, and why pooches that are slowing down as they age may need to be switched to a senior diet.
If your dog is in good shape and has no ongoing health concerns, skip ahead to the next step.
But if your pup has any specific health issues that need to be addressed, you may need to consider a special food. For example, maybe your vet has recommended that you feed your dog a weight-loss formula, that you give them a diet that promotes dental health, or that they eat a food that promotes healthy joints.
Just make sure you check with your veterinarian before switching to one of these foods so you can be certain they're right for your pet.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets out the rules that govern pet food labeling. Under these regulations, there are a few important factors to consider when reading dog food labels:
Look for the nutritional adequacy statement. This statement reflects the fact that a food offers complete and balanced nutrition for a particular life stage — for example, growth or adult maintenance.
Understand labeling rules. The naming of dog food is also governed by AAFCO requirements. For example, for a product to be called “Beef For Dogs” or “Beef Dog Food”, it must be at least 95% beef. If the named ingredients on a label make up less than 95% of a product but more than 25% (not including water used for processing), a qualifying term such as “dinner” or “entree” must be used in the product name. Other rules also apply, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with pet food labeling requirements before you buy.
Check the guaranteed analysis. This analysis shows the minimum amount of crude protein and crude fat in the food, and the maximum amount of crude fiber and moisture. Other nutritional information may also be listed on the label, or otherwise will be made available on the manufacturer’s website.
Check the first 5 ingredients. Ingredients on pet food labels are listed in order of weight. Take a close look at the first 5 ingredients listed to get a better idea of what makes up the bulk of your pet’s food.
If you want to do a deep dive into what all the jargon and marketing spiel on dog food labels means, check out AAFCO’s pet food labeling requirements.
This age-old question always stirs up plenty of debate among pet parents. So, should you feed wet food or dry food to your dog?
There’s no easy answer to this question as wet and dry diets both have their own pros and cons. Some pet parents like wet food because it has more moisture, is typically highly palatable to dogs, and is very easy to chew. Others prefer dry food because it’s convenient, you can store it for a long time, it’s easy and often cheaper to buy in bulk, and chewing kibble can also offer dental health benefits to pets.
The option you choose will depend on your pet’s needs and taste preferences, as well as your budget and how you’ll be storing the food.
We’d all love to be able to feed our dogs nothing but the absolute best, finest, gourmet ingredients. Unfortunately, that’s simply not feasible for many people, so price will play a part in many buying decisions.
Generally speaking, higher-priced foods tend to offer high-quality nutrition for your pet and are often supported by scientific research. But that’s not always the case, so price shouldn’t be the only factor you consider.
Instead, make sure you consider the ingredients used and whether a food is suitable for your dog’s size and life stage before you buy.
Want to know whether you can trust a particular brand of dog food? You might want to do a little digging to find out how it stacks up against the competition.
There’s a lot of useful information you can find online:
A little bit of research will help you work out whether a brand has a reputation for quality.
Now it’s time to buy the food you want to give your dog and start feeding. Remember to transition your dog from their old diet to the new food gradually to avoid an upset stomach.
Then you can sit back and see how your dog responds to their food. In the short term, you can check to make sure that they like the taste of the new diet. Over a longer period, check whether the food seems to be providing all the nutrients your dog needs. Are they maintaining a healthy weight? Does their coat look healthy and shiny? Do they ever have any digestive problems?
If your dog develops any food allergies or intolerances, you might want to consider a hypoallergenic dog food or food that uses an alternative protein source, such as turkey or fish. But if all goes well, you’re onto a winner!
There’s a whole lot of confusing information out there about dog food and how to find a formula that’s right for your pet. But if you’re still struggling to decide what is the best food for your dog, don’t despair.
The best thing you can do is ask a veterinarian you trust for their recommendation. They can provide advice based on their training, experience, and your dog’s overall health — and chances are they’re a lot more reliable than a stranger on the internet or at your local dog park.
Your vet can answer any questions you may have about feeding your dog and help you find the “pawfect” diet for your precious pup.
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